Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is the most common unwanted behavior dog owners complain about. If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety the reason(s) goes much deeper than them simply missing you when you leave.  Separation anxiety is an unhealthy, unbalanced behavior that has symptoms ranging from mild whining to outright panic, often leading to destruction of property and injury to the dog.  

The cause is usually a combination of things but leadership, fulfillment, and relationship dynamic are the primary factors.

Instinct tells a pack leader to control the comings and goings of the pack and separating the pack without the permission of a dog who believes they are in charge can set off an anxious response.  It is just like what you would see if a mother dog could not get to her puppies.  So basically, dogs who believe they are in charge are like mama dogs and most owners are the puppies - and its natural for a mama dog to become anxious when she can't get to her pups. 

Let me give you an example of what an owner whose dog had a very high level of separation anxiety revealed to me one time:  She said when her dog was a puppy, anytime someone else would take the dog or interact with the dog she became fearful and anxious that the dog would like that person more than her.  And anytime she left the dog alone in the house she felt incredibly guilty.  As a result the dog became anxious and insecure every time the owner left his side.  The owners insecure/anxious energy told the dog she needed his leadership so he panicked when she was out of reach of him (just like a mama dog would do if she thought her pups needed her help).  This is a good example of the relationship dynamic being out of balance.  When your dog thinks you need them more than they need you it puts a lot of pressure and responsibility on the them. 

Its not uncommon for people to feel sad and guilty when they leave their dogs for the day and they usually convey this to the dog right before they shut the door and go to work. This leaves the dog feeling anxious and confused.  When you combine this with a bored dog who doesn't get enough exercise you often end up with a destructive dog.  He is not being destructive out of spite or to teach you a lesson - he doing it because he was left anxious, insecure, bored, unfulfilled & confused and this is how some dogs will release those feelings.  Dogs doing this lack leadership and fulfillment.

When dogs experience all of the above - lack of leadership, lack of mental and physical fulfillment and having a relationship out of balance - they become what I call red zone separation anxiety cases.  I have seen dogs in this state do tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to property and do great bodily harm to themselves.  

The most common thread to separation anxiety in my opinion is our emotions - so to improve this you must really evaluate the relationship you have with your dog.  

Do you humanize your dog?  Do you treat them like they are your "babies?"  Do you spoil your dog?  Do you give into every demand?  Do you always give them what they want?  Do you feel guilty and sad when you leave your dog?  Do you need your dog more than they need you?  

Dogs need lots of love and affection but they also need lots of rules and boundaries to be balanced and happy which means they shouldn't always get what they want.  Dogs don't live life from an emotional point of view - they live from an instinctual point of view and the emotional needs we place on them can have powerful effects on their emotional stability. 

Since separation anxiety is nothing more than a very powerful symptom of a dog being out of balance, we can help by providing what creates balance...leadership, fulfillment, and a balanced relationship dynamic.

Tips For Separation Anxiety

  • Exercise your dog before you leave.
  • Ignore your dog 10-15 minutes before you leave.
  • Before you walk out the door take your dog to a spot several feet away from the door.  Put them in a down, wait for them to calm and then walk out the door.  You must practice this until they stay put.
  • Ignore your dog when you return until they are calm.
  • Only give affection to your dogs when they are calm and relaxed.
  • Follow the expectation vs invitation motto.  This means you ignore demands and only give when invited.   
  • Establish rules, boundaries and limits each and every day for your dog(s).
  • Practice down/stays.  Put your dog in a bed and put them in a down.  Wait for them to become completely calm and relaxed and then walk a short distance away.  Start with short distances and short amounts of time and work up.  Get to where you can move in and out of sight but have the dog stay put.  Very important that you wait for the dog to become calm and relaxed before walking away.
  • Practice crate training early on.