ARTICLE: Separation Anxiety/ Being Alone Anxiety

Written by Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith Dog Training
778 836-DOGS (3647)

This is the inability to be left alone. Dogs that urinate or defecate on their owner's departure, bark constantly, whine and destroy the home when everyone is out could be suffering some type of anxiety over being left alone. Is your dog suffering from true separation anxiety? The signs of true separation anxiety are bloody paws from the dog trying to escape, and or anorexia, and or a dog that is soaked with his own saliva upon your return. Bona fide cases are pretty much the minority, believe it or not. The new catch phrase seems to be separation anxiety.

If your dog is destroying your home when you are out, he could just be being a dog and misbehaving. Perhaps your dog does not fully understand proper house etiquette. IF he is a puppy under a year, chances are he does not fully understand proper house etiquette. He has learned what is acceptable behaviour when mom and dad are home because he has been reprimanded and he has also learned what he can do when mom and dad are out. IF this is the case there are loads of tricks to alleviate this problem starting with teaching him what is allowed and what is not allowed. IF however his destructive behavior is coupled with the above symptoms and he is very anxious when you are leaving he is probably suffering some anxiety which you should help him through.

Be aware some dogs also learn that if they whine and carry on while their owner is getting ready to go out, the owner may break down and take him with them. So you need to figure out if your dog is just a good actor or is he really feeling stress while you are away. A good way to see what exactly is going on with your dog short of installing a nanny camera is put a very yummy treat in his food bowl when you are leaving. If that treat is still there when you get home, yes your dog is under stress. A stressed dog will not eat while you are gone. He cannot. His stomach is in knots. How did he get like this? Easy, you made him the center of attention. More often than not, dogs suffering some type of anxiety over being left alone are living with people who only want the best for them. It is not neglect that has created this problem, it's the exact opposite: it's an overabundance of love. And that is not bad, in fact that is great, more dogs should be showered with love. The all or nothing concept though is difficult for dogs to understand. So in order to help them be at peace with being alone, we must now teach them a valuable lesson - how to be alone.

We start by first making our entrances and exits less exciting. When you arrive home, delay your greeting for at least 5 to 10 minutes. To some, this will feel like an eternity. Remember it is for the good of your dog. Calmly say hello to your dog, without getting him all worked up and then go about your business. Try a similar routine when leaving. Give your dog a favorite toy about 10 minutes before you leaves (which he only gets when you go out). Don't bother to say your good-byes when the time comes, simply leave. This is not to be harsh; it is to help your dog. One of the big problems in dealing with this type of anxiety and eventually eradicating it, is that many owners feel their dog will not love them if they do not pay constant attention to them. This is very far from the truth: your dog will still love you and his greater respect will improve your bond together, plus you are helping him be more comfortable in the long run with being alone!

When you are at home with your dog it is important to teach him a command like go to your bed and make him do that periodically throughout the day while you are home. Do not let him shadow you all day long. As much as we may like this it is not actually that healthy for your dog. He should feel comfortable sleeping, looking out the window whatever, without having to follow you everywhere. Teach him this command and slowly increase the time he is lying on his bed not following you around. While he is lying on his bed give him his favorite chew toy (perhaps a Kong filled with peanut butter) and occasionally stop by to pat him and tell him how good he is being. This is not punishment it's teaching him to be comfortable with himself.

Another useful command to combat separation anxiety is to teach sit/stay. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog, rewarding a lot at each new distance. The goal is to be able to leave the room and have the dog hold that stay. You want to increase the time the dog holds that stay with you out of the room. Again the goal is to show the dog he is ok being alone.

Peripheral things you can do to help the cause:

Practice semi-absences by closing the dog in various rooms of the house for different lengths of time when you're home. If your dog barks when you do this ignore him until he stops barking and has remained silent for at least 40 seconds before going to open that door. If you open the door while he is barking, he has learned that if he barks you will come back.

Increase regular, vigorous exercise and walks so the dog has some novel sights, sounds and experiences to process every day. If possible tire him out physically before you go out.

Finally when you are getting ready to leave your dog, change up your routine. I bet you did not realize that the routine you establish before you leave follows the same pattern most days. You pick up your jingling keys, get your purse, and put on your coat and leave. Each person has a routine, and the dog is watching. That's all dogs do all day, watch us! Your dog easily deciphers when you are going out. Your cues are his cues to get stressed, so change them up a bit. Put on your coat and sit on the couch. Pick up the laundry basket and leave with that in your arms. Anything to throw the dog off wills help. Some dogs suffer from anxiety and they are not really feeling anxious; it's just become a habit for them. SO break the pattern and you may find you break your dog's pattern as well. And finally some dogs find comfort in a radio being left on, so try that. Take the steps to relieve stress in your best friend's life. He may not thank you for it but he will be thankful of it!