Does my dog have separation anxiety?

True separation anxiety is actually fairly rare in the dog world but it does happen. So the question is does my dog have separation anxiety or are they just not sure how to act when I’m gone?

Knowing the difference

Does your dog….

whine and pace as you prepare to leave or walk out

pant or drool

tremble and shake

get dilated pupils

bark or howl nonstop

injure themselves trying to get out of the crate

chew up things near the doorways or windows

claw and chew at the wall

not eat the tasty treats you leave out

 

If you’re nodding along to a lot of these your dog may have a true case of separation anxiety (or possibly containment phobia). A real fear of being alone (or fear of confined spaces, sometimes as small as the crate sometimes as large as the house). If these aren’t sounding quite as familiar let’s take a look through this list

 

Is your dog…

soiling in the house

chewing up furniture/items they shouldn’t

getting into the trash

barking at neighbors passing/intruders (those darned squirrels) or when you initially leave but settling quickly

 

If you’re checking the boxes here then it’s likely your dog just doesn’t know how to behave when your not around to influence their choices.

This is a big distinction and one to really take notice of. Anxiety is far more difficult to treat than a young dogs boredom getting itself into trouble. That, however, doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if your dog has true separation anxiety. We can help you.

A good place to start on preventing separation anxiety from forming (and good tips to do if your dog already has it)

Coming and going.

One of those ones that a lot of my clients smack their foreheads and say that does make a lot of sense why didn’t I think of that? If you leave your house feeling sorry for your dog, your dog will start feeling a bit sorry for themselves. And honestly why are you feeling sorry and apologizing to them for leaving?

One of my favorite quotes on separation anxiety comes from Patricia B. McConnell’s book I’ll be Home Soon. She talks about a trainer friend of hers listening to her apologizing to her dogs saying things like poor babies I’ll be home soon and her trainer friends says “Let me get this straight. You’re going to work all day at a difficult stressful job that requires driving through snow, ice and lousy traffic just to get to. You’re going to do this to make the money to afford the warm, comfy, food-filled home that your dogs are now enjoying. No doubt they are now curled up on the couch, can drink clean fresh water when thirsty and snack on food that is higher quality than the food most humans eat and YOU feel guilty! They should be apologizing all over themselves when you leave, not you!”

I think this is an important distinction to make. Don’t feel guilty leaving them. Say a simple have a good day, be good and walk out. No long overly dramatic goodbyes. No layers of kisses and hugs goodbye. Or else your dog begins to wonder why it is your so worried leaving them behind. Should they to be worried?

When you get home there’s no need for over excitement. So many of my clients struggle with jumping dogs, and this is half the cause. When you return home you can give a loving meaningful greeting without all the fuss. A simple touch or pet with eye contact and a hello with their name is wonderful and rewarding.

Teach your dog what is appropriate to chew on.

Having chew toys that only come out when you leave is a good way of keeping things novel to your dog. If it’s always laying about it’s a bit like a child with a room full of toys complaining they’re bored.  I like to give my dogs filled frozen kongs (Find more on that HERE) or elk/moose antlers when I leave. (Make sure they are sized right so as to not pose a choking hazard)

Crate your dog.

I’m a big advocate for crating your dog, exceedingly so in the beginning when they are young and curious. If you can’t crate them I would at least segment them off to a smaller area like a laundry room. As they age and show me maturity I start to play with allowing them out of the crate for short trips. Start with things like walking to get the mail with them out. Then an hour trip to the grocery. Build up to longer trips as they show you they can handle the freedom.

Make the crate a comfortable place to be. A few minutes of playing crate games may save you a lifetime of misery getting your dog into the crate.

Exercise your dog.

It always astounds me when someone tells me their australian shepherd is chewing up their house when they leave and I ask them how much exercise it gets and their answer is not much. This is a working dog. Bred for work. As in A TON OF ENERGY. Your dog is bored and looking for something to do.

Exercising your dog to death isn’t the answer to separation anxiety but no exercise is certainly not going to help. Make sure to get those walks in and even better mentally exercise your dog as well. Tricks, puzzle toys, scent work, even obedience training is all worthwhile to tire out your dog.

Obedience training. Teaching your dog self control and patience.

One of the most useful skills in the world with your dog is teaching them self control. I’m an advocate of long down/stays and the place command for teaching your dog how to relax on command.

Also important is making sure your dog isn’t controlling your actions. If you’re sitting down to relax and your dog is constantly bothering you to go play and give them attention and you give in? Your teaching them that is appropriate behavior. I teach all my dogs the command Enough. Once they hear that they know we’re finished playing and its time to go do their own thing, in most cases go lay down and relax.

I also use park it as an informal go lay down. The down command has an implied stay in it and I expect them to lay down where they are when I ask it. Park it is go find someplace comfy to lay and hang out there for a bit but you can get up and move around if you like.

It came out of nowhere.

Sometimes you can have a dog that is lovely while your gone, only to come home to a destroyed house seemingly randomly. I’m always looking for possible reasons for anything with sudden onset. Sometimes it can be environmentally related. Perhaps the trash truck changed schedule and came loud and monsterous passed the house that morning while you were away. Or if you’re like me you live close to an airport with loud flyover patterns that can shake and rattle the house. Webcams are a useful way to check out what’s going on while you’re gone. You can oftentimes pick them up cheap refurbished on amazon.

As an aside if you’ve been leaving your puppy out with no problem (which I don’t recommend) and suddenly they’re chewing up everything, it’s likely they are teething or possibly just a bored adolescent. Remember retrievers were made to put anything and everything in their mouth, terriers to search, dig and destroy, herders to have constant energy stores, and so forth. Keep all of that in mind when they are young and spry and likely to cause trouble.

If you’re struggling with your dog’s separation anxiety, we can help.

Happy Training,

Head Trainer Viktoria Miller