Pawsibilities NY

Behavior Modification

Should You Try Medication for Your Dog?

If you have a dog who is reactive, aggressive, anxious or fearful and you have met with a vet, trainer, or both, regarding this, then the matter of medication may have come up.  There are a lot of different medications out there today, similar to what humans take for these issues.  So how do you decide if it is worth trying one of these medications for your dog?

I have come up with 5 questions that I find are helpful to my clients while they are deciding whether or not to try medication for you their dogs:

1. Has your dog been cleared medically of any, and all, possible health concerns associated with these behavioral issues?  And is he healthy enough to take medication?

There are some health conditions that can cause behavior problems.  Hypothyroidism is one for example, but the best thing to do when you notice behavior changes in your dog is to bring him to the vet.  Don’t just let your vet do his normal check-up, but instead explain the behaviors you have seen, with as much detail as possible.  When did the behavior change, has it worsened, and are there other symptoms you are noticing such as loss of appetite or irregular bowel movements?

2. Are you working with a trainer who understands, and is certified in dog behavior, and are you committed to your training and behavior modification program?

Medication will not cure a behavior issue on it’s own especially if your dog has gotten the chance to practice and rehearse this behavior, even if it was started by anxiety, once you cure the anxiety, the issue may still be a habit for your dog.  The example I find is most easy to understand is that people can sometimes start biting their nails because they are nervous, but then after a while, they will bite their nails even when they are not nervous, simply out of habit.  Changing habits is hard!  You will need to be prepared to work to change your dog’s habits each and everyday he is on the medication, other wise it is really pointless.  It will also be important to be working with a trainer who works with science based methods, and is certified to handle behavior modification.  The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) is a great organization that certifies animal behavior consultants for dogs, cats, horses and even birds.  If you are considering starting you dog on medication perhaps consider reaching out to one of the trainers in your area, you can search on their site.  (https://iaabc.org/consultants)

3. Do you have support from a veterinarian who can prescribe behavioral meds?

You will of course want the support of a veterinarian.  Putting your dog on medication is not a small matter, and while it is sometimes necessary, it is vital to be sure you are checking your dog’s blood work regularly and making sure the medication is not adversely affecting his health.

4. Does the behavioral issue affect your life everyday, at least once?

Is the issue so bad that you see it everyday?  If it is lunging and barking at other dogs, does it happen on every walk?  Do you find you don’t want to walk your dog because of this?  If it is anxiety, does your dog deal with this anxiety daily?  Is he stressed when you leave, and you have to leave him 5 days a week to face this stress?  If this is the situation you are facing, then medication could really help both you and your dog to feel better.  If you are facing this problem every single day, then give your dog and yourself some relief!  Think about how quickly many people take a Xanax before getting on a plane, and barely even think twice about it.  If we can offer our dogs, and ourselves, some relief, then why not at least give it a try?

5. Have you received complaints from neighbors, your building, or other threats to your place of residence, due to your dog’s behavior?

If you are at risk of being evicted, or even fined for a noise complaint, than it is really a no brainer.  There is simply no reason not to give medication a try if it is going to make your living situation more pleasant and less at risk.  Especially if you have answered “yes” to questions 1 through 3, then you are set up well to give medication a try.

Just like people who truly need them, these medications really work.  Dogs are complex, highly intelligent creatures, and because of this they can also be highly sensitive.  Some dogs have complicated pasts, and we don’t even always know the extent, if we rescued the dog later in life.  Behavioral medications such as Prozac, Clomicalm, and Anipryl have all been proven to be affective in dogs when paired with a behavior modification program.  If you have been living with a dog who suffers from behavioral issues and you have felt like medication is not necessary, but you answered “yes” to at least 4 out of the 5 questions, then I hope you will reconsider.  There is no reason to feel badly, or responsible, a lot of dogs, and people need medication, if it will help improve your quality of life, it is well worth a try!  Please contact a certified trainer in your area if you need help with this.

All Dogs Resource Guard: Part 3, Owner Guarding

All dogs resource guard if we find something they designate as a resource.  Dogs will protect their resources, it is a natural behavior.  To better understand this please read parts 1 and 2 of this blog:

http://pawsibilitiesny.com/dogs-resources-guard-part-1/

http://pawsibilitiesny.com/paws/dogs-resource-guard-part-2/

For this part 3 we will discuss specifically dogs who resource guard their owners.  This can be very challenging because it manifests in many ways.  Perhaps your dog becomes upset or aggressive when another dog comes towards you in the dog run, and this has kept you from going to to dog run all together.  Maybe your dog barks and makes a big fuss when anything he perceives as a threat comes near you.  This could be disruptive in your neighborhood and cause you to become an outcast.  Whatever the specifics are, you can handle this in similar ways.

First it is best to have another person who can help with the training, or a Treat & Train.  This person should be someone the dog is familiar and comfortable with who has plenty of high value treats available.  If you are using a Treat & Train then be sure the dog is tethered, with enough room that there is slack in the leash, and the dog is conditioned to understand the Treat & Train and has used it prior to this training session.

Next you want to have one or both of the of the owners, seated about 5 to 10 feet away from the dog.  The last piece of this equation is a helper dog, one who doesn’t mind if he is barked at or lunged at, but pretty much just keeps on going about his business.  Have the helper dog begin to approach the seated owner, the resource, and as soon as the helper dog begins approaching, the Treat & Train, or the person handling the dog, will begin feeding high value treats.  Next the helper dog will retreat away from the owner, and the treats will stop to the working dog, showing that when dogs approach his owner he receives treats while when they move away from his owner, the treats stop.  This will help to build a positive association with other dogs approaching his owner.

You will want to continue this process until the dog sees the helper dog approach and immediately looks to the Treat & Train or the other person for the treats.  This response will show that the dog is understanding the association between the approach of other dogs and the reward of high value treats.  This is counter conditioning at work, before the high value rewards the dog viewed people approaching his owner as a bad thing, now he views it as a time that he gets good treats, and good things happen to him!

If your dog barks when he perceives a threat coming near his owner or resource it can sometimes be helpful to try some abandonment training.  We will of course only do this to the lowest extent that we would need to, but if your dog barks when a car, stroller or other perceived threat approaches, then this may be the best way to handle this.  Work with a professional, and have her holding your dog on a long leash.  Then walk your dog on your normal leash with them following behind.  As soon as your dog begins to react, drop the leash and walk in the opposite direction as him.  If he calms quickly and stops barking and reacting, then you can rejoin him and pick up your leash and continue your walk.  As I always say, there is no reason to stay mad at your dog, as soon as they have moved onto good behavior, forgive them, and move on too!  (perhaps this is good advice for other relationships…)

The other good way to deal with this, if your neighbors can deal with it, is simply to ignore your dog if he begins barking at his triggers, wait for him to stop, and praise and reward him when he does.  Dogs repeat their successes so ignore the bad, and reward and reinforce the good.  This can also be good to do using a clicker.  For more on clicker training check out my blog: http://pawsibilitiesny.com/blog/obedience-training-a-tricks/7-what-is-clicker-training.html

You want to change your dog’s mind about other dogs’, or things, approaching you, because your dog views you as a resource, and these triggers as a threat to his resource.  This is not uncommon, and perhaps you even don’t think it is such a big deal, but again resource guarding of any kind is an anxiety based reflex, so if we can cure our dogs of anxieties, why wouldn’t we?  Work slowly with the above methods until your dog views the approach of another dog towards you as good thing.  As soon as he is turning to the person or Treat & Train to say: “I know that dog’s approach means that I am going to get something good!”  We have begun to change his mind and make him  realize that what he once resource guarded, is something well worth sharing!

All Dogs Resource Guard, Part 2

It is important to read part 1, so if you didn’t get the chance yet, you can read it by clicking the link below:

All Dogs Resources Guard, Part 1

In this part of our resource guarding discussion I will be offering techniques that can be used to desensitize your dog to your approach, and counter condition his feelings about your approach, if he has some bad feelings already, and has shown signs of resource guarding it is important to consult a professional for help because some of these techniques will be risky is you are not certain about your dog will respond.  If you have any fear that he might guard or snap, please contact a trainer, and don’t try these steps until you have.

If you have a dog who will chew his bone happily, but if you stand up from the couch he runs and takes the bone under the coffee table, you could help him to over come this fear of your approach and let him learn that, quite frankly if you are getting up off the couch, it isn’t to take his stinky bully stick, there are likely things you are far more interested in, in the kitchen!  So while you might not worry about this behavior, it is causing stress in your dog’s life, that is completely unnecessary, so let’s help him overcome it!

There are two parts to this training, and from there you could have many different stages that you must complete both steps to move forward.  The first part is desensitization, and the second part is counter conditioning.  You might have to desensitize and counter condition your dog to you leaning towards his bone, as a first stage, and actually touching or picking up his bone as a last stage, so there could be many stages in between.

The key to successful desensitization is not to push it!  I always say it is like gambling, quit while your ahead, don’t keep betting until you are broke!  So when I first start out with a dog that behaves the way I explained in the previous example, where he will take his bone and hide with it, I will start out with a behavior that will be the least threatening to him, so he is learning my approach is not a bad thing, and I might just turn and walk away.  So the very beginning of desensitizing your dog to your approach might look like a dance: you start a distance away that your dog accepts, meaning he does not continue to retreat and put distance between you.  Don’t corner him either, give him the option to run further away, but he chooses not to.  Let’s say 5 steps away, so stand 5 steps away from your dog, let him notice you, maybe count to three, and then turn and walk away.  Don’t rush it!  approach again and take 4 and a half steps toward your dog, and wait a few seconds and walk away.  If he retreats away from you, we have pushed it too far!

Here is a video of me practicing desensitization with a dog who is a low level resource guarder:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wfFom1IyZU

The next stage for this might be when i can get within 1 step of my dog, and I might just barely begin to reach for his bone.  If you are standing, don’t bend down and reach for his bone, these are two separate stages, so either bend down near him with his bone, or remain standing and reach for his bone from the standing position, so you don’t come very close to it at all.  Again if at any point he picks up his bone and runs away, you have pushed it too far, so have a seat, and take a break, but definitely do not get upset with your dog!  Just like it is in’t appropriate to punch the dealer in the face when we lose, we cannot get upset with our dog when we push the desensitization too far.  Just take a break, and start again, and learn your lesson!  Think on the bright side; in reality you didn’t lose any money!

For the second part of this training you want to counter condition your dog about his feeling about your approach.  Instead of being something that causes stress or anxiety, teach your dog that approach means really great things happen to him.  Sticking with our above example again, we could sometimes do our approach with some very tasty treats.  As you approach your dog toss him a treat that he can eat right where he is without having to walk away from his bone.  Teach him that when you approach, treats just start coming to him!

If you want to counter condition your dog to your arm reaching for his bone, the easiest way to do this is to have a treat in your hand, reach towards his bone, only enough to not send him running, and leave the treat behind.  Repeat this several times until your dog see your arm coming and he gets excited to see it because he knows it means rewards are coming, rather than his bone is leaving!  Again don’t push it.  Don’t practice a bunch of these and then just grab his bone to take it away.  If you work up to the point that you can put your hand right next to the bone, and leave a treat behind, then you can move onto to touching the bone and leaving a treat behind, or even picking it and putting it right back down with a treat.

Here is a video of me practicing counter conditioning with the same dog:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6znncAspIIM

The key to success will be to work slowly and use management when you can’t train, so that you don’t run into issues where you are forced to take something from your dog.  In other words, if your dogs real trouble is with bully sticks, manage his environment and be sure he never gets a bully stick, unless you are ready to train, and I would suggest having three treats of different levels.  So maybe you have lamb lung as the lowest lever treat, meat log could be the next best thing, and finally boiled chicken could be the best treat option, just in case we need to up the ante!  If it isn’t bully sticks, but instead is something like tissues, that you don’t want you dog to ever have, it is best to work on a leave it command.

To be the most successful with this kind of training I like to lay it out on a piece of paper, I start on the far right and write down my end goal, maybe taking a bully stick from my dog.  I then go to the far left and write something very simple that I believe I will be able to do with my dog, like perhaps approach within 5 feet of my dog while he has Bully Stick.  And then I sit and write as many different stages as I can possibly think of in between.  The more the better!  It might feel like it is going to make more work for you, but it will be quite the opposite, you will have the most success by taking it slow!  So you might have 20 or more stages, and at first in your training sessions you might only get to three or four of them, but just take it slow.

If at any time your dog’s behavior makes you more nervous than you feel comfortable with, please stop this training and consult a professional.  Cetified professionals can be four at the following sites:

http://www.apdt.com

https://iaabc.org

http://www.ccpdt.org

Join Us Tonight!  Our very first Blog Dog Walk of the season!  The weather is supposed to be perfect, so come on over to the great lawn at 9:00p.m. and discuss resource guarding, or just come for some good dog talking company!  We will meet near the basketball courts on the great lawn and we weill begin to stroll around the lawn for about an hour, so come at 9:00, or join up with us later.  All are welcome.  

By in Behavior Modification 0

Does Your Leash Turn Your Dog into Mr. Hyde?

Does your dog turn into a growling, snarling, crazy Cujo while on leash? Or maybe a cowering scaredy-cat who hits the deck? This can be a very common problem in crowded areas such as cities. If your leash changes your dog’s behavior, chances are, he is leash reactive.

The first thing to do is define your dog’s triggers, and be as specific as possible. Is it other dogs that set your dog off? If so, which ones? Are they larger? Or maybe black dogs set your dog off? The more specific you can be, the better! Other common triggers include: children, people whose appearance is different, fast moving objects, things on wheels such as skateboards, or strollers. For some dogs it is only a problem if they are on leash while the other dog is not. Many dogs who are leash reactive to other dogs, are perfectly fine with when off leash.

It is helpful to think of your leash as a pair of handcuffs. Of course not in the criminal sense, but more in the sense of how limited you are, or would be, while wearing handcuffs. Imagine you are at a dinner party and you are the only guest wearing handcuffs, you would have to ask for a lot of help with things you could normally do yourself. It could be frustrating, and it would be limiting. The same is true for your dog while he is on leash; he gives up most of his control to you. Dogs have a fight or flight mentality and most adult dogs who have spent any amount of time leash have learned that the leash eliminates their ability for flight, so their only option is fight!

If you have turned to a choke or prong collar because your dog is out of control on leash, and you felt you had no where else to turn, unfortunately those tools can really worsen leash reactivity. Prong collars hurt your dog. This is how they work; through painful punishment to lessen behavior. This means that if you are using a prong, your dog should be pulling less, if he is not, you are just harassing him with a painful tool, but not affectively training any behavior. Now think of it in your dog’s eyes; he gets out of your boring apartment, and right outside is his best friend! Hooray! He is so excited to see him and get to socialize a bit, and he runs to greet, and BAM! He is snapped directly in the throat with hard metal pins of a rpong collar, OUCH! He feels that pain, and right after seeing another dog. This happens three or four more times and your dog will start to believe that it is the other dog that causes this painful pinch. Next thing you know, you bring your dog outside and see his best friend, but instead of bounding toward him happily, your dog snaps, growls and barks aggressively. You can’t blame him, he is saying “stay back, when you get close I get hurt!” I have seen exactly this scenario more times than I can count. The truth is even if your dog is on a flat collar and you jerk it when he sees other dogs, or any of the above triggers, you can cause this same problem, but with any of these painful tools, it happens a lot quicker.

No matter how badly you want to, you cannot punish the fear out of your dog. The other most common cause for a dog to be reactive to something is lack of experience, which usually causes the dog to be weary of these things. Again you cannot punish your dog into being alright with something he doesn’t understand, instead you are teaching him to not like these things, and building a negative association.

The best thing to do to avoid this, is to train your dog! Train your dog outside on leash to listen to you, and heel! Next, if you are lucky enough to have your pup while he is still in his crucial socialization period, then you want to socialize him like crazy. See my blog on socialization: To Socialize, or Not to Socialize: This Is the Question.

If your dog already suffers from leash reactivity, it might be best to contact a certified behavior consultant. I think this is the most common problem I deal with in the city on a daily basis! Every dog seems to have something that causes him to trigger, even if it isn’t as serious as some of the others. You want to work to desensitize and counter condition your dog to his triggers. The key to desensitization is it can never be too easy. This means that you want to expose your dog to his trigger(s) in a way he can accept, so that he notices, but does not react. The easiest way to do this is add space, or less exposure time. Usually you can curb your dog’s reaction if you can get far enough away from his triggers, or can interrupt his eye contact before he fixates. Counter Conditioning is working to change your dog’s mind about his triggers. This is like the idea that if you see someone you don’t like, and you scowl at them, but then you look in your pocket, and wow, there is $100! Then the person walks by again, and you think, hmm… and check your pocket, and again $100, by the third time, you aren’t scowling anymore, you might even look for the person! that is what we are hoping for; that instead of your dog fearing the encounter with his trigger, he will look forward to it!

We want to do this with your dog by playing a game called “where’s the trigger?” If your dog’s trigger is other dogs, then the game is “Where’s the Dog?” Again give your dog enough distance to not trigger, so maybe sit on a bench where you know dogs will pass, near a dog park, pet store, or vet. Let the dogs pass and let your dog see them. Try to beat your dog to triggering, so he only needs to look at the other dog for a moment before you have him look back at you and then get a treat. You can even point at the dog and say “where’s the dog” to your dog, then use the treat to lure his eyes to yours, praise and reward him. Little by little you can move closer, or allow him to look at the trigger longer, but the key is to eliminate his triggering, so you don’t want to push it, it is a lot like gambling, quit while you are ahead!

This is not an easy thing to accomplish and most trainers even have decoy dogs, or fake dogs to help with the training. If you are seeing behaviors like this from your dog, don’t wait, contact a professional, because every time he is allowed to trigger it is making this behavior a more practiced behavior, and even a habit.  The sooner you get started on correcting it, the easier it will be!

By in Behavior Modification 0

All Dogs Resources Guard, Part 1

All dogs resource guard. In fact I would say that all people resource guard too! What is resource guarding? Lately I have been seeing more and more low level resource guarding cases, where the dog is not a threat to bite immediately, but they are stressed, anxious and uncomfortable with a threat to something they consider a resource. A resource is anything that means enough to us that we do not want it taken away. The reason is not so important, but it could be something we like, or even something we feel we need for survival. Guarding is any behavior the dog will show that demonstrates she is uncomfortable with someone or something approaching her resource. It does not mean your dog needs to snap or bite you over the resource. Speed eating, freezing and even just walking away with the item, are all signs of our dog resource guarding. Your dog should feel comfortable enough to be able to eat and enjoy her resource at leisure, not have to eat it fast or under the dining room table. These are minor signs of guarding, but they still show a dog who is anxious, so why not help your dog get better?

Well the truth is, throw your own feelings about it out the window, and don’t over react. If you stop yourself from getting upset, and instead turn the situation into a game you find much more success. Run away from your dog, leaving her with the item she is guarding, run into your kitchen, and start to take out some tasty treats. Make a lot of fun noises, and even say things like “oh my goodness, what do we have here…” If your dog happily follows you and comes into the kitchen, then reward her! If she brought the item with, then trade her, and if she left it in the other room, you can toss some treats across the room, let your dog go get them, and calmly go get the item.

Another way this could break down would be that your dog steals an item, and she guards it from you, her owner, the provider of all good things that come to her. Why on earth would she do this? In a moment of emotional stress you decide to try to punish her in some form for this resource guarding. Any kind of correction from physical, to yelling or scolding can really impact your dog’s resource guarding. If we stop and think about it from her perspective, she has something she really wants, and then you come along and try to take it away, rather rudely in her eyes, and then she gets into trouble for this, when all she was doing was enjoying herself. The next time you come over to her and she has something she doesn’t want you to take, her behavior will likely escalate to growling or showing teeth, or perhaps even snapping at you. You really can’t blame her, in a way you resource guarded her own item from her, and all she is doing is defending herself and her resource. If you can imagine for just a minute that instead of this happening, you approach with a super tasty treat and trade her. The next time you approach, she won’t have her guard up, she will be looking for the tasty treat!

Your actions have consequences! The more your dog thinks you want something, the more she is going to want it. Also your words have an impact on your dog’s resource guarding. I have seen the exact scenario with a Yorkie I work with. If I approached him with his bone, and I yelled at him, something like “oh no what does he have?!” he would grab up the bone, run away and even growl, almost as if to mimic my growly scolding. If I then approached him, immediately following this first try, and I keep my body language exactly the same, even running towards him with arm streteched out, but I keep my mouth shut, and much to my surprise he drops the bone, sits up and looks at me like I am crazy… My scolding and words were not only useless, they made the situation worse, so be careful with this.

I always try to teach people that your words should mean something to your dog. Sit means you want the dog to lower her rump to the ground, drop it means I want the dog to let go of whatever is in her mouth, but what does “NO!” or any scolding really mean to our dog? No barking, no jumping, no chewing on the sofa, no stealing underwear out of the laundry… there are just so many “no’s” at the end of the day, just forget it and teach your dog the yes’s! Teach your dog a formal leave it, and drop it command. These are two different commands, and can be used as a powerful pair! For this “leave it” will be a command we use for something our dog will never get. That being said, you can give your dog the treat you use during training leave it, but do this in a different context, in other words move it after your leave it, and ask your dog to sit, and reward her with the treat for sitting. “Drop it” is used for items that your dog picks up, and can sometimes, have back, especially during the training period. “Drop it” is great for balls, sticks and toys.

Leave it can be complicated to learn, so I made this instructional video to help:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z43B81l2DjQ

For “leave it” I like to keep a treat in my closed fist and allow the dog to smell, lick and to try to get the treat, eventually she will give up and likely just sit back, or sniff the floor, when this happens we immediately praise and reward from the other hand. I find it best to switch hands, so the leave it hand goes behind your back, and you can always put your hands back behind your back to start again. After a few repetitions, your dog will likely start to get the picture, and we can say “leave it” when we see her leave the treat, praise and reward. In this case the CPR will all happen right in a row, when we see the behavior. “Leave it” is an important command all dogs, it teaches impulse control. Once you have completed this first part you can switch the order. Say “leave it” first and then show your dog the treat in your leave it hand. If your dog goes for the treat, at all, even leans towards it, just take it away and try again. If she doesn’t go for the treat, then praise, switch hands, and reward from your other hand.

“Drop it” as a command can be used with food and items you can and will give back to your dog. We want “Drop it” to be such an easy decision for her, she hears it, drops what is in her mouth, gets a very tasty treat and gets the item right back! What could be better than drop it? To start, give your dog something she really wants to hold onto, like the bully stick. Let her chew it a while, and then put a very tasty treat, like boiled chicken, in your closed fist, place your fist up to her nose so that her nose rests almost on the palm of your hand and she can smell the treat, try not to grab for the item in her mouth, instead just let it fall onto the floor. Say “Drop it” only once, and then praise as soon as she does, open your hand and let her eat the treat. Then bend down, pick up the bully stick and give it right back to her. If she is laying down chewing the bone intently, you may need to put the treat on the floor to get her to drop the bone, and this will also be a good way to practice a few times, without taking the bone. Just say “drop it” toss the chicken on the floor, praise her when she drops the bone, and let her eat the chicken and go right back to chewing on the bone. We don’t want her to think we are always taking things away from her.

Practice these commands, and teach your dog that you are certainly not a threat to her resources, you provide them, and when you ask for them back, you do it nicely and in a way that makes your dog think giving up these items to you is the best thing in the whole world. It can be emotional, and we as owners tend to take resource guarding personally, but these feeling don’t help the situation, and can even make it worse in a lot of cases. Leave your feelings out of it, and teach your dog that there is no need to worry! This is only the beginning, there is a lot you can do to prevent and work through resource guarding issues, so keep an eye out for future blogs!

By in Behavior Modification 0

Separation Anxiety: What It Really Means for You and Your Dog

Separation Anxiety: What It Really Means for You and Your DogSeparation Anxiety, in it’s true form, can be the hardest behavior to cure in dogs, especially without prescription medications. If your dog has true separation anxiety it means that he cannot be left alone for up to fifteen minutes, without losing control of his bladder and/or bowels. If this is what you are experiencing with your dog, then please consult a trainer or veterinarian. If your dog cries sometimes, or shows slight signs of separation anxiety then perhaps some of these tips will help. If your dog does not have or show signs of separation anxiety then by following these simple steps you can help make sure it does not develop.

First of all it is important to leave your dog alone for at least 20 minutes every day. Start this from the moment you bring him home, regardless of his age. It is important for your dog to accept being alone, so even if you work from home, go out for a walk, or grab a coffee, and leave your dog at home.

While it can be difficult for us, as people to accept and understand, it may help your pup to limit his space while alone. This does not mean you have to use a crate, but I will say that in all the dogs I have worked with, those that were crate trained, never exhibited separation anxiety, maybe it is a coincidence, but I tend to doubt it. Even if you do not want use a crate, limiting your dog’s space, including keeping him away from your front door, can really help him to settle while you are away. If your dog has no choice but to rest, because that is all there is space for, then he will do so, but if he can pace, or patrol your windows, this can heighten his anxieties while you are away.

Do not make a big deal out of leaving your dog, or coming home to him. When you come home if your dog is barking, jumping or excitable, then just ignore this behavior, and don’t say hello to him until he settles down. We don’t want this anxious excitable energy to be rewarded with attention, because then we are reinforcing this, and we will see more of this. If your dog is in the crate and he is barking, do not let him out until he settles down and is quiet, or he will learn that barking gets him out of his crate. I always tell owners to think of barking like a game of red-light, green-light. When your dog is barking: red-light, when he stops: green-light!

Practice your “leaving routine” without actually leaving. We all tend to do things in a specific order when we are leaving our home, make a list of these things and do them, out of context, when you are not leaving. Put on your shoes, pick up your keys, and go sit down on your couch. Also on days you are actually leaving, do these things in a different order to throw off your dog. Practice going in and out of your front door. Go in and out, over and over, without any lag time, until your dog is so bored with it, he walks away and ignores you.

Feed your pup on a schedule! This is important for so many reasons, but as it relates to separation anxiety, it allows us to predict when our dog is hungry. If we know when our dog gets fed, and eats his food, we can use this to help prevent separation anxiety. The way we can use this is to plan our trips out when our pup is most hungry. If your dog eats breakfast around 9 a.m. then consider planning a trip out around 10, and skip his breakfast that day. Then at 10 before you leave, stuff his food into a food stuff-able toy, and give it to him when you leave. If you happen to come home before he has finished, then take this food toy away. This will teach your pup that he only gets to play with such a fun toy, while he is alone.

Finally if your dog does suffer from separation anxiety and he barks or cries a lot while you are gone, please contact a trainer, do not turn to a temptation like a citronella collar or even worse a shock collar. This will make your dog’s anxieties much worse, and will likely take a dog who was only barking while alone, to a dog who defecates in your home when left alone-believe me I have seen this exact scenario many times. The fact is that if your dog has to wear one of these collars when you are gone, this will only give him a reason to be afraid of being alone; he only get shocked when alone. Also this is a true anxiety, I relate it most closely to a fear of flying, which most people can understand. If you told someone who you cared about that you were afraid of flying, and they just told you to suck it up and be quiet, it wouldn’t help you feel better, your dog feels this way about being left alone, and the collar is saying to him: “just suck it up and be quiet.” You haven’t addressed the anxiety so while the symptom of barking might get better, the problem is still there, and I assure it is getting worse!

The best thing to do to prevent separation anxiety is by following these steps and considering crate training. If your dog has separation anxiety, I would consult a trainer as soon as possible, the more time wasted, the more time your dog has had to rehearse his anxious behaviors, and form bad habits. It is never too late to help overcome these habits, so start today!