Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety is a problem for dog owners who must leave their pooch to go to work, get shopping done, or simply have a life apart from Max or Ginger.  Cats couldn’t care less whether you live or die, but your dog is much more relational.  Your dog wants you there, and if you don’t train it to be confident and secure in your absence you may come home to a doggy mess or a chewed up chair leg.  Then the neighbor will drop by to say your pooch barked for 7 straight hours.  None of that is pleasant; all of it can be avoided.

Why Your Dog Experiences Separation Anxiety

It’s starts in the genes.  For millennia dogs were pack animals in the wild, and still are in many regions of the world.  Every pack has a leader, and when that alpha-dog is present, all is well.  You are now your dog’s alpha-leader and when you leave it may become anxious about foundational issues like its protection.  Basic training will allow your dog to overcome this separation anxiety and realize that it is not in danger just because you walk outside to dump the trash or to leave for work.

Another reason that dogs experience this phenomenon is that some owners make a BIG DEAL out of their comings and goings.  Hugs and kisses are used to assuage their guilt upon leaving the dog and more of the same commences when they arrive home out of natural affection.  Since dogs learn from association and habituation you are teaching Jock or Sadie to become hyper when you leave or when they hear your car turn the corner and head for the garage.

Controlling Separation Anxiety in Your Dog

Here are some effective ways to help your furry friend relax when you depart.

Don’t Make it a Big Deal: Spend a few quality minutes with your dog well ahead of your departure.  Speak reassuringly.  If possible, let Bailey get some vigorous exercise.  Then, when it’s time to leave, simply walk out the door without a word.  You may find that your dog is more comfortable being crated while you are gone. That sounds counter-intuitive but recognize that its crate is a safe, secure place for it to reside, much like the hole or den a wild dog will dig for safety.  At the very least leave the crate door open so Molly has the option of hunkering down in there if she wishes.  Upon your return be low-key as well.  Greet the dog with a hello but save the affection for later.

Mix Up your Schedule: Dogs are big on routine.  They get trained that your alarm means you’ll be leaving soon.  You follow the same morning ritual and sure enough, in a matter of time you are gone.  If possible, use different alarms (radio, beeper, rooster, whatever) and possibly leave for work at a different time.  Use the front door or side door to vary your routine.  Climb out a second story window if it helps alleviate your dog’s anxiety.

Help Your Dog Build Up Tolerance for your Absence: When you first get pooch home put him in his crate and leave for 10 minutes several times a day.  Build up to being able to leave him for an hour or more.  When your pet is 3-6 months old practice leaving for half a day.  In time you’ll be able to leave for your work day confident your dog will be just fine.  Use the crate until your dog no longer demonstrates behavior that represents acting out its anxiety.

This Training is Necessary, Not Mean: Some dog lovers/owners think these measures are mean.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  They will help your dog become mature and confident in your absence.  A overly-dependent dog that cannot handle solitude will be unhappy.  This training will allow your dog to relax while you are away, producing physical and emotion benefits for your furry friend.

Keep teaching your canine companion that he or she will be just fine in your absence.  In time Jocko or Blondie will inherently recognize that the environment is safe and that you will provide for them when you return.  Your dog won’t be anxious or act out while you are away, especially if you teach it not to associate your leaving or coming with major amounts of attention.  You’ll both be much happier when the problem of separation anxiety is conquered.