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Handling Separation Anxiety In Your Beagle

Like all dogs, Beagles are pack animals. They're not meant for solitude, and quickly become anxious, depressed, and destructive if left to their own devices for any longer than a few hours.

If you have a demanding schedule which excludes the company of your pet Beagle - for example, full-time work, or a packed social calendar - then it's likely that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, and probably isn't enjoying life that much. Beagles are prone to this condition more than most other dogs, due to their affectionate, sensitive natures and desire for near-constant human contact.

What's Separation Anxiety?

All dogs are at risk of separation anxiety, particularly those who have suffered a traumatic upheaval in their lives - for example, abandonment or a change in ownership. When you leave, your dog can't tell where you're going or when you'll be back, which is a prime cause of unhappiness and destructive behavior in dogs. Dog suffering from separation anxiety will exhibit some or all of the following behaviors:

  • Whining, trembling, and crying
  • Destructive behavior characteristic of an anxious, frustrated or lonely dog: chewing, digging, repetitive barking, self-harm (for example, pulling out fur, scratching raw spots into the coat, excessive licking at the fur and skin)
  • Unusual or inappropriate defecation and urination
  • Excess salivation: you'll find puddles of saliva on the ground when you return
  • Your dog will probably maintain close and anxious contact with you when you are home: he will follow you from room to room, be underfoot, and generally attach himself to you.

Why Does He Act Like That?

  • Puppies that are weaned too early are at a much higher risk of separation anxiety than other dogs. For example, puppies sold in pet shops are typically a 'product' of a puppy mill, where puppies are taken from their mothers at four or five weeks as a matter of course (as opposed to the recommended eight to ten weeks).
  • Pet-shop puppies are usually sold at about ten to fifteen weeks. Between the time they have arrived at the pet store - probably about five or six weeks old - and the time they're sold, they are usually kept confined in a small glass cage, are handled and prodded by a procession of different people (employees, customers) and are not exercised, trained, or shown any real affection. Generally confined either alone or with one or two other puppies, they can suffer intense bouts of loneliness - an experience which will remain with them for a long time. This is one reason why you should never support pet-stores by buying animals from them - the modus operandi of the generic pet store is pointlessly cruel to the animals.
  • Past neglection - again, such as dogs adopted from a rescue shelter. These dogs have often suffered traumatic or terrifying events in their lives before ending up at a rescue shelter, where they then have anywhere from a few weeks to several months' wait in a small concrete cell with little to no exercise before adoption by a new owner. This flurry of new situations and people is confusing and upsetting in the extreme for most dogs and is a typical base cause of separation anxiety.

How to Reduce Your Beagle's Anxiety

Treating separation anxiety is a slow, gradual process. There is no 'quick fix' - your dog behaves the way he does for a reason, and events traumatic enough to spark separation anxiety are generally pretty serious. Be prepared for some difficult times ahead and stick with the program.

  • Give your dog LOTS of exercise. Really tire him out before you go anywhere. For a Beagle, this means running alongside a bicycle (on a leash, of course), several intense games of Frisbee or fetch, or a prolonged, vigorous walk (at least an hour - Beagles are fit, active dogs!). Time the exercise to finish just before you leave the house, if possible.
  • When you're home, do not reinforce your dog's desperate desire to maintain close proximity to you at all times. Try to distance yourself from him: if he follows you from room to room, bring his bed into the room that you're going to be in for awhile and send him to it. Give him a rawhide chew or a prized toy to reward him for making such a dedicated effort (make no mistake, for a dog suffering from separation anxiety, giving up a prime opportunity to stick to your ankles really is a heroic effort). Gradually work this up to having your dog in the room next to you.
  • Given a chance familiarize himself with the routine, your Beagle will be able to tell when you're about to leave. Certain behaviors and habits on your part will tip him off: brushing your teeth, changing your clothes, putting on a coat, the sound of jingling car keys - all of these sights and sounds can become associated with you leaving. You need to desensitize your Beagle to the leaving process. Start by practicing these departure rituals once every few minutes - for example, picking up your keys and walking out the door; then return immediately and sit down. Do this throughout the day until your dog no longer reacts (generally one or two days). Then, practice coming and going for small periods of time: start with five minutes and work up to twenty, adding five minutes at a time. Make no particular fuss of your dog before you leave and after you come back (you can still greet him, but don't swamp him in affection).
  • For about ten to fifteen minutes before you leave and upon your return, don't pay any special attention to your Beagle. If you do, it validates his concern that something's up - there shouldn't be any need to 'comfort' him unless there really is an issue (he thinks).
  • When you are out, leave a piece of clothing you've recently worn with your Beagle. This can have a soothing effect, and minimizes the sense that you've abandoned him.
  • Try leaving a radio on quietly, playing soothing music - classical music, for example - when you're out. Or leave the TV on, if your dog is inside, on a talk show if possible.
  • Make things as pleasant as possible for your Beagle when you've left him alone. Make sure he has lots of comfortable bedding, that he's warm, has cold water available, and lots of toys that occupy his mind: for example the Buster cube, which releases a treat every five times it's turned over; or a Kong toy, which is indestructible and can be filled with cheese, peanut butter, or some other tempting and tasty treat. Your Beagle can spend several hours trying to get all the food out.
  • If you're going to be missing one of his meal times (this should only be done rarely and when you REALLY have no other choice), see that he has an adequate supply of his usual food.
  • For really serious cases, speak to your vet about medication, which is administered before you leave. Clomicalm tablets are useful for treating anxiety-related disorders, as it works to decrease fear and increase receptivity to behavioral modification (i.e. you training him to not be anxious). These are intended as a tool to be used in increasing your dog's tolerance to your absences, and he will be weaned off them eventually as his behavior improves. Do not self-prescribe, even if a friend is giving the tablets to their dog; you should always talk to your vet about medications for your dog.
  • If you come home to a scene of destruction, do NOTpunish your dog. There's no lesson to be learned anyway, since you haven't caught him in the act; furthermore, any punishment now will serve to heighten his anxiety. A dog suffering from separation anxiety is in a pretty much permanent state of tense unhappiness, and adding any confusion to the mix (such as telling him off when he doesn't understand why) will increase that unhappiness a great deal. Do you really want to subject your poor Beagle to this extra load? If you need to correct behavior, it must be done while he's actually in the act or else your 'correction' will mean absolutely nothing.

For more information on treating and preventing separation anxiety in your Beagle, exactly what causes it and all the steps you can take to ensure your dog's anxiety is correctly taken care of, check out the Separation Anxiety chapter (page 161) of Secrets to Dog Training.

Remember, if your Beagle is suffering from separation anxiety, he really is suffering in the true sense of the word. If the symptoms are severe or persistent, consult with your vet about how to correctly handle the problem.

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