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.
Some toys are meant to occupy your dog’s mind. The mind is stimulated as the dog tries to remove treats from the toy. Use these interactive toys so that your dog is mentally stimulated while you are not home. This activity will relax and tire him out. He will eventually fall asleep.
Do not put water in the crate. The crate should be your dog’s safe place. Like a bedroom to a teenager. A place where he feels happy, comfortable and secure. It should be big enough for him to stand upright without his head touching the top, and he should be able to turn around and lay down easily.
If he barks in the crate, do your best to ignore it. In extreme cases, if the dog barks incessantly when left alone, a good bark collar can help control the barking. This device can help to correct him when you are not there.
When you leave him, do so calm and quietly. Do not say anything to him. Go through your leaving routine normally. Taking your keys, opening the garage door, putting on clothes, putting on shoes, starting the car, putting on your coat. Then, come back inside not paying any attention to your dog.
Leave and come back in your home once more, paying no attention to your dog. Walk past him, wave and smile if he is quiet but if he is banging at the crate, ignore him and walk away.
Come back and wait until he is calm, open up the crate door and ask him to wait in the crate until he is invited to come out. He should not come bursting out. If something specific, like putting on shoes or getting keys, stresses the dog the most, then do that action and do not leave. Get him so familiar with that ritual that it doesn’t affect him anymore. Role-play these routines consistently. Gradually increase the time between leaving him and coming back.
Place the crate in the busiest room in the house. You want your dog to accept all the normal every-day movements, noises, and routines of your home. Your dog should also realize that he doesn’t need to be involved in everything.
You can have more than one crate. For example, if you want your dog to sleep in the bedroom next to your bed. Covering the crate with a blanket when you leave gives the feeling of a cave or den. Your dog may like the crate better this way. You can leave classical music for him. It helps him to relax and gives him a sense of security.
Change Your Routine - Your dog may recognize the series of actions leading up to your leaving him. So, you need to be clever. To change your dog’s habits you may have to change your own. And that can be hard for us humans. We are creatures of habit.
Use a different door, put your coat on in different places, take your keys but hang around the house. Change things around to create a different picture in your dog’s mind. If you are watching TV, or working on the computer, and your dog usually follows you every time you get up, simply get up and sit back down again.
Your dog shouldn’t follow you everywhere. Yes, he can watch but he should be able to wait until you request his company. You want your dog to feel confident when he is by himself. And these simple changes will help teach your dog to have the self-confidence he needs to handle being alone.
With some dogs, separation anxiety can be overcome fairly quickly. With others, it may take some time, patience, and consistency.
Physical stimulation, mental stimulation, obedience, leadership, rules, directions, boundaries, and limits, these are all necessary to have a balanced dog. Consistency from you will be also crucial to build your dog’s confidence in himself and in you as his Pack Leader.
If you continue to have problems, let me know if I can help.
Always remember: BP4 – Be: Patient, Positive, Peaceful & Persistent
www.packmantotherescue / 201-937-6123