Prevent and deal with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is a distressing condition for dog and owner, and often even other people in the community.

Sometimes a dog develops the behaviour seemingly for no discernible reason, sometimes it seems related to moving house or a change in the household. But no matter the superficial cause, close examination of human behaviour is the key.

Because humans are the cause of separation anxiety, the good news is that, if your dog has separation anxiety, you can begin to deal with the problem immediately, without medication, and effect positive change often within hours of changing your behaviour.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety can manifest in many ways, but typically as barking and destructive behaviour, but sometimes very subtly as whining or even just 'clinginess'.

Separation anxiety is common when the dog is led to believe that he is in charge of the social order. It is not that the dog is afraid to be alone, misses you, or needs you with him. It is that he doesn't think you are competent to be out on your own.  

In effect, this means that how you have been behaving has in fact inadvertently caused the problem. It can be hard to hear that what you think is your expression of 'love' for your dog, is in fact causing this distress for your dog, and you. But understanding this means you can start to tackle the problem in a way that is sustainable, and meaningful for your dog.

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Make your dog the luckiest devil!

A dog is a social pack animal. The pack is a dynamic social order in which dogs almost constantly and subtly vie for status, authority and control. The way you interact with a dog communicates your status in the pack, your knowledge, your authority, your ability to lead.

You can prevent or eliminate separation anxiety by communicating in simple ways that a dog understands, and that confirm you are competent and in charge. When that happens, he need not have a care in the world! Lucky devil!

Begin with these tips:

Come and go

Break the association between coming and going and a stress reaction by simply going about your business when you come into and leave the dog's presence - like when you go to work, or go bed or go to the toilet. That means no eye contact, no verbal contact and no physical contact. Pretend the dog doesn’t exist. Your absence was normal, and your return is normal.

If your dog starts to get agitated when you pick up keys, close doors, or put on shoes for example, do those things without going out.

Practise by coming and going through doors that you close behind you, ignoring the dog as you go around the house. Start with short periods - perhaps just seconds - on the other side of a closed door, and build it up over time.

When you come home, pretend he is not there and wait to greet him until you have put your shopping away, or got changed, or perhaps made a cup of tea. Wait until the dog is calm and quiet, maybe even lying on the floor, then call him over. Then have all the cuddles you need!

Get rid of anxious energy

Good habits can tip things in your favour. Walk your dog off-lead to burn mental and physical energy before you leave so that the dog’s more likely to be settled when you leave and less likely to need to take out its excess energy and stress on your home.

Control your resources

This means food, toys, beds, furniture - it's all your stuff, on loan temporarily and at your discretion! Don't leave toys or food out, move the 'dog bed' don't allow dogs on human furniture, go through thresholds first - just some of the ways dogs in a domestic situation understand status and control.

Understand reward

We reward our dogs a million times a day without ever knowing it.  Understand how and when your dog has you wrapped around his little metaphorical finger. Understand 'contact on your terms' and eliminate this subtle confirmation that he is in charge.

If you need help to deal with separation anxiety, get in touch!