Separation Anxiety in Dogs

What is Separation Anxiety? 

Separation Anxiety is a fear of being left, or possibly being left, alone. A dog with separation anxiety may whine, howl, bark, pant or pace when they believe their parents are about to leave. While parents are away dogs may bark excessively, destroy objects, urinate or defecate in the home. Separation anxiety is one of the most common behaviour concerns seen in dogs.

Common Signs of Separation Anxiety

  • A low body with flattened ears, panting and pacing as parents prepare to leave
  • Whining, barking and trying to block parents from the door as they leave
  • Excessive barking, pacing, destructive chewing or urinating while parents are away

Common Misunderstandings

  • “Getting another dog will solve the problem”

Another dog will not necessarily fix the problem. Your dog may love the company of another furry friend, but still worry about your leaving. Dogs can also learn behaviours from each other, and you may end up with two dogs with separation anxiety. 

  • “Putting the dog in a crate will solve the problem”

Crate training can be a helpful management tool, however it does not resolve the underlying problem. Your dog needs to learn that you leaving is an okay thing, and that is where training comes in. 

  • “Training will resolve the problem forever”

Unfortunately, separation anxiety has a tendency of popping back up when routines change. Ongoing management is key to a successful life together after training is complete. 

Managing Your Dog’s Environment

Management is key in the successful training of dogs with separation anxiety. The following tips and tricks can help:

  • Avoid routines before you leave.
  • Leave and return without a fuss. No goodbyes and no hellos.
  • Play music during snuggle times and play the same music when you leave

Training Basics

The ultimate aim of training is to change your dog’s emotional state when being left alone. Most training programs for separation anxiety will include the following:

  1. Classical Conditioning: This type of training will associate you leaving and your absence with things that make your dog happy. Over time this training will make your dog feel happy when you are gone and in turn reduce the undesired behaviours. 
  2. Management Tools: Management tools help to keep your dog safe while the training takes effect and can support your dog in successful training. Automatic treat dispensers, puzzle toys and stuffable toys, as well as a crate, baby gates and music, can all be used to create a safe and supportive environment for successful training. 
  3. Basic Obedience: This type of training teaches your dog fun games that can help them practice being alone for manageable amounts of time. One great game is Hide and Seek, where your dog practices laying down in one room, you run away, and then on your voice command they run to find you in another room. 

Kristen’s Favourite Books on Separation Anxiety

  • Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs by Malena DeMartini-Price
  • I’ll be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell
  • Canine Separation Anxiety Workbook by James O’Heare

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