Factors at the root of this disorder include species specific predispositions, genetics, early learning and owner behavior. Your Maltese is a social, pack animal who relies on the others for individual protection by safety in numbers. Dogs that lack confidence, due to under socialization, lack of understanding of what is expected (obedience training) or because of mistreatment in the past (abandonment, unusually long confinement and alike) are more likely to exhibit behaviors related to separation anxiety.
Treatment for separation anxiety varies from dog to dog. Extreme cases should be referred to a qualified animal behavior consultant or board certified veterinary behaviorist. However, there are things you can do to help your Maltese with separation anxiety and things you should avoid doing.
Plan Your Exit
When it is time to leave, just leave. Do not say "Good bye" to your dog with hugs and kisses. In fact, ignore your dog for five minutes before you go. Paying too much attention will make your Maltese feel more insecure when the attention is abruptly withdrawn.
Leave a Distraction
Prepare a "Bye-Bye" bone. Purchase a sterilized; hollow bone from the pet store. Fill it with goodies such as dried liver pet treats, beef jerky, peanut butter, cheese or other things your dog really likes. Keep it hidden and take it out when you leave each day. Place it near your dog just before you close the door. When you arrive home, poke the goodies left in the bone out so your dog gets them. Then put the bone away. The bone only comes out when you leave. We are attempting to distract your Maltese with something that he will find interesting enough to concentrate on your leaving. Hopefully, he will appreciate the bone so much that he will look forward to it coming out in place of getting upset with your leaving.
Confine Your Maltese When You Are Away
Confining your dog during your times of absence has two positive results. First, a dog who is confined to a carrier or crate cannot do damage to your home. Secondly, a crate, when properly introduced, will act as a safe, comfortable den where the dog can relax. Limiting his movement also acts as an anxiety reducer for most dogs. I wouldn't recommend confining to a crate more than a couple of hours.
Leave the Radio On
Tune a radio to a talk station, put it on in a room you are often in, the bedroom is usually a good choice, and close the door. Your Maltese will hear the human voices from your room and may not feel so alone. Some pet owners tape record their own voices and play the recording in place of the radio program. Dogs know the sound of your voice all too well. And remember, since your Maltese is most anxious just after you leave, a one hour recording will most probably do.
Practice This Training Routine
With most Maltese, the hardest time for them is immediately after you leave. Their anxious (and sometimes destructive) behavior occurs within the first hour after they are left alone. It will be your job to reshape your dog's behavior through reinforcement training. Leave your Maltese out of his crate, put your coat on, walk to the door and leave. Come back in immediately. Greet your dog calmly. Tell him to sit. When he does, reinforce this behavior with a food treat he enjoys. Wait a few minutes and then repeat the exercise, this time remaining outside a few seconds longer. Continue practicing leaving and returning over the next few weeks, always remembering to return, greet your dog calmly and command him to sit before offering a treat.
Establish Your Leadership
When a dog has a strong leader, it has a calming effect on him. He feels safe and taken care of. In the absence of a strong leader, your dog feels obligated to assume that position in the social hierarchy of the family pack. Since a leader must control all that goes on, his inability to control your leaving causes him stress and anxiety. Obedience training is the best organized method of establishing yourself as a strong leader.
Exercise Your Maltese
A dog who is lacking exercise is more likely to have stress and tension. Tiring your Maltese out with a long walk, run or with play goes a long way in reducing stress.
Once again, if the anxiety persists, consult a qualified animal behaviorist. Check his credentials and call some veterinary and customer references. Checking with your local Better Business Bureau is also a good idea. In some cases, a behaviorist will recommend a behavior modification program coupled with a pharmaceutical such as Prozac to help the therapy program along. This would be done together with your veterinarian. -Jay