Treating Separation Anxiety
Treatment is based on counter-conditioning and systematic desensitization. The desensitization process consists in repeated presentation of stimuli which trigger the undesirable response, under progressively increased intensity, which at the same time minimize the risk of obtaining the anticipated negative response (anxiety). This technique is often used simultaneously with counter-conditioning, while stressing contexts of relaxation. These two techniques, used together, will modify the dog's response while the master is absent by getting him accustomed to solitude
The following re-programming stages aim at reducing hyperattachment. They can be used to reduce the dog's anxious state, as well as to facilitate other behaviorist therapies.
Stage 1: When you arrive home, avoid petting the dog, talking to him, consoling him, even punishing him. This stage is harder on the master than on the dog, as the master must be firm and constant in this procedure. If the dog seeks contact, the master then gives him a sequence of commands such as "SIT / DOWN" - "SIT / DOWN", then pets him and says "O.K:. When the dog comes to the master for hugs or an invitation to play, the master must turn him away. The more attention you give a dog, the more he will ask for it, and the more he will suffer from a loss of social group contact. If you want your dog to get over his separation anxiety, you must develop a minimum of indifference. This attitude, very difficult to implement, is the one which will ensure long-term success at tackling this problem. Only if you reduce your acts of affection will you notice faster desensitization, and will you establish the social group rupture which is compulsory to obtaining better results with your dog.
Stage 2: Most masters talk to their dog before leaving the; they pet him, look at him, feed him, take him outside, etc. In other words, they are telling their that they are leaving. The more attention you give your dog before leaving, the more you amplify feelings of loss, frustration and anxiety.
The dog associates a sequence of practical gestures (turning on the radio, closing the doors, picking up everything lying around, putting the dog in its cage, getting dressed, applying makeup), words, ("BE GOOD", "I'LL BE BACK LATER"). Expressions (mimicking concern), and emotional gestures (hugging the dog) to departures. The master must not look at, speak to, or touch the dog 15 minutes before departure. Start with a few minutes, and gradually increase the duration until you reach a minimum of 15 minutes. The feeling of loss will be greatly diminished if you proceed gradually.
Stage 3: When you arrive home, do not show any excess joy or anger. As for stage 2, the objective consists in ignoring the dog for about 15 minutes. If the dog jumps to get some hugs, the master must back off, say "SIT - STAY" and ignore him. If the area allows for it, you may use a small rope. If the dog has trouble with incontinence, take him outside while remaining low-key; then, bring him in and ignore him for fifteen minutes.
The dog will really become excited if you show him how happy you are, and give him lots of attention when you come home. The dog will eagerly anticipate your return, with his excitement growing in the hour or half-hour preceding your arrival. In this situation, punishment is futile. Anticipating punishment can entail more pronounced anxiety which will manifest itself with urination before, or submission behavior as the masters arrive at home.
Stage 4: The master must assign areas in thewhere the dog can lay down to rest. If the dog attempts to sleep elsewhere than the assigned places, the master will have to send him to an acceptable area. Remember that the dog will do everything in its power to maintain olfactory, visual, or better still, physical contact with his master. We cannot overemphasize the importance of creating a "sensory rupture". As for stage 1, it is strongly recommended that you limit play periods to a few minutes each day. Avoid games in which the dog must use his jaws, such as pulling on objects and roughhousing, as these activities reinforce the dog's position. Furthermore, destruction and excessive aggressiveness will ensue.
The cage can also be used. This requires a special sensitization period. The master places an object (or biscuit) at the exact spot where the dog must lie down. He gives the command or "PLACE". He then lets the dog explore to his heart's content before demanding that he remain there for a few minutes. If the dog cries in the master's presence, he waits until he calms down before freeing him. If the dog must stay put without the master's presence, he gives him the command "STAY", and waits 5 minutes before letting him go. If the dog reacts badly, he uses punishment from a distance to redirect his behavior. He repeats this procedure as many times as possible during the day so as to reach a 10-minute period of isolation or longer. It is important to practice this manoeuvre often, in the dog's presence, so that he avoids associating the cage with a separation (for example, were you to practice only at night, before bedtime).