Separation Anxiety – What can you do to help your dog?

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As most of us know, dogs are natural pack animals and you are the leader of the family.

To a dog the pack signifies safety in numbers and when you leave or separate from the pack, even for a short time, they can feel fear, panic and stress. This is known as separation anxiety and the signs of this can range from mild to extremely severe.

Signs of separation anxiety can include crying, barking and howling when they are left alone. You might also notice your dog start to panic in the build up to you going to leave the house. The more severe signs of separation anxiety can include destructive behaviour, pacing back and forth or even chewing and destroying your belongings and furniture while you are gone.

So, how do we prevent separation anxiety?

Whether you have adopted a rescue dog who has separation anxiety or you have a new puppy and want to avoid separation anxiety, the process for preventing or improving the stress levels of separation anxiety is very similar and regardless of the age of your dog you will need to start with baby steps and build up from there. Ideally you want to start working with your dog on this issue as soon as possible and stick with what works for you for long term results.

Unfortunately, there is no quick or overnight fix for separation anxiety and depending on how severe your dogs symptoms are you may need to work with your dog over a longer period of time to successfully help them deal with this issue. Dogs really should not be left for more than a few hours, for puppies no longer than an hour at a time.

Where do we start with overcoming separation anxiety?

Start small.

Choose a suitable room to begin your training and put a baby gate up, leave your dog behind the gate and move to another room but stay in sight as much as possible to begin with. Leave your dog behind the gate for a very short time to begin with, even if you need to start at 30 seconds and build up to a few minutes and gradually extend the time for as long as your dog is staying calm.

When your dog is calm or at least quiet, open the gate and return to the room. Don’t make a big fuss of being back in the same room, of course you can give them a calm fuss but don’t over excite them. Repeat this step multiple times a day over the next few days, longer if needed, gradually progressing to moving out of sight and only returning in the moment when your dog is calm or quiet and offering calm praise.

Once you are confident your dog is calm with the stair gate you can progress to closing the door, as above you will need to repeat the process multiple times a day over a few days, maybe even weeks depending on how bad your dog suffers with separation anxiety.

Eventually you will hopefully be ready to progress to walking out the front door, this is a big step and must follow the same calm approach as above and again start with leaving for just a few minutes and gradually build up to longer.

If your dog is struggling with moving from a baby gate to a closed door consider keeping the baby gate in place and if you have reached the point where your dog is content enough for you to be the opposite side of the gate and out of sight then leave them behind the gate in the room and move to the front door stage. Don’t make a big fuss of leaving the house and leave the TV or a radio on so they have a familiar sound for company. If your dog is calm enough or food oriented enough you can leave them with a safe edible food distraction, licky mat etc.

Remember…

Working to improve separation anxiety can be a very slow process but it is worth sticking with for both your dog and you to benefit the long term outcome.

Don’t rush through the steps or you will reset your progress.

Only return to your dog when they are being quiet, even if the quiet is just a second grab that second!

Don’t make a big scene of leaving your dog, stay calm and on your return remain calm and again don’t over excite the dog.

Be patient, this isn’t something which can be fixed/trained overnight and may take weeks or even months of perseverance but the results will last years and be well worth the effort involved.

Getting another dog as company for your dog suffering from separation anxiety is very unlikely to help. The behaviour can actually make the ‘new’ dog anxious also even if they haven’t previously had problems.

 

More information on other common dog behaviour problems that we see.


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