Dogs of all breeds suffer from separation anxiety, but when your dog is a 180-pound Saint Bernard, he can do a lot of damage before you return home. Your Saint doesn’t act out to spite you for leaving him; he does it because he can’t control his nervousness.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
For the most part, Saint Bernards are gentle giants who lounge around and sleep the majority of the time. But they’re also social souls, and they prefer your company to being alone. Signs that your Saint suffers from separation anxiety range from a chewed chair leg to complete destruction of anything within jaw or paw reach. Your neighbors may report near-constant barking and whining, and your Saint might relieve himself indoors, even if you walked him just before you left.
Soothing Your Saint’s Senses
Saints under 2 years of age are the most likely to exhibit destructive separation behaviors. At this age they are still prone to chewing, and when they feel nervous, anything they can wrap their teeth around is at risk. Provide plenty of chew bones and hard rubber toys to wear out your furkid's jaws. Turn a radio on and pull the blinds or dim the lights to create a relaxed atmosphere. A small room, kennel or crate is more soothing than having the run of the house or being kept in a large yard.
Walk Off Stress
Exercise works wonders for wearing out your dog before you leave. The good news is that it takes less exercise to tucker out a Saint than it does to tire out other dog breeds. A brisk 30-minute walk in the morning will help your big boy relax and fall asleep for a few hours. Six hours alone is the max, however. If you can’t stop by on your lunch hour or another family member won’t be home, have a friend drop in to check on your Saint and take him for a short walk if you keep him indoors.
Acting out is a natural response that turns into habitual behavior. The sooner you start retraining, the sooner your dog will learn to control himself. Practice leaving just as you would when you go to work. Put your Saint in his room or kennel, gather your purse and keys and tell him goodbye. Return in a few minutes. If your Saint is calm, pet him but if he’s bouncing around – ignore him completely until he calms down. Repeat the practice sessions five or more times per day.
Make your Saint sit patiently before you fill his food bowl or before you give him a toy or dog bone. This reinforces the idea that uncontrolled behavior is not desirable.
Responding to Anxiety Damage
No matter how angry you feel, don’t scold or punish your Saint if you come home to destruction. Negative corrections only intensify his anxiety. When you come home to find everything in order, reward your Saint with praise and a dog treat. Because this breed is naturally complacent, the odds are good that your Saint Bernard will calm down with age and with patience and consistent reinforcement.
Glenda Taylor is a contractor and a full-time writer specializing in construction writing. She also enjoys writing business and finance, food and drink and pet-related articles. Her education includes marketing and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.