The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

June 3, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Time apart tough for pets and owners

JOPLIN, Mo. — Since I became a Joplin resident over nine months ago, I have had my dog, Cami, with me the whole time. We've explored trails, survived thunderstorms, slept on the couch and had some epic belly rubs.

As of last weekend, she has been at a friend's house as I prepare for my summer road trip. It was hard for me to see her press up against the window as the car pulled away, but I know she's in good hands. It has been weird to turn the key to my apartment and not have her come running to me. I still wake up in the morning and think of checking for her because she isn't by my side already.

We both have had a heavy dose of separation anxiety, though her symptoms have manifested in several ways for a long time. For those of you not familiar with the term, it is when your pet starts showing behaviors that are usually panic-driven and destructive because of an absence of a person.

Before I moved here I had the luxury of living with other people, and many of the behaviors that are now apparent were less obvious because she had a surrogate. Now that we have been alone for a bit, she has become overly attached. I've worked steadily for the past few months on changing these behaviors, and I am making progress, so I thought I'd share some of my tips.

My dog is somewhat crate-trained, but many of these ideas will work if your dog is loose in your house while you are away. Crate training is not a good way to deal with anxiety and may cause physical harm to your pet or harm to its psyche .

First off, set some ground rules for yourself and your pet. Many of your behaviors are adding to the panic that sets in. Stop making a big production of leaving the house for the day. Stop punishing your dog for making a mess while you are gone. Get to the root of why your dog is reacting in a certain way. Your dog isn't using the bathroom on your rug because it is mad at you -- it is doing it because it is scared.

I try to get my dog on a routine so she feels comfortable. When I wake up in the morning, I take my dog out for a walk around my apartment complex a few times. It wakes her up a bit and tells her that the day is starting. Even when I'm not leaving, I make sure to get this walk in.

When you do leave, act as if it's no big deal. Your time away is your personal time, and your dog shouldn't have to freak out about it. Start by leaving your dog alone for five minutes and then come back. However, don't acknowledge it when you enter your house. Let it naturally calm itself and then give it love. Work your way up to an hour and you'll have gone a long way toward stopping undesirable behavior.

There are medications out there that can help calm your dog, but I'm not a fan of using drugs on my pet in order to correct its behavior. Putting in time with your dog will usually stop undesirable behavior. Only consider drugs if your dog is doing harm to itself. As always, this is a dialogue that should be opened with your veterinarian.

My dog will be back home in a month. I hope she is having a good time with her former co-owner, but I can't wait for her to be back home. Her time away has made me value what she brings to the house and to my everyday life. Once my walking buddy gets back, I'll let you know what new adventures we get into.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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