Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety and Other Common Fears
Animal Planet’s popular dog trainer Victoria Stilwell shares solutions for getting your dog through anxiety, fear of storms, and other worrisome behavior.
Therefore, when I have a thunderstorm-phobic dog, I give the dog a place to go to, like the basement, where the dog can take itself off to, or a closet, which is warm and dark, and I’ll leave a radio or television on. I will do desensitization work with sound because I don’t think it can hurt. Do everything you can to help your dog cope.
Q: What do you think of medicating dogs with strong fears?
A: I’ve only ever put two dogs on medications in 14 years of training. Research has been done, and the evidence is pretty conclusive that a trauma can lead to posttraumatic stress in a dog, exactly like it can in a human. If a dog is too stressed and so wild, you have to get the dog to a point where it can learn. So that’s where I would use medication. But it’s always used with a veterinarian’s consultation and prescribed by a vet. And it’s never for life. It can take around three to six weeks for the medication to work. It’s different for every dog. So normally, maybe for three months, I’d have it on medication.
Q: Why does my dog go nuts and tear up my house every time I leave? How can I stop this from happening?
A: This is separation anxiety -- the excessive chewing to relieve the stress it feels; continual barking; pacing; whining. Sometimes, if it’s really excessive, a dog will chew through walls. I’ve had dogs jump through windows, through glass, to get outside. Most of the destruction is centered on points of exit.
You have to do what I call independence training. You have to stop the hyper-attachment. You have to give your dog the ability to cope. I desensitize a dog to departure triggers, for instance. The dog’s watching you. You’re putting on your clothes, you’re putting on your make up, you get your keys, and the stress starts when you’re putting on your makeup. He knows you’re going to leave, so he starts to fret and get very anxious. So we start to desensitize him to the triggers. You put on your makeup and you don’t leave. You put on your coat and you stay in the house. You break your ritual completely. You go out the door and you come right back. And you do it 50 times a day.