Solving Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is one of the most common dog behavior issues out there. It can also be one of the worst behavior problems for dogs, right up there with aggression. With separation anxiety, dogs become very panicky when they no longer sense their owner in the home or vicinity. Separation anxiety can result in incessant barking or crying, escaping from the crate or home, continuous drooling, potty accidents, or destruction of the home.
Many clients that have come to me to deal with their dog’s separation anxiety often have the dilemma of being able to correct this problem. Many owners will say that when they’re home, the dog is fine, but when they leave, it’s a problem; with the owner not being home, the question is usually, “how can I address the separation anxiety when I am not home?”. It’s seems like an impossible and daunting task for owners, but as a dog trainer, I am happy to tell and show these owners that separation anxiety is actually correctable!
The first step is figuring out why your dog is acting out. Is your dog reacting because of your absence, or are there other triggers that might also be setting them off. I recently worked with a dog named Pepper who would shred her bed while her owner was at work. There was definitely some separation anxiety but we also discovered that the heavy traffic outside the home was exacerbating the anxiety Pepper was feeling. When we moved her crate to a more secluded area in the home, there was no more destruction!
Second step is giving the dog a contained place where they can feel secure and calm. Crates, when used properly, can be wonderful tools for owners and safe havens for dogs. It is important to create a positive association with the crate in order for this step to work. If you only use the crate as a punishment, your dog will never feel fully comfortable when inside of it. For some dogs, putting a blanket over the crate helps calm them quicker, as the coverage gives the crate a den-like quality to it (that appeals to the wolf in your pup!). This may not work for all dogs, as this could just be another thing that ends up getting destroyed, if the dog becomes destructive during their separation anxiety.
Third step is desensitization. If your dog is screaming or trying to break out of his crate because he cannot see you, then let him see you when he is in his crate. Then create more distance between you and your dog in the crate. When you begin this desensitization process, you have to take SMALL steps to build your dog’s confidence up. It is not wise to start the desensitization right before you have to leave the house and leave the dog alone for several hours. The dog needs to get used to you also away from them, but still in the house. This must be the prelude for when you actually leave the house and test your dog. Through these steps and exercises, it is important to correct consistently when the dog acts out, and also to reward the dog when they start to calm down and understand. This can be a long process, but your dog can learn to relax on his/her’s own. Just be patient, stay consistent, and if you have to leave, consider looking into dog sitters, walkers, or daycares as you continue the training and progress.
There are many other things to examine when tackling a dog’s separation anxiety. Poor diet or inconsistent exercise can contribute to a dog’s anxiety. If your dog’s general behavior and basic obedience is sloppy, improve upon this, as your dog will not be equipped to follow through with you when he/she gets anxious or distracted. If you crate your dog, is he/she getting enough time to be in the crate just to relax? Are you only putting them in there when you get angry with them? Also, if your dog is only crated when you leave the house, then of course they will be nervous and antsy in the crate, because the only association they have with it is your absence. Build your dog’s confidence through regular exercise and lifestyle routines, through basic training work, and desensitization trials!
Separation anxiety has sent dogs back to shelters. It has caused family rifts or owners to be evicted from their apartments. It is a tough issue, but it can be treated! If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, give us a call at 919-427-4775 and we’ll help you resolve this problem!