Separation Anxiety? What You Can Do

Separation Anxiety? What You Can Do.

Dogs are social creatures and can over-attach to a pet parent or canine housemate and become habituated to continual contact. When left alone these dogs may experience what is akin to a panic attack in humans.

A well-structured change in routine may break the cycle of anxiety if practiced carefully and consistently.

·      Sleep alone. If you sleep with your dog in your bed -- stop. Snuggle together in bed if you like but when it’s time to sleep, have your dog sleep in her own bed.

·      Make your arrivals home boring. Deliver your greeting after your dog has calmed down.
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·      Stimulate your dog.  Leave "home-alone only" favorite chew items and long-lasting food toys within a “dog zone”. Provide a view of the great outdoors. Your dog could be suffering from a condition that is often mistaken for separation anxiety – boredom!

·      Practice frequent separations. Start small and build confidence slowly and incrementally. Practice "sit/wait" and "down/wait" while you leave the room for just a moment. Keep your dog on the other side of a closed door inside the home for short periods each day.

·      Provide a comfort item. Leave your dog with a worn article of your clothing, such as a sweaty T-shirt.

·      Desensitize triggers. Turn triggers -- putting on your coat, picking up a purse or briefcase, and jangling keys into neutral events for your dog by preparing to leave but don't leave the house. In time, the triggers will lose their power to generate fear.

·      Don’t punish. It won’t help but it will make an already anxiety-stricken dog even more insecure.

If you continue to have troubles or if your dog has more than one of the following symptoms seek professional help from a positive reinforcement behavioral consultant: sweating or wet coat, drooling, pacing, self-mutilation, trembling, incessant barking or crying, elimination in the house even though otherwise housetrained, chewing or scratching at windows, doors or plaster boards, attempts at escape to find you, frantic greeting although you were gone for just a short while, or persistent following. Separation Anxiety disorder treatment is one of my specialties should you need extra help.

Linda Michaels, MA Psychology and San Diego Coastal Victoria Stilwell-licensed Positively  private trainer, behavioral consultant, columnist and speaker, may be reached at 858.259.9663 or by email: [email protected]
Please visit us at www.DogPsychologistOnCall.com

Originally published in the U~T San Diego, Scratch 'n Sniff.


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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


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  • B Hire

    Great article! Thanks for the tips.
    Check the wording for your third bullet under "Stimulate your dog." I understand it, but it seems to have an extra word or typo...

    "Leave home alone only favorite chew items and long-lasting food toys within a “dog zone”.

    Best wishes.

  • leila creeks

    what about a dog that is terrified of thunderstorms? My german sheperd Shadow is scared to death of thunderstorms and i don't know what to do for her to get her over her fears

  • Jerri

    Thank you for the advice. One issue you did not cover is chewing. Our 11 month old rescue, a Jack Russell/Australian Cattle dog mix, chews up everything in site when left alone. We have had him for 6 mths. & aside from that (and a bit of barking) he is a very loving, friendly companion. He is now put in a nice roomy crate when we leave, I would rather find a solution as opposed to continuing the crate. An abundance of chew toys does not seem to deter him.

    Any suggestions? Thank you in advance! JD

  • Marilynne Lambert

    Having being a dog trainer for over 23years. I so agree with this article. If only every new owner would start off like this. Great advice.

  • Beth

    My 5 yr old lab has started chewing up dvd's or whatever she can get to. Our routine has not changed. She did not chew this bad as a puppy. We have tried making her kennel when we are gone. We have tried trial periods and have rewarded her for good behavior. As soon as we trust her again, she does it again. I am desperate for advice.

  • Sharina

    B Hire, I think you would understand the sentence if it were written like this: Leave home-alone-only favorite chew items....etc. In other words, leave things that are reserved for for home alone time.

    Beth, have you tried keeping the DVDs out of her reach? Does she get at least an hour of vigorous exercise every day? If not, that is a good place to start. If you have tried kenneling her and it worked, why not stick to that with entertaining toys available in the kennel? This is a poor choice without concomitant vigorous exercise and having entertainment available in the crate. You might want to make the confinement area larger than a crate, or use an exercise pen or small room. Also, you might want to have a veterinary exam and some blood work done, just to rule out a medical problem, since this just started.

    For owners who don't want to get the exercise that goes along with exercising your dog, it is so easy to train a dog to run on a treadmill! Many homes have this item just collecting dust in the garage, so if you have one and a dog and are too lazy to go exercise him or her, get the treadmill out and use it!

  • TheModernDogTrainer

    Love this article! We just wrote a post about how to prevent separation anxiety on The Modern Dog Trainer blog. Check it out:
    http://www.themoderndogtrainer.net

  • Nukawin

    What about separation anxiety with other dogs? I've got three dogs, two of them are brothers.The brothers kick off if one leaves the yard. He howls, cries, barks, and will continue until the brother comes back. It makes taking one to see the vet (when necessary) very difficult and frustrating. :/

  • Hi Mike, excellent idea! The Team at Positively

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