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One of the best things about cutting-edge pet care in recent years has been the growth in the number of veterinary behaviorists. These specialists save lives by helping animals change behaviors that stretch the human-animal bond to the breaking point.
In cats, that behavior is often inappropriate elimination; in dogs, it's often separation anxiety. In both cases, a combination of environmental management and behavior modification, and in some cases, medication, has saved many a pet from losing a home. But while avoiding the litterbox often has a medical condition (or a couple of them) as a root cause, separation anxiety is in many ways the result of our asking a pack animal to do something for which he was never designed: to spend time alone.
Dogs who act out when left alone may cause significant damage, to themselves or their surroundings, or may bark themselves into a froth-mouthed exhaustion. If your dog has a hard time staying alone, you'll need patience, a plan, and quite possibly the help of a veterinary behaviorist.
If your dog’s anxiety is minor, you may be able to deal with the problem on your own, simply by managing his environment and upping his exercise. Otherwise, I strongly suggest working with a veterinary behaviorist from the start for the best chance at overcoming this distressing problem.
The goal is to help your dog understand and accept that comings and goings are normal. Here are some of the elements that go into reaching that place.
Increase his exercise. Let’s face it — today’s dog’s are “born retired.” That often leads to such obvious health problems as obesity, but pet owners less commonly realize that the sedentary lives many dogs lead is at the root of many behavior problems. Every dog needs exercise every day, and dogs with behavior problems may need more. A tired dog is more likely to be a good dog, so make sure your dog gets at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping activity every day. Of course, before heading out, check with your veterinarian to make sure your dog is free of any medical conditions that would make him unfit to exercise.
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