Behaviour tips for dogs

Separation Anxiety

True separation anxiety in a dog is a panic disorder. It is a panicked response resulting from attachment to a person or other thing, and results in the dog experiencing an extreme stress response to being separated from that person or thing. Separation anxiety cannot be cured by just ‘ignoring the dog’ and ‘leaving them with fun things when you leave the home’. In order to address severe cases of separation anxiety, there are multiple factors to consider and a strict course of action to implement, getting to the root of this emotional response and applying proper systematic desensitization techniques to help properly change the negative emotional response in the dog.

 

We strongly encourage individuals that may be experiencing separation anxiety with their dogs to consult with a science-based force free trainer. This can be a very difficult process and requires a proper scientific approach from a professional. Below are some basic important notes regarding dogs that might be experiencing a mild case of separation anxiety, as well as tips for preventing this behaviour from occurring.

  • Try to ensure you aren’t accidentally encouraging or reinforcing over-attachment behaviour from the dog, by not doing things such as: constantly coddling your dog and picking them up to physically be touching you 24/7 (and most dogs don’t really like this kind of constant contact), having your dog follow you around everywhere like room to room in the home without ever able to fully be without attention from you, bringing your dog to every single place with you regardless of where you go (like work, out with friends, out for lunch, etc). While we are absolutely in NO way shape or form saying do not love your dog, with any species (even humans) there is such a thing as an unhealthy codependency and attachment style which can have detrimental effects on the individual. It’s important to ensure that attachment style behaviours in our dogs aren’t accidentally being created by us unnecessarily.

  • For dogs already exhibiting separation anxiety, while we don’t want them to feel like they’re alone right away – taking each day to work on teaching your dog a little bit of independence can help. For example, giving them a fun activity to do on their own can help act as an appropriate outlet for them while building on some independence (such as giving them a delicious stuffed kong on their dog bed, or a puzzle toy to solve).

  • Work on teaching some helpful patience and self-control exercises such as a ‘stay’ or ‘wait’ cue. By teaching your dog these cues and working on getting farther away for longer periods of time, this can help teach them to gradually learn a little bit of separation from you, but by pairing your departure with something pleasant. Please see this link for how to start working on teaching a ‘stay’.

  • Some dogs like crates, while others don’t. Dogs with severe separation anxiety typically do not like crates or feeling confined, though it never hurts to try a crate to see if the dog may deem the area as a comfort zone. You never want to have a dog step into a crate and close the door right away, especially dogs that may struggle with anxiety. Confinement is scary right away! This takes lots of time. If interested in trying, best to get a used crate from somewhere (that is still in good condition and will be thoroughly cleaned), so you’re not spending a lot of money on a crate you might not end up using.

  • Working on mat training can help tremendously with establishing calm responses in the dog naturally, then reinforcing these responses in different situations and settings. Mat training is a way to automatically capture natural calmness in the dog, and help them maintain that behaviour for longer periods of time in numerous real-life situations. This behaviour can take a while to achieve, but has a number of benefits including creating a true calm response in the dog in place of stress/anxiety responses. Click for a link for mat training/relaxation protocol.

  • When working with your dog on SA protocol, please make sure you have burned off their energy beforehand by giving them some physical exercise. It can sometimes help to make sure a dog is well rested before we practice SA training, BUT, not over-exercised leading to further over-arousal, as this will only make things worse. A very short walk around the block, or play session in the yard is best. But, right after you do something physical, it’s recommended to do something mental. Adrenaline levels and arousal levels increase with physical exercise, meaning those levels may still be elevated once the dog gets home. Doing some brain work afterwards can help re-shift their focus onto something else, while also settling the brain a bit.

  • Before leaving for long periods of time right away, it’s best to take it slow to gauge their response to your departure. By doing this, you can set up a video on your phone to see how they react. Simply turn your phone on and select ‘video’. Flip the camera so it’s facing you, then lean it up against the wall, record, and step out. Just step out for about 10-20 seconds initially so your dog isn’t too stressed. Come back and watch the video to see what the dog did. You may start noticing that after a certain amount of time, the dog starts getting anxious. This will help you determine how severe the anxiety is and at what point it becomes too much for the dog, so you know what to continue to work on at home.

  • If you are really struggling with separation anxiety and want to try using some calming products, pet stores carry some things you can try like calming treats, spray (adaptil spray and collars) and even thundershirts. You can also talk to a vet about other calming products (like Zylkene) or medication if needed (for more serious cases).

  • Work on getting them comfortable with your departure cues. For example, pick up your keys and walk around but don’t leave. Then put your shoes on and watch a movie. By pairing our departure cues with other things instead of leaving, it can help reduce a dog’s anxiety and anticipation before we even head out the door.

  • Please see these links for further info on departure cues and more helpful information on separation anxiety:

    https://www.clickertraining.com/node/3291

    https://www.hshv.org/separation-anxiety/

    (Long but very detailed and helpful read): https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety