Training Tip Tuesday: Separation Anxiety

Mama Sally:

This is  HUGE issue, and I’m not going to address much of it in this short blog, because of time and space limitations.  But I see it fairly often, and it’s honestly not an easy behavior to correct, once a dog has a firmly established habit.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Some dogs become extremely anxious when they are separated from an owner.  They can often produce very destructive behavior, and in really extreme cases, even do self maiming out of sheer panic.  The typical hallmarks that I look for are destructive chewing, digging…at doors, windows, confinement areas, etc. Typically it centers around doors and windows as the dog is trying to escape.  Naturally there are much milder cases, and ones that don’t really fit the typical situation, but I’m going to just cover the broad topic here.  It really is such a sad disorder, and often gets created without owners realizing it.

Dogs bond to their pack, and that’s a very good thing.  However, I often run into new puppy owners who want their puppies with them 24/7, which isn’t necessarily in the best interest of their puppy!  Puppies and dogs need to learn to be individuals…apart from their pack.  They need to be able to learn that they are safe and can be calm no matter who is nearby…or even if they are alone.

Which means, that if you have additional dogs at home, you do really need to keep the puppy apart from the other dogs for a good part of his day, so that he will bond properly to you, and so that he develops correctly as an individual dog…not in the shadow of the other dogs.  They can certainly all have play times together, but you need to provide a separate confinement area for your puppy that is apart from the other dogs.  Teach him that he is a unique individual and encourage him to be comfortable in his own fur as that unique individual!

How to Prevent Separation Anxiety

There are some very simple ways that you can get your dog adjusted to being safely and comfortably way from you.

  • Get your dog used to a crate or confinement area by teaching him to go to it on command. Vary the length of time that your dog will need to wait before you let him come back out.  Be sure to give him a special treat like a Kong toy that’s gooped up with peanut butter or something fun!   This will make him enjoy his time in confinement and he’ll be so busy with his special toy that he won’t even realize that he is apart from you!   When I leave home, I always leave music on for Rugby so it drowns out many of the trigger sounds that would make him anxious when we aren’t home.  He often runs right to his crate when I tell him I have to go to work! ( See previous posts:  “To Crate or Not to Crate….That is the Question” from 7/14/15  &  “Crate Games” from 7/21/15)
  • Train your dog to go to his “Place.”  This is either a dog bed or pooch sized rug for your dog to go and remain until you give him permission to leave it.  This is something apart from your dog’s confinement area, so that he can be in the same room with you….but not necessarily have access to touch you.  This helps prevent a “Velcro Dog” who is glued to you all the time!
  • Learn to ignore attention seeking behavior from your dog.  These are little things that your dog does to “make” you do something for him, like pet him, feed him, play with him, walk him, etc.  Dogs will often nudge, paw, whine, bark, etc. to “get” humans to do what they want.  These behaviors should be ignored, so that your dog learns that he can’t work the system to get what he wants!
  • Get your dog accustomed to having other people hold his leash and walk him, or brush him, or play with him, so that he learns to adapt to people other than his immediate owner.  Obviously be sure that these are people you trust so that you have confidence that they will be kind to your dog and follow your rules for your dog.
  • Mix up your “leaving rituals.”  These are those little habits we all  do as we prepare to leave: picking up car keys, putting on shoes, grabbing our bag or briefcase, packing lunch, etc.  Dogs with SA know what to look for, and begin to be anxious when they see those behaviors from us.  Do them randomly throughout the day and stay home, so your dog never knows if you are leaving or not.
  • Make coming and going no big deal.  If you seem sad when you put your dog in his crate/confinement and leave him, and then super excited when you come home, your dog will learn that your leaving is bad and your coming home is good.  Your coming and going is all good, so take the emotion out of coming and going.  Leave your dog in his crate/confinement area for a few minutes when you get home, so he learns to stay calm and relaxed before he can come out to join you.
  • Often these types of daily activities can be done multiple times every day to help a dog adjust to distance and time away from his owner.  It needs to be started before your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety to help head it off and prevent a behavior like that from ever getting started.

One way to look at Separation Anxiety is that dogs who suffer from it are “addicted” to their owners, and when their owners fuss over them and give them lots of unwarranted attention, they are giving their dogs more of that favorite drug!  We all want great dogs who are comfortable no matter what is going on in their lives, so implementing these simple things can really head off a very big problem down the road!

Rugby James:

I gotsa tell you that there are times when I get a bit peeved wif the Mama on account of she doesn’t always let me sit by her or snuggle when I wanna.  Even when I does my auto sit to say please, sumtimes she only lubs me up real good, and then she sayes: “Go lay down, Rugby.”  I always wanna wait to see if she’s gonna change her mind, but once she tells me to go lay down, it’s a no hoper.  I gotsa wait for anudder time to try it.

I never know when she’s gonna do it, so I keep trying, but I feel okay being by myself on account of I hasta do it purty often at my house. We has special snuggle times, and then the Mama lets me snuggle good wif her, but mostly, she’s doing stuff and I doesn’t getsa have her undivided time just on account of I wants it.  I can earn it by doing stuff….my jobs….and that’s a really good deal!

The good fing, is that the Mama never makes me stay on my Place for long wifout giving me sum pets and sumtimes even cookies too!  I always getsa piggie on my Place, and usually my Big Bear too, sos I can nap if I wanna.  If I just wait and I’m patient, the Mama and the Daddy come over to me and give me sum good loving right while I’m hanging out on my Placemat, and that’s purty nice!

I likesa have my crate for a sweet spot to stay when the Uprights are gone, on account of it’s secure, and it’s safe, and nuffing bad ever happens when I’m in it, so I know it’s a good place for me.  The Mama leaves toys for me, so I gots sum fings to do what I likes, and that’s okey dokey in my book!  Sumtimes, the Mama puts me in my crate and she never does leave.  Isn’t that an odd habit of hers?  She will go do fings around the house and then she just lets me back out.  I doesn’t get it, but Uprights is hard to figure out sumtimes.  Sumtimes, she walks out the door and comes right back in!  I’m telling you, she makes me scratch my head sumtimes!

The Daddy is a lot easier to figure out!  He never picks up his keys unless he’s leaving, and he always does that the last fing, right before he walks out the door.  The Mama does it all the time so I has learned to just ignore her when she picks up her keys.  She’s a lil bit tricky for sure, and I hasta keep my noggin finking when she’s around.  But it’s like a game for me, and I like games, so it’s not all bad.

I know that the Mama does stuff what helps me even if I doesn’t always like it.  I know I gotsa stay by myself sumtimes, and really, I lubs my crate.  I gestsa snack and toys and the Mama leaves music on for me too, so I doesn’t really feel too lonely.  The Uprights come home to check on me during the day, and that’s always a sweet surprise too!!







    • Sally says

      Thanks, Jodi!! Tweaking things as you go can sure help speed things up and make a big difference for success in training a dog! 😀

  1. says

    As someone with a dog that is not food motivated at ALL ... it's nice to know that there are trainers out there that get that it isn't a one size fits all. 🙂

    • Sally says

      Hi Sonja! I've trained more than one dog who is not food motivated! Rugby is ridiculously food motivated until he gets into an anxious state, and then he is not interested in food at all! That nervous tummy kicks in and he's only thinking about how to save his hide! Dog training absolutely is NOT one size fits all, and it makes me crazy to see trainers who try to shove a square peg into a round hole! Every dog is motivated by something, and that's going to be different based upon the individual dog!


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