Separation anxiety is real. It can be a scary, and isolating process for you and your dog. Unfortunately a lot of dogs since covid have developed separation anxiety (SA).
My Boy Chase who suffered with Separation Anxiety.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation Anxiety (SA) is a behavioral syndrome that may affect dogs of different ages, sizes, and breeds. It is often characterised by intense clinical signs such as howling, crying, barking, and can cause other behavioural issues such as destructive behaviours (chewing/scratching at doors, inappropriate elimination, digging etc), this is often due to them trying to get out and get to their owner.
Dogs may also present nonspecific signs linked to the sympathetic nervous system, such as drooling, diarrhea, tachycardia, tachypnea, and increased motor function (pacing, trembling, hyperactivity) just before or close to the owner's departure (Takeuchi et al., 2000; Schwartz, 2003)
The dogs' cannot control their behaviour when they are left alone, so please don't punish them. There are different levels of severity to separation anxiety from mild to severe. Some dogs' are fine as long as they have some company (a person or in some cases another dog is enough), whilst other forms of Separation Anxiety they can become obsessed/fixated on one person, and the moment that person leaves them, or about to leave them the serve anixety begins. Again, each dog is different. My dog Chase (the name, and the one that started Chasing Perfection Dog Training) had severe separation anxiety. He had dug holes and jumped fences to get to me, and even with a broken leg he still managed to climb up, open a window and jump out from a height 5 feet. I would also leave him with friends when I went to Uni, but that still wasnt enough. He would pace, pant, howl non-stop until I returned. I know only too well the pain and anxiety for you and your dog Separation anxiety causes.
What to do with a dog with Separation Anixety!
So your neighbours are complaining about your dog's barking/howling, you come home to your house destroyed, and to one very stressed, anxious dog. This is not something your dog will get over, or get used to. You and your dog needs training. This is when a professional positive only dog trainer like myself can come out to visit you, and your dog to demonstrate effective training solutions to build your dog's confidence so you can leave them home alone without the stress, worry and guilt.
If you think your dog is suffering from Separation anxiety you should take into account the entire dog and it's environment. When your dog is left home alone do they
excessive greetings when you return home
excessive water consumption
doesnt eat food/treats left out
Also if you were to go into another room of the house and close the door would they show any signs or symptoms of distress? Does you dog follow you from room to room? If you leave your dog home alone how often? and how long for? Other things you will need to assess is:
where does your dog stay when left home alone?
has your dog got any medical conditions?
how much exercise is your dog getting?
can your dog relax
can your dog relax at home while you plot around or do they follow you?
what cues do you show that causes your dog to display anxiety (pick up key?, head towards door? put on shoes?)
Does your dog show the same signs of anxiety in the morning as apposed to at night?
can you go to the letterbox or garbage bin without them getting anxious?
do they get anxious in the car?
is your dog sensitive to sounds, or movement?
does your dog have any other fears?
how is your dog during a storm?
the diet you feed your dog?
Once you have assessed your dog you should be able to guage at what your dog can and can't handle under thresehold (without them showing signs of stress). Before you start to work with your dog on separation anxiety, you will have some preparing to do such as:
If possible work from home, or organise alternative options such as doggy day care, have your dog go with you, or have someone come over to mind your dog. During the intial stages you don't want to leave your dog home alone.
Find an area in the house to train.
acquire baby gate, pen, or crate if needed.
Purchase interactive toys.
Begin teaching "on your bed" and "stay".
Begin capuring "relax/settle".
Technology such as a pet cube or video device so you can monitor your dog.
Depending at what stage your dog is at, you will want to start off slow and easy. On your bed for 2 seconds and treat. Over time you will build time and distance but not right away. During these phases you will need to stay under your dogs threshold, and take note of your dogs body language i.e. are they stiff or relaxed? what are their ears doing? are they heightened?. Over time you will add in the interactive toys, introduce the "find it" game, and use triggers (shoes, keys and head towards doors) all whilst under their threshold and building their confidence. Eventually you will be able to leave out the door and you and your dog will no longer be anxious.
Some tips for Separation Anxiety
Don't leave them, unless in a controlled way (you are up to the training stage where you can leave them for short periods). Do not rush your dog! If you need to go out get a dog sitter, have a neighbour look after them, or use a doggy day care.
NEVER SNEAK OUT OR GO WITHOUT SAYING GOODBYE. No matter how tempting it may be (your dog happily playing with a toy in another room), the moment they stop playing and go looking for you, and your not there they will panic. Their anxiety will increase, and most importatly you will damage the dogs' trust and confidence.
Confidence building exercises with your dog!
When you book in. a dog training session they will run through more techniques, or give me a call.
At the end of the day separation anxiety is real, and you need to help your dog through it at their own pace. In the meantime enjoy the separation anxiety training and watch you and your dogs' relationship grow. It is a special bond that is built on trust and respect, and see just how happy and confident your dog will become. Happy Training everyone!
I am also available for online training session to help with this and other behavioural issues. Contact us email@example.com
Takeuchi, Y., Houpt, K.A., Scarlett, J.M., 2000. Evaluation of treatment for separation anxiety in dogs. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 217(3), 342-345