Treatment Name: Environmental Enrichment

Treatment Type: Lifestyle Practices

Rated for: Curly-Coated Retriever

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Easy to use
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Not likely to solve separatio anxiety and related behaviors it on its own but an essential part of solving it

Caitlin Crittenden



Posted Nov. 20, 2017

Enhancing a dog's environment by providing forms of mental stimulation can make the experience of being left alone less stressful and unpleasant. Providing daily mental stimulation can also help a dog's overall mental and physical well being. Like people, dogs need mental and physical exercise in order for their bodies and minds to function well, there are certain chemicals released in the brain and various functions in the body that depend on such stimulation.
A dog is more easily able to relax and focus when these needs are being met, and providing the dog with a fun game that challenges it or an interesting and rewarding toy, such as a kibble stuffed Kong that it has to work for, or a puzzle toy filled with kibble, or something like a Kong Wobble toy that the dog has to learn to tip over, or something such as one of the automatic treat dispenser machines that rewards the dog for calm behaviors, such as quiet and down, can make the experience of being alone more fun and also distract the dog from the fact that it's owner is gone.
The more the dog enjoys these things while alone, the less anxious the dog is likely to be, and for dogs that are expressing their anxiety through barking, whining, destructive chewing, digging, attempting to escape from your home or their crate, eliminating in the house due to stress even though they are already thoroughly housebroken, howling, and doing other unwanted behaviors while you are gone, reducing the dog's anxiety is likely to decrease these unwanted behaviors some or, even more likely, to make it easier for them to be solved through training that uses the right methods or techniques.
Because separation anxiety can be a hard and complex issue, mental stimulation through environmental enrichment alone will not solve the problem for most, but making sure that the dog's needs are being met in this area and making the environment that the dog is left in more pleasant through mentally stimulating activities and toys, can significantly help other training and treatments be effective.
Providing environmental enrichment through mentally stimulating activities and toys can also help prevent separation anxiety from ever beginning if provided while the dog is young or before the anxiety has begun. Preventing separation anxiety in the first place is always the easiest course of action, so providing environmental enrichment should be a huge priority for all dogs, starting at as young an age as possible.
For some dogs, desensitization training may need to take place before the dog will accept toys and activities while you are away. Many dogs get more and more anxious while they anticipate you leaving. That anticipation can last only a few minutes, after they see you do something like put your shoes on, or it can last and build for hours, after seeing you do something as simple as showering in the morning before work. Once that anxiety has been built up ,a dogs cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone, in the body are so high that it can be extremely hard for the dog to relax and recover from it's fearful mental state. While in this state, many dogs will not accept rewards such as food or toys.

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