It's ALL About- The Nika!
|Barked: Wed Jun 4, '08 7:56am PST |
|Separation Fun—Recognizing and Solving Owner Absent Behavior
When dogs misbehave during an owner’s absence the problem is summarily labeled separation anxiety. In reality, a more apt and descriptive term would be separation fun: In most cases, the dog just cannot wait for the owner to go to work in the morning so that it can go to work on the house and indulge in a well deserved chew, dig, leak or bark.
The problem is the product of an over-reliance on punishment oriented training methods. The dog misbehaves and the owner punishes the dog. Rather than learning the inappropriateness of its specific behavior, the dog learns that it is unadvisable to misbehave in the owner’s presence.
However, activities that humans consider misbehavior, dogs consider to be quite normal, natural, and necessary. Since the dog dares no indulge in these doggy activities in the owner’s presence, it simply waits for the owner to leave.
Separation anxiety is a normal fallacy, whereby merely labeling the owner’s perceived problem becomes the cheap alternative for really trying to understand the etiology, prevention and treatment of a dog’s annoying behaviors in an attempt to arrive at a solution.
Attempting to train a dog solely by punishing the dog’s mistakes is a task of Sisyphean proportion – an everlasting and painfully laborious proposition. Punishment training is extremely ineffective, inefficient, and unreliable. In fact, it often exacerbates existing problems and creates additional ones.
Several problems are generated the first time the dog misbehaves and is not immediately punished. The dog has learned there are times it can act like a dog and get away with it. So it reserves its natural doggy behaviors for those specific times when the owner is 1) physically absent (away from home, upstairs, asleep, taking a shower), 2) physically present but mentally absent (daydreaming, preoccupied, chatting with friends), or 3) physically present but functionally absent in the obedience ring, in company, when holding a baby and a bag of groceries.
Just because an owner cannot effectively punish the dog when it misbehaves does not necessarily mean he will not punish the dog. Instead, the dog is punished when he returns home. As a result, many dogs do indeed become anxious when left alone: the anxiety is prompted by the prospect of the owner’s return, (and expected chastisement). Physical concomitants such as habitual activity (usually bad habits like barking, digging, and chewing), and increased urination frequency and diarrhea usually manifest symptoms of anxiety.
Generally, punishment of any nature is hardly fun for either dog or owner and specifically, delayed punishment is extremely ineffective for resolving behavior problems and extremely effective at destroying the dog’s temperament. An owner can punish the dog upon returning home, and the dog will continue misbehaving in the owner’s absence. Moreover, each punishment progressively erodes the dog’s trust and confidence in the owner. Continued use of delayed punishment promotes considerable antipathy and fear towards the owner.
On the other hand, reward oriented methods resolve most behavior problems. Rather than beating the dog, why not just solve the simple (owner-created) behavior problem? If the dog really becomes anxious when left alone, let’s do something about it pronto.
First, prevent the dog’s problem from further irritating the owner or neighbors, and second actively set about re-training the dog. Either confine the dog to an area where its misbehavior causes minimal damage or rustle up a dog sitter to spend time with the dog until the problems are resolved.
If it is necessary for the dog to be left unattended for long periods of time and if the dog is not yet reliable, confining the dog to a single room will limit potential damage to the confinement area. For example, an indiscriminant eliminator may be confined to the kitchen or a utility room – areas with non-porous floors, which may be kept papered. Thus, long-term confinement becomes a passive learning process whereby the dog becomes accustomed to eliminating on papers. The owner may then take along paper to encourage the dog to eliminate in its toilet area, and it can be used to wrap up and dispose of the waste products.
Similarly, by confining a potential chewer to an empty room littered with chew toys the dog develops the habit of playing with chew toys (if only out of boredom and nothing else to do).
Excessive barkers and diggers should not be confined to the yard. Instead, housetrain the dog. A barker may be left away from neighbors, in a room (easily sound proofed) with a radio playing (both for white noise and comfort).
A digger may be left in the kitchen or in outdoor concrete run with a small digging pit that kept well stocked with toys and treats. After a week of daytime confinement in its run, the dog’s excavations will now occur in the digging pits in its run.
Real Separation Anxiety
It is unfair to acknowledge that a dog is anxious and then do nothing about it. Whether it truly misses its owner or whether it grows anxious at the prospect of the owner’s return owners must realize that they have created the problem so they should do something about it. First, stop punishing the dog during homecomings and second, teach the dog to weather unavoidable periods of social isolation.
Different breeds and different individual dogs are more dependent on their owners than others. Often however; the dog’s dependency is exacerbated by the necessities of the owner’s lifestyle and, also, unintentionally fostered by the owner’s good intentions. If the dog is smothered with attention and affection when the owner is at home it is more likely to become anxious when affection is withdrawn. Creating a Jekyll-and-Hyde environment produces a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality; the dog is as happy as a clam when the owner is at home but depressed, upset and anxious when the owner is away. The owner must endeavor to build up the dog’s confidence so that it can cope with the stress of isolation and confinement.
The only time the owner can realistically train the dog to cope with separation is when the owner is at home to train the dog. Here’s how:
1. When Rover is eating his dinner, gnawing on a bone or sacked out enjoying a tummy-rub by the fire, play a piece of classical or soothing music. After a few recitals, the music will acquire secondary reinforcing properties: It becomes a relaxation tape. Relax with Rover!
2. Either put the dog in its confinement area or let the dog have the run of the house and confine the owner to a single room to read a book. Turn on the relaxation tape and place some recently used and well-matured socks at the bottom of the door separating the dog and owner. The out-of-sight owner may monitor the dog’s behavior and periodically reappear to praise the dog for good behavior, or to reprimand the dog for excessive noise or other inappropriate activity. Dogs quickly adapt to partial separation practiced regularly during evenings and weekends.
3. On Monday morning, with the dog in its safe haven, turn on the relaxation tape, close the door put down the socks and then hurry off to work using an exit the dog can’t see. The dog can smell the owner and hear the owner (the music) but it cannot see the owner. The sounds and smell normally associated with the owner’s presence help reassure the dog during isolation.
The Dog that Cannot be Left Alone
(by Joan M. Locher, Board of Directors of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors)
Does your dog cause problems when you are not at home? Does he engage in behaviors such as destructive chewing, digging, excessive whining, or barking? Is your dog totally housebroken if you are home but often has accidents when you are away? (This causes many people to think their dog is being spiteful because he was left alone, but that is unlikely.) Does he greet you with a great deal of emotion when you return? He may be suffering from isolation anxiety, a condition which is becoming increasingly common among pet dogs.
Today’s lifestyle has a lot to do with this growing problem. Most pets enjoy the privilege of being treated as a member of the family. Including them in our everyday activities creates a special human/animal bond. This bond makes the average “indoor” dog calmer, more well-mannered, and more eager to please than their “outdoor” counterparts. However, the dog of today often lives in two different worlds: smothered with affection half of the time, and totally along the rest of the time. These two extremes can create emotional upheaval within the dog.
Excessive attention may cause the dog to “overbond” to the owner. This can result when the dog sleeps in the owner’s bed and is held or petted for hours at a time. Another contributing factor is leading a sheltered or overprotected existence, in which he is clutched anytime another dog or a stranger approaches. The overbonded dog follows the owner from room to room, constantly paws, leans, or nudges, and cannot stand to be outside in the yard for any amount of time by himself. He will not eat when the owner is not there… even if it’s for several weeks!
How does one develop a healthy bond with their new pet, without making him abnormally emotionally dependent? Make sure your puppy has his own bed, preferably near yours. Socialize the puppy well so that he will be calm and confident around others. Make him earn all petting. If he leans or nudges, tell him “sit” or “down,” and then give only 3 to 5 seconds of petting. If he repeats the nudge, give another command so he can earn another brief pet. When you leave, confine him so he cannot get into trouble, and give him chew toys, fresh water, and soft music in your absence. A good workout of jogging or fetch, before you leave, will tire him and reduce stress. Leave in a matter-of-fact manner, with no emotional goodbyes, and return just as matter-of-factly, with no emotional hellos.
If your dog shows signs of experiencing separation anxiety, what can be done to rehabilitate him? The dog be can conditioned to not overreact to departures by leaving him for very brief periods (perhaps just for a minute or two) several times a day. Also practice sit/stay exercises in a friendly, positive manner. Gradually lengthen the time and distance of the departures and the stay exercises when the dog does well. Shorten them and do them more frequently when he does poorly. Remember that stress is the root of the problem, so negative corrections for any related behaviors would increase stress and make matters worse. Separation anxiety is an emotional response, not the result of disobedience or spitefulness.
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