How to correct separation anxiety in dogs………a Beginners guide
This is something that we need to know, but first we must understand what exactly separation anxiety is which is a behavioral problem. We also must recognize our dog as a creature and not an object. What I mean by that is, that some people may not fully understand that the dog’s behavior, may be the result of an anxiety.
Treating a behavior change, and treating anxiety are different in the way that changing an action, or conditioning a response is different from changing your dogs’ attitude towards your departure and arrival. You must desensitize your dog to your arrival and departure as well as re-enforce that positive association your dog has with your presence. In this article we will talk about how to correct separation anxiety (SA) in dogs.
Ignore your dog for at least thirty minutes before you leave, and place food down thirty minutes prior to leaving. Most dogs will start showing you signs of distress before the owner’s departure, as hard as it is, you must ignore these signs. If you pet them, hug them, tell them it is okay, you are positively reinforcing the wrong behavior. The dog will assume that it is supposed to act this way, and it may even increase their dependence on your presence instead of becoming more individualistic.
I know it’s hard, especially when they are looking at you with those beady puppy dog eyes, and whining, you feel bad, I know. I know, thier okay. Think about the result here, and not the here and now. It gets a little harder, but not much.
When you return, you want to ignore the dog until it is calm, then you can pet it, play with them, interact with them and give them treats. Only after they are calm, this reinforces the positive association with your return.
Do you still have your journal? In Day two your going to begin your observations with a small list of pre-departure routines and record your dog’s anxiety cues. This information will be helpful later.
Stop Giving them attention when they demand the attention, and give them attention when they are calm, and ready to receive a positive association with being calm.
And most importantly, you can’t punish them during this phase either, or the treatment at all for anxiety-based behavior.
Punishment For unwanted behavior?…….Nope!
Its hard out here for a dog with Separation anxiety, imagine you have one person in your life, that took you out of a cold damp place. You can only think like a three-year-old child, and your so thankful your even alive, much less that you found a warm loving family.
This family feeds you the good foodstuffs, entertains you, keeps you warm, and you feel secure, then they leave, and you have no idea when they are coming back.
Your previous family just left you on the side of the road, they left you, why wouldn’t this family do it too?
Change your perspective yet?
The dog doing all the behaviors that annoy a person the most, is the top reason why dogs are taken to shelters, which in turn also doesn’t really help with separation anxiety, mainly because it’s a behavior due to anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that if people understand, may make a difference in these dogs’ lives.
So, if they are soiling your house, (and they are house-trained), you don’t have to give them a treat, but just clean it up and move on with your day,
If they are extremely vocal, just say something nice to them, I use the word “thank you”. This seems to work, they get acknowledgement but not praise.
The use of punishment will only increase their anxiety levels when used on behaviors that are caused by anxiety. Then people grow tired of their behavior, and the cycle repeats. Let us help change the cycle for them.
You must get your dog to associate your departure and return with a positive association, hence the food that we place down before and after. Several doctors have recommended changing their departure cues, combined with graduated departure exercises.
Listed above we had you write down your pre-departure routine, and your dogs’ social cues to you, that they are in distress as you move through your morning routine. This should be done for the person that the dog feels the closest attachment too, as well as any other family member the dogs shows signs of anxiety towards prior to departure.
This part is the tricky part, getting your dog to not follow you into another room.
Let’s face it, every dog has their sweet spot that instantly calms them down. For my juniper here it is the top of her head, my small terrier buster his tummy, and Lad, behind the head scratch always does it for him.
Get your dog to lye down, and pet them in that spot, getting them calm, then slowly go walk away from them, and time them. You should be able to walk into another room without them following you or showing signs of distress.
Slowly work up to the point where you can leave the room, and they can remain in their calmly. You also want to reward them with attention and treats when they remain calm using positive re-enforcement. Due this in 15-20 min sessions, one to two times a day starting out, gradually increasing the frequency but no more than 5 times a day as it may start to become overwhelming for them. Remember they are experiencing anxiety every time you leave the room. And please do not leave the room if you have not worked up to that.
You gradually work up to the exit, and you should be able to exit the house, while your dog remains calm. Repetition is key here, remember that you have your pre-departure routine, and your dog is going to show signs of anxiety in this process as well. I wouldn’t do this exercise within 1 hour of departing or returning home.
Record your initial findings in your journal, under day 3
The longer the better………….
After building up to being able to leave the room, the longer your dog can stay calm in the other room the better. If you have made it to the point where you can go into another room, and your dog remains calm, their time to move onto the exit.
You want to choose the exit that your dog least associates with your departure for these exercises. The same concept, but not you will leave through that exit only to return shortly after. Try exiting for 30 seconds at first, then one minute, etc. If you hear your dog being vocal, or showing signs of anxiety, remember not to console them, the idea here is to desensitize them from your departure and return creating a more independent and confident companion.
After you can work something up to around 1 hour, you can try to move on to the main exit. At this time, you should also have a cue in place to let your dog know that these are practice departures, and not a real departure.
Work it up to about two hours.
Record your results in your journal.
As our lifestyles change, so do your dogs, this treatment may be ongoing and take several months to complete. The cycle gets interrupted every time you go to work, the end goal is to teach your dog that it is okay for you to depart, and that you will return. During times that you are away more often, or there is a lot of change, such as holiday sessions, more frequent but shorter sessions may be used as a reminder, if your dog starts to show signs of separation anxiety returning.
Your dog also needs plenty of exercise, regarding their age and breed. Some breeds have extremely high energy levels combined with lower attention spans, and need several shorter high intensity play sessions, and some breeds have high levels of endurance combined with moderate energy levels and need one long walk.
This is a huge topic and we are considering doing more on this topic, please comment below