Separation Anxiety in Dogs – here are some things you can do to help.

Separation Anxiety in Dogs – here are some things you can do to help.

Author: Stacy Braslau-Schneck, CPDT

Much of what is called “separation anxiety” is really boredom, or the dog discovering the chance to engage in his favorite “hobbies” safely. If your dog spends every second that you’re home glued to your side, including sleeping times, and any destruction you find happens within the first 20 minutes of your absence (use a video camera to watch, or come back within a short time period) then it’s possible that you have a true case of separation anxiety. If your dog can spend the night away from you, and is comfortable being somewhat separated from you while you’re home, you probably do not really have separation anxiety – you are more likely to be dealing with boredom or just inappropriate chewing, barking, digging, etc.


Vinny and Simon Tired Dogs after Walk

Vinny (blonde) and Simon (black) showing how a tired dog is a happy dog | Photo taken by Vanessa | © Gold Coast Pet Sitting

Here are some things you can do to help.

Try to make your arrivals and departures very boring and low-key. Don’t make a big fuss over saying hello and goodbye. Be very casual and up-beat.

Try to make interactions with your dog on your terms, not his. You pet him, treat him, or play with him when you want, and not when he asks for it.

Get your dog used to your getting-ready-to-leave cues, like picking up keys and jacket. Go through these actions repeatedly during the time when you’re staying home, without actually leaving. If your dog has already learned to associate his fears with your departure cues, it will take a lot of repetitions before the dog will get it.

Give your dog more exercise. A tired dog is a good dog! A dog can sleep most of the day if he’s tired enough. Most young dogs could use 20-100 minutes of full-speed running per day. Increase your dog’s exercise. Don’t forget mental exercise, like training, exploring new places, encountering new smells, and social interaction with other dogs. Taking your dog to a park where he can run and play with others may be crucial. (Gold Coast Pet Sitting offers morning, midday and afternoon dog walks as well as “doggie adventures”.)

Give your dog something to do while you’re gone! What does your dog do all day- wait around for you to come home? Give your dog a hobby. Jean Donaldson calls the solution to a lot of dog problems “work-to-eat” programs. Stuff a Kong or a hollow prepared bone, fill up a Buster Cube or Roll-A-Treat, scatter the dog’s food in the grass or hide several chew treats around the house. A dog that is working for goodies is not barking or chewing, and a dog that is eating is not as stressed!

Don’t draw attention to forbidden objects just before leaving – in other words, don’t straighten up or point out the items that you don’t want the dog to chew. Your dog might misinterpret your attention and give those objects his attention just because of it. In a similar way, punishing your dog afterwards for destruction he’s done will probably not help – it will not reduce your dog’s anxiety, show him a better way to deal with it, or give him an alternative behavior. He might not even connect the punishment with the action he did to cause the destruction. (Don’t confuse a dog’s “appeasement display”, developed to stop threats of aggression, with a “guilty look” that implies a promise that your dog won’t do it again. See the Body Language pages for more information.)

Consider crating your dog. Some dogs are more comfortable when confined to a small “den”. Make sure your dog can “hold it” for as long as you need him to, and provide plenty of exercise so that his main activity in the crate is sleeping. You might just want to consider leaving your dog in one room (rather than giving him the run of the house), and maybe leaving a radio on and an article of clothing that smells like you in the next room. Warning: Some dogs are a lot less comfortable confined to a crate when alone. Make sure your dog is comfortable and secure.

Consider taking your dog to doggie daycare or have a dog sitter keep your dog company at your home (or to work or on errands with you), so that he is not actually alone, while you train your dog to deal with being alone. Remember, dogs are pack animals that want to be with others; being a “lone wolf” can be dangerous in the wild, as well as lonely. Note that for many dogs who have bonded strongly with people, having another dog (or other pet) around will not be sufficient.

Tomorrow Stacy will reveal an outline of the steps that you must go through to help your dog deal with separation anxiety (without destroying your home!) …. STAY TUNED !

Author:  Stacy Braslau-Schneck, CPDT

Stacy’s Wag’N’Train in San Jose, CA (USA) will teach you how to communicate your rules to your dog while enhancing the relationship between you and your four-footed “family member”. We’ll help you learn how your dog learns and how you can take advantage of all the good things you provide to get the behavior you want.


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