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
I think this is an important distinction to make. Don’t feel
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
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
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
One of the most useful skills in the world with your dog is teaching them
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
It came out of nowhere.
Sometimes you can have a dog that is lovely while
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.
Head Trainer Viktoria Miller