How to Support Separation Anxiety
Separation Anxiety sucks.
Most people typically love when their dog wants to be right by their side. After all, we wanted a companion, right? Not so fast.
When your dog won’t even let you out of sight to take a shower without getting stressed out by your absence ~ you may be dealing with something a little more than a desire to be with you. You might have a very real problem and very unhappy, stressed out, dog.
If your dog panics when you leave the house and attempts to break out of his crate, drools puddles of saliva, injures himself, or attempts to eat your dry wall ~ you are definitely dealing with an anxiety disorder with your dog.
Dogs with Separation Anxiety suffer from a very real physiological stress response. They can’t rest. They pant heavily. They pace. They drool profusely. They panic and need to get to you — wherever you may have gone. They often injure themselves or create destruction in your home. They believe that their eating the front door is what brought you back home. So when it works once in their mind — they do it again the next day. When it doesn’t work the same way, they intensify.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs is often misdiagnosed by the owner. The term is applied generically to every whine or whimper your dog has when put his or her crate. They may even think a crate escape artist has separation anxiety — but really he’s absolutely fine without you home though maybe a little mischievous — once he’s out of the crate. He just hasn’t be properly acclimated to his crate.
- Some dogs will be fine with you out of the room as long as you’re in the house — most likely Separation Anxiety.
- Other dogs can’t bear to have you out of sight, even if you’re home — most likely Isolation Distress.
It’s a terrible way of being for your dog. And for you. You may be feeling like you can’t risk leaving the house for fear of an emergency vet visit or needing a new front door. It is highly emotional for everyone.
There are no quick fixes. But there are many things you can to to begin resolving this problem. Most times the problem can be completely resolved.
Generally speaking: Your dog is not going to get better on his own. He won’t outgrow it on his own. And he won’t give up. In most cases, they escalate their behavior trying to get you to make a change.
You need to begin today helping your dog change his behavior. Stop feeling sorry for your dog’s past, let go of everything that happened yesterday — live in the present and change your behavior.
- Lead him gently but with confidence and consistency as a daily way of life. When you claim the role of leadership, your dog will see you as a leader he is to wait for while you’re gone.
- Be consistent with clear expectations for your dog’s behavior — and your own.
- Manage your own emotional state of mind. Don’t feel sorry for the dog, don’t over dramatize your exit. Don’t bring negative energy, words or thoughts into the exit.
- Work on serious obedience training — teach your dog several new skills that he can earn praise for and build his on confidence in ways he can please you. Challenge his mind and stimulate him mentally each day.
- Exercise him daily with structured walks (heel, sit/stay around distractions, recall work, etc)to the point of being nice and tired (not exhausted) — he will be more responsive to the work you’re doing if he has burned off excess energy. A leisure walk and an open run in your fenced yard is not structured exercise and will not achieve the desired result of establishing leadership from you, affecting the mental stimulation for the dog, etc. You may need to consider a treadmill for the extremely athletic dogs if you can’t keep up with him or for those cold, rainy, winter days when you can’t get outside.
- Find a great game you can play with him — Fetch, Tug (if appropriate), Scent Work, etc. to create mental stimulation. Give your dog a job and allow him to tap into his instincts as an outlet daily.
Crate Train Your Dog
- It’s ok to reinforce the sides of the crate with zip ties, but never zip tie the door closed. We recommend a carabiner or a leash-style clip (with no leash — chewing hazard). You need quick access to release your dog in an emergency.
- You do want the sides and door to be secure. Once a dog figures out the doors have “give” when they push against it, there is hope for escape. And they get more vigilant and fixated on the escape.
- You might also consider an Airline style crate — with no wires to grip. Or of the extreme cases you may need a heavy duty steel crate.
- In some cases, creating a nest of straw (not hay and not pine needles) can create comfort for your dog that has good results in his crate. Fill his crate nearly 1/2 full and see if he will settle in.
- No collars or harnesses should be kept on your a dog who may attempt to break of his crate. Strangulation is a very real risk.
- Use the crate while you are home — not just when you leave. We know you love Fido and want to cuddle with him as much as possible — but at this time, until the SA is resolved, you may need a little tough love. Teaching him that being in his crate can be restful while you’re home.
- Make it very matter of fact. Don’t bring any emotional expectations of your own to putting the dog in the crate or to leaving. Just do it and move on. No words. No fanfare. No drama.
- Be sure your dog is in a calm state of mind before they exit. No matter how long it’s been or how stressed he was. Start with a brief instant, and build duration in time.
- Each time you take your dog out for potty, have some surprise treat in the crate for him when he returns. We want him to anticipate, going back in the crate for reward.
- You can even put some smelly, yummy, deliciousness in the crate and close the door, so that he has to “ask” to go in the crate to get it. Let him be drawn to the temptation and paw at the crate to get in.
Working with Isolation Distress:
You won’t be able to leave the house if you can’t leave the room.
- Teach Place! If your dog can learn to settle and relax on a mat with you in the room, he can also learn to settle and relax on a mat as leave the room for timed intervals. It gives your dog something to do that he knows how to do — and he will earn your praise for doing it. That makes him happy. Attempt to achieve an hour or two while you’re home!
- Rock Solid Obedience will help in this area as well.
- Add duration work — very long down stays while you make dinner or watch TV/read. Require him to down/stay in his crate with the door open. Build your duration to hours.
- Giving him a chew toy, yummy frozen treat etc may help
- He has to learn to be independent.
Working on Separation Anxiety:
It is highly recommended to not leave the dog alone for the first several days or even weeks as you work though the new training protocols. You have to put in the work before results will begin. Each incident of panic your dog has, makes overcoming the anxiety that much more difficult.
I recommend you take a few days off work or at least over a weekend, and start practicing this behavior modification for several days in a row in earnest with a little tough love. You’ll make a lot more progress with repetition and consistency. Many people consider doggie day care, pet sitters, or other solutions to prevent the doing being alone at home for extended periods of time until training progresses.
- Change your routine drastically, Create an unexpected response for your dog. Be unpredictable.
- Practice down-stays with the dog in the crate and door open for very long times.
- When your dog is familiar and comfortable with being his crate with the door closed for a while with you home but out of the room — begin to walk outside.
- Create incremental training goals. Timed & Random intervals in the crate as you go outside, leave the house from 1 minute building to a couple of hours
Barking, Whining, Scratching and Gnawing must be corrected. Panic, Obsessive Behavior, Escalations must be corrected.
- Your dog is not in a great state of mind. You must interrupt his behavior. Correcting his behavior quickly is one of the most fair things you can do — but sure to seek professional help.
- The more they practice these behaviors, the more they embrace these behaviors. Put a stop to these behaviors by drawing on other obedience skills. Work on teaching a quite or calm command.
- When necessary consider other training tools to interrupt the unwanted behaviors. These tools may include simply making an unexpected noise from another room when the dog barks/whines. It may be a sharp verbal no (not yelling and screaming with intimidation, but just stern and clear), a shaker can tossed across the floor, a Pet Convincer (canned air).
- In some cases where the problem is severe and time is critical (like your neighbors complaining and your apartment threatening to evict you), you may consider a bark collar or ecollar — with training guidance from a professional trainer. I prefer the ecollar initially because I can control the correction level, timing and duration in the fairest way. I can also use it for other purposes when needed. A bark collar might be used after you’ve started to make some progress and the do understand why the stim is happening and what to do about it.
- Do not use Citronella Bark Collars — though they now make a scentless version you might consider.
- And do not use any electronic bark collar that automatically increases the level. Start with the lowest level and adjust manually and fairly.
I know what you’re thinking. This could take weeks! Yes, it could. Your dog didn’t develop this level of anxiety overnight and you won’t solve it overnight. It takes as long as it takes. But with regular practice, keeping him guessing about the pattern, and you remaining consistent in your behavior — you will see results.
There are some holistic medications you can give you dog to help with anxiety. These may include melatonin, Rescue Remedy, Calming Collars, Storm Stress, Lavender Essential Oils, Myrrh, Chamomile Tea, Valerian Root to name a few. Discuss any supplements and dosages with your veterinarian, especially if your dog is on other medications. Many vets may not agree with holistic solutions, so do your research.
Ask me about essential oils for your dog! We have several blends we recommend for working with dogs struggling from anxiety-based issues.
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For the most severe cases your vet may help you by prescribing something to help with behavior modification. Medication alone is not your solution. And should not be your first action. Nor should it be something you need to do for life in most cases.
You still need to put in the training work. And — It takes as long as it takes.
Call us for help with your dog’s Separation Anxiety Case. We can help. And I can help you do it without board and train.