Monday, March 5, 2012

Separation Anxiety

Riley is very good at relaxing and has no separation anxiety.

Some ex-racing greyhounds are prone to Separation Anxiety (SA) because they have never spent any time alone as they have always had the company of other greyhounds at all times. Symptoms may include soiling, chewing, shredding beds, crying, panting, shaking, and vocalizing. Some dogs will become anxious as the human begins to get ready to leave (i.e. put on shoes, grab keys).  SA can be very difficult to eliminate once established so I strongly suggest prevention.  Here are several things you can do to prevent SA when you adopt a greyhound (or any other dog).

Number 1 - No bonding initially. Spend time ignoring your dog completely, refrain from giving lots of affection, and especially ignore any demands for petting. Think of your love and attention as a drug. If too much, too soon is given to your new dog, he may become addicted and suffer terribly (separation anxiety) when you are gone.

This is especially true if you adopt a traumatized dog (just being in a shelter can be very stressful). We naturally feel bad and want to soothe and love such a creature, but it reinforces an unstable mind. It encourages the dependence and neediness that leads to SA.

Your focus needs to be all about teaching routines and house rules. Make sure your new dog has good manners, is housetrained, quiet, and comfortable home alone before you start gradually becoming more affectionate. Provide your new dog with lots of exercise to relieve stress, but petting and cuddling needs to be kept to a minimum. If you plan to allow your dog on your furniture, wait at least a couple of months.

Number 2 - Generally, I recommend crating initially. Place your crate in an open area that gives the dog the largest view of the home. If you opt to confine the dog to a safe room, do NOT close the door. Closing the door, especially to a small room, can panic a dog. Use a baby gate instead.

Number 2 - Practice separation daily. This is extremely important for someone that is home for most of the day or who takes vacation days to settle in the new dog. The dog's expectation that you are not always together needs to be established on the first day. Practice putting your dog where you plan to keep him when you are away from the house. Give him a stuffed Kong while you spend time out of sight. Run a quick errand or spend time in another room. 30 minutes later return and if your dog is calm and quiet allow him to come out of the crate or safe area for a period of time. Then repeat the process. The more repetitions you can do the first few days the better. Separation anxiety is usually worse in the first 30 minutes, so the more you can practice leaving for short periods of time, the faster your dog learns that alone time is special because of the stuffed Kong and you always come back.

Number 3 - Vocalizing can be normal in the beginning. Do not return to the dog until he is quiet. If he begins to vocalize as you return, turn your back on the dog and wait for him to settle down. You can also use a water squirt bottle if the dog is extremely noisy, but often just ignoring it (even if it takes a long time) and letting him learn that it does not work is best.

Number 4 - Greetings and goodbyes should be calm and free of drama. It is best to ignore your dog 10 minutes before you leave and 10 minutes after you arrive home. Often people misinterpret excitement as love, but an excited dog is on the verge of stress and anxiety. Allowing the dog to cry, dance around, and jump on you while you give affection validates that separation was a terrible thing. A dog that greets you calmly loves you just as much, but is happy and well adjusted.

Number 5 - Kongs are an excellent tool for entertaining your dog while he is home alone.  Stuff Kongs with portions of his meals. You can mix a cup of dry dog food with yogurt or cottage cheese and spoon the mixture into several Kongs. You can also fill a Kong with dry dog food and then use a butter knife to mix in a dollop of peanut butter, crème cheese, or canned dog food. Use the knife to create a sticky mixture inside of the Kong. After some practice, your dog may learn to clean out the Kong very quickly. If that happens, you can opt to freeze your Kongs ahead of time so they are more difficult for the dog and last longer. It is helpful if you have 3 or 4 Kongs.

Prevention really is the easiest way to avoid this problem.  Even if you have other dogs, your new dog (even ex-racing greyhounds) could still develop SA for you.  So practice these techniques regardless of the number of dogs you have.