Can you be sure your dog is suffering from separation anxiety?
Has your dog learned separation anxiety behaviour or is it genuine? True separation anxiety causes the dog to experience real stress feelings when you are away from them. On the other hand, has your dog learned that if they exhibit these behaviours then they will get your attention? Even if they behaviour makes you upset, your attention will be solely on them at that moment and this will satisfy their need for more of your attention.
If your dog is simulating separation anxiety then this can be gradually overcome by making sure you are providing enough exercise, strong leadership and consistent obedience training.
What are the causes of separation anxiety?
Do you make a big fuss when you leave your dog or when you come home? Think about it from your dog’s point of view – you are rewarding your dog’s concern with your absence which will build up their stress every time you leave.
Think back to when your dog was a puppy…you wanted to get them to experience as much as possible during their socialisation, you took them everywhere, you gave them constant attention and then all of a sudden they grow up and that same level of attention goes away. You have taught your dog to rely on you for everything, that you are their security and when that attention falls away the stress creeps in.
What can you do?
You need to retrain yourself and your dog, your dog needs to feel secure even when you can’t be with them and most of all you need to make sure your dog is getting the exercise he needs.
Some vets will prescribe drugs but they are not going to give you a cure, they are just a temporary fix and are not dealing with the underlying problem.
Think back to when you got your puppy, up until that point your puppy had the security of the pack and then without warning they no longer have the pack for support, they may have cried and your natural response was to pick them up and give them a cuddle but to your puppy you were rewarding them for crying. Try to remember that by rewarding your dog they will try to emulate this behaviour to get the reward again so only reward behaviour you want from them.
As you build your bond with your dog you need to make sure that he knows what is expected from him. Just spending time with your dog once a week at a class isn’t enough, spend time with him and show him what you want from him both in the house and when you are out and about. Do you want him to sit before you cross the road? Would you like to make sure he doesn’t jump up at people who greet him?
By spending time with him and consistently showing him what you expect from him, will help him to start to build his confidence. He will see you has his pack leader.
As well as being consistent with your training, you should also be consistent with your dog’s exercise. Your dog has a lot of energy and will get bored if they have to spend all day every day inside. You owe it to your dog to let them experience the world, by running in the field and chasing their favourite toy, they are not only burning that excess energy, they are enjoying themselves. Now if your dog understands and trusts that you will be taking them to their favourite field or for a walk around their neighbourhood to meet other dogs at the usual time, they will be more relaxed when you have to leave them on their own. Dogs are creatures of habit, it’s all about creating the right habits.
Lastly, have you thought about using a crate? I have spoken to some people who have worried about using a crate because in their minds they were caging their dog but crates to your dog can be their own space, something that is theirs and a place to feel secure. Try placing the crate in a busy part of the home, maybe in the kitchen. This way your dog will accept all the normal every day movements within your home and not feel like they have to necessarily be a part of it. When you go out, don’t make a big song and dance about leaving, just act normally and be as relaxed as possible then just before you are ready to leave, close your dog in the crate. If you are looking for something else to help them then try leaving the TV on for them or a radio, something that they will recognise as normal which will give them added security.