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posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Mary Green

Q.  I have two dogs, Bubba and Charlie. Charlie is my problem child. We live in an apartment complex where there are lots of dogs. Charlie is apparently barking a lot when I’m gone. I know it’s him because I didn’t have any problems with Bubba before Charlie came along. He’s a Terrier mix, about a year old we think, and I’ve had him for about three months. Does he have separation anxiety?

A.  Separation anxiety is a diagnosis that your veterinarian might make based upon Charlie’s behavior. The first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your veterinarian about Charlie’s problems. Many times, what the pet owner believes is separation anxiety is really just a situation where the dog can’t be left alone and unsupervised.

When a dog has separation anxiety, he will exhibit behaviors such as: panting, salivating, vocalizing, pacing, destructiveness, chewing on his paws, flanks or tail; he may urinate or defecate, and may not eat food left for him. The dog appears to be anxious, stressed and uncomfortable. Also, he may scratch and claw at doorways and thresholds or attempt to escape from confinement.

Dogs with “home alone” problems may do some of these same behaviors, but they don’t act anxious. They may not like being home alone and do destructive things and bark, whine or howl, but they will usually eat food that is left for them and play with their toys and whatever else they can get into! If it looks like they had a party while you were gone, they probably did!

If your dog has “home alone” problems, there are steps you can take to help him be more comfortable and calm while you’re gone.

Crate training or confinement training: Reduce the space that your dog has available and restrict him from off-limits areas. Gradually acclimate him to the crate or confinement area and use it sometimes when you are staying home.

Interactive toys: Stuffable and chewable toys, like Kong toys, are wonderful for keeping dogs entertained. Other food delivery toys that are not designed for chewing, such as the Buster cube or Kong wobbler, can provide much mental stimulation and self-reward for clever dogs.

Exercise: Be sure that your dog is getting enough exercise when you are home. Address the need for both physical and mental exercise. A tired dog will nap a bit while you’re gone!

Calming aids: Some dogs are helped by herbal calming treats, aromatherapies, classical music or talk radio. There is a product called DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) that comes in an electrical outlet plug-in design or a collar that the dog wears. Discuss the use of homeopathic supplements with your veterinarian before you try something new.

Environment change: Close the curtains, open the curtains, turn on the TV or radio, or leave it off! Do something different than what you have been doing. Reposition the crate or place it in a different room. Sometimes just moving a dog closer to a heat or air vent or moving them farther away does the trick.

If your veterinarian does diagnose Charlie with separation anxiety, he or she may opt to prescribe medication. Medication alone is not the long-term solution, so behavior modification training will have to happen.

Q.  How can I teach my dog to swim?

A.  How great that you want to teach him! First, ask him if he wants to swim, and where he would like to swim. He may want to frolic at the edge of the pool, or on a step, but may not want to get his whole body in it. He may want to run into the lake or pond, where it is a gradual increase in depth, and splash around on the shore but may not want to jump off the dock or boat.

Put him in a vest! Life jackets or floatation vests for dogs have come a long way and are necessary for all but the most experienced and proficient swimmers. Prices range from around $25 to $75. If you are attempting to teach him how to swim, and he panics, he can cause harm to himself and to you. He is much less likely to panic if he has the vest on and doesn’t go under water.

Try to get him to swim to a toy that he likes. There are some great floating toys available for dogs. Most dogs tend to do better if they have a purpose for swimming! You may also have some luck getting him to swim toward a treat. I know personally that Charlee Bears dog treats float!

If you have a pool in your yard, please teach your dog how to get out of it. It’s imperative that you have a ramp or steps. You can purchase ramps specially designed for dogs that can be left in your pool all the time. Also, remember pool covers are responsible for many dog deaths each year, so don’t assume that your dog will stay off of your pool cover.