The term “separation anxiety” is used by many dog owners to describe a dog that seems stressed when the owner leaves. This is a behavior that has symptoms like whining, excessive salivation, barking, destroying stuff in the house, attempting to escape, and scratching at walls, doors and floors.
FAKE vs. REAL SEPARATION ANXIETY - There is true separation anxiety, and there is simulated separation anxiety. Simulated separation anxiety is when the dog appears to have separation anxiety but in reality it’s a learned behavior.
Simulated separation anxiety is often caused by lack of leadership and lack of self-control. Real separation anxiety causes the dog to feel true stress when their owner is absent.
When exhibiting fake separation anxiety, a dog knows that he will get attention if he acts badly. For some dogs, being verbally corrected for such behavior is rewarding because he is given the attention he wants.
Attention for bad behavior can be a reward if the owner is not aware that the dog’s needs are not being met. In these cases, there is little to no real stress involved, just negative behavior.
Fake separation anxiety is somewhat easy to fix. Simply by slowly increasing the amount of time spent in a crate (when you are at home as well as away), obedience training, proper physical and mental stimulation and above all, strong leadership.
Severe cases of real separation anxiety can be a challenge.
What Causes Separation Anxiety - Separation anxiety is often unknowingly encouraged by dog owners. We make a big deal when we leave or come home, and in doing so we nurture the dog’s worries about our absence. This causes him even more stress every time we leave.
We want our dogs to always be with us and when they are puppies, we take them everywhere for socialization. Then, we have to leave them alone. But they reach a point when they feel the need to be attached to our hip all the time. We become their source of confidence and safety.
A change in their routines can cause separation anxiety, but destruction and stress can also be caused by boredom and lack of proper exercise.
Remember the magic formula: Work, Rules and then Reward. You should have a balance of patience, obedience, and confidence in your dog.
Your dog should have confidence in himself and in your leadership. This way, he can be confident when he’s left alone, because he knows that you will always provide the guidance and directions he needs. He trusts that you will come home.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety – Medication can calm a dog down a little, but it’s not a cure. Drugs are only a temporary fix for the underlying problem. You have to treat the root cause.
The best time is as soon as you bring home your puppy. When a puppy is taken away from their litter, they may cry when left alone. It’s obviously a big change for the puppy. He no longer has the pack he was born with. When he cries, we go and pick him up. We show sympathy. His crying is rewarded. If he is crying in a crate and you let him out, he is being rewarded for his crying. Remember: Only reward the behavior we want.
Right from the beginning, we need to teach our dog to be quiet and settled down, doing so for gradually increasing periods of time. We need to teach them patience and calmness. And only reward them for that. When they are out with you, try not to interact with them constantly. Let them learn to keep themselves entertained with their toys.
Help your puppy understand why he should accept the crate. Allow him to explore his new environment under supervision. Teach him the limits and boundaries of this environment. Allow him to gain respect for this environment, and for the people in it. This means, be consistent with all the things you do. Make sure that everyone who interacts with your dog does the same.
Directions, Boundaries and Limits - I truly believe that the cure for separation anxiety mostly comes from establishing directions, boundaries and limits. This lets your dog know what is expected of him. It helps his good behavior become a habit.
Spend time instilling discipline, training and establishing leadership. Not just once a week obedience training classes. Focus on it often and consistently. Teach your dog what you want from him around the house, and during daily routines. There are always opportunities to teach. On a walk, training him to sit at crosswalks. Sitting and being calm when meeting people and other dogs.
Teach your dog to sit, lie down, and stay while you go out of sight for increasing periods of time in your own house. Teach your dog to sit, be calm and wait to be greeted by guests. You should teach your dog to be respectful and be confident. Do this in baby steps.
Rehabilitating separation anxiety starts by having your dog know what is expected of him. You are the pack leader, and you need to be recognized as such. Not a dictator, but a leader. An authority figure. A source of trust and respect. For example, if your dog comes to you and nudges your hand with his snout or slaps you with his paw, you may think it’s cute. So, you pet him. If this becomes a habit, your dog may think: “I’m in control. I can tell you what I want and what to do. And you will have to do it.” But then, if he doesn’t get what he expects, he becomes stressed.
Crate Training - Let your dog become familiar and comfortable being in the crate. Start with short periods and then gradually increase the time he spends in it. Feed him in the crate. Give him his favorite toys in the crate.