Ask the Trainer with Marilyn Gaffney

Mentor, Animal Behavior CollegeMarilyn Gaffney
On The Spot Dog Training

Q: Now that the kids are back in school and we’re not home as often, our Cocker Spaniel, Daisy, seems to be suffering from separation anxiety. She’s normally calm and relatively quiet, but she’s been barking when we leave the house in the morning and, as our neighbors report, howling while we’re away. Is there anything we can do to ease this behavior?

A: How smart of you to be concerned about Daisy’s anxiety when you leave her alone. Many people don’t seek help until the dog’s behavior becomes a behavioral issue that affects them, such as the dog pulling down the blinds or chewing up the couch. It’s great that you are trying to help Daisy before her anxiety escalates to such heights.

Dogs can experience separation anxiety after becoming accustomed to spending a lot of time with their humans. Dogs who become anxious when left alone often manifest their anxiety by barking, howling, pacing, chewing on themselves or other objects, drooling, or soiling in the house. Anxious behaviors, if not addressed, will escalate. Separation anxiety does not go away on its own.

Because a behavior modification program is required to help Daisy become comfortable when home alone, I suggest working with a trainer who has experience helping dogs with separation anxiety. It is important to design the behavior modification program specifically to your family’s regimen and Daisy’s needs.

There are several things you can do to help remedy separation anxiety. Don’t make a big deal out of leaving or coming home. In fact, ignore Daisy five minutes before you depart and for the first five minutes when you return home. Also, while you are home, don’t allow Daisy to follow you everywhere. Help her become comfortable being separated from you. Provide Daisy with interactive, doggie-safe toys that she only gets to play with when you’re gone. Consider a Kong or a Nylabone smeared with a little peanut butter or cream cheese to really engage her interest. Another mind-occupying toy for your dog is a ball that randomly distributes kibble when rolled around by the dog. Help Daisy look forward to you leaving by giving her something to interact with and take her mind off of you being gone. Most dogs sleep the majority of the time they are home alone, so, if you can occupy Daisy for those first minutes when you leave, hopefully, she will lay down and rest after playing with these special toys.

ABOUT the Trainer
After years of teaching classes, Marilyn Gaffney started On The Spot Dog Training in 1991.  Gaffney primarily does personalized training in clients’ homes. Occasionally, she offers classes, but she has found that most dog lovers prefer the convenience of training in their homes when their schedules permit. Gaffney is one of only two trainers in the St. Louis area certified by the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) and enjoys using positive training methods. She also enjoys sharing her experience mentoring new trainers via Animal Behavior College.

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