How To Identify Separation Anxiety In Your Dog
If youre wondering whether your dog might be experiencing separation anxiety, Certified Dog Trainer and Dog People Panel member Nicole Ellis shared a few common signs to look out for:
- Not being able to eat or play while you are gone from the room
- Urinating in the house when alone
- Trying to escape when alone
- Whimpering, howling, barking, or crying when alone
- Sweating paws when alone
Nicole cautioned that separation anxiety in dogs may be especially common right now, as so many pet parents have experienced changes in their own schedule. While separation anxiety can become an issue, there are many ways to prepare your dog for it now to ease their potential stress in the future.
More than half of pet parents have already started to notice signs of separation anxiety. The top three signs they reported include:
- Whimpering, howling, barking or crying when alone
- Not being able to eat or play when the pet parent isnt in the room
Its not just the dog experiencing this anxiety: 66% of dog parents said they themselves have anxiety when thinking about being away from their dog. This isnt surprising, given what we know about the positive impact of pets on our mental health.
Engage In Appropriate Exercise Routines Before You Leave
Most dogs can benefit from increased exercise, particularly dogs suffering from a milder form of separation anxiety called separation intolerance.
Working out your dogs brain and body prior to leaving him alone might help him settle during your absence.
Dogs dealing with mild separation intolerance can benefit from playing challenging games that stimulate their minds prior to being left alone. Finding treats that are hidden in a puzzle toy or playing a scenting game like “find the toy” can help your dog get ready to settle once you leave for the day.
Easy trick training also helps to mentally exhaust dogs. Working on something like “spin” or “high five” is more than just cute and fun the mental stimulation will leave your dog ready for a rest.
Comfort Place And Attention
Your dog needs to have a place to go when you leave where she feels safe and secure. Start teaching her a go to your bed command and praise and reward her when she does. Give her lots of attention and love when she is lying in her bed. In fact, you should make this the only place where she gets this kind of attention . She will soon find it very reassuring to be in her bed.
Resist giving your dog attention whenever she demands it. Ignore her when she comes to you and nudges your hand to be petted. Give her attention on your terms, not hers.
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What Are Some Of The Triggers Of Separation Anxiety
There is no conclusive evidence as to why some pets develop separation anxiety and others do not. Typically, dogs are more prone to it than cats, with dogs who have been adopted from shelters displaying this behavior more than pets who have been with the same family since puppy or kittenhood. One of the biggest triggers is the loss of an important person or group of people in a pets life. Other triggers include a change of guardian or family, change of schedule, change of residence, or the addition of someone new to the household.
How Can I Teach My Dog To Accept My Departures
Formal retraining should be directed at teaching your dog to remain on his mat, in his bed, or in his crate or den area, for progressively longer periods of time. You may need to begin with food lure exercises, starting with a down-stay and gradually increasing the time and the level of relaxation at each session. Once your dog will stay in your presence, begin to walk away and return, beginning with just a few feet for a few seconds and progressing over time to leaving the room for 30 minutes or longer. Reward with a quiet play or attention session, perhaps coming back and giving a gentle massage or tummy rub. In this way the desired behavior is being shaped and reinforced with the very attention that the dog craves. Remember however, that attention at other times, especially on demand, encourages the dog to follow and pester rather than stay in his bed and relax. A head halter can be particularly useful throughout this training to ensure that your dog remains in position and immediately responds to the command.
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Dogs With Separation Anxiety: Overview
1. Take steps to prevent separation anxiety in your new dog by conditioning him to accept being left alone.
2. Assess your dogs anxious behaviors to determine if the behaviors might have a cause other than separation anxiety.
3. Understand that your dogs difficult behavior is not deliberate, and that punishment is ineffective, inappropriate, and will only exacerbate the behavior.
Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJs Training Editor. Miller lives in Hagerstown, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Pat is also author of The Power of Positive Dog Training Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog Positive Perspectives II: Know Your Dog, Train Your Dog, and the brand-new Dog Play: How and Why to Play With Your Dog.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Is Suffering From Separation Anxiety
There are many indications that your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, the most common being vocalization . Some other telltale signs include panting when not hot, pacing, trembling, yawning when theyre not sleeping, refusal to eat or drink, malaise, destructive behavior, hiding, elimination, and excessive drooling.
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Teaching Your Puppy How To Be Alone
Note: keep training sessions short for young puppies! Just 5-10 minutes of practice goes a long way. Practice each day to make separations a routine part of your pups day, and always work at a level of separation where they are not showing signs of stress. If your puppy begins to show signs of stress, go back a few steps to a point in the process at which they were still having fun.
Create a safe enclosure for your puppys alone time.
Provide your puppy with a puppy-proof enclosure for alone time this could be a room, a crate, or a secured exercise pen.
Make sure there are not any dangerous items, such as electrical cords or loose socks that your puppy may ingest, and that there is fresh water available.
Provide a comfortable and safe surface, such as a dog bed or mat that your puppy has been on and has not shown the inclination to ingest.
Have this safe enclosure freely available to your puppy so they can choose to spend time there whenever they want.
Build positive associations with the area.
Practice separations in the same room.
If your puppys safe area is a room, setting up a baby gate in the doorway will allow you to practice the steps below in sight of your puppy.
Practice separations with you out of sight.
Setting up a Wi-Fi-enabled camera in your puppys safe area allows you to watch out for signs of stress while you are out of sight of your puppy.
Practice separations with you leaving the house.
Additional tips for building independence.
When Will My Dog Experience Separation Anxiety
Many and varied sitations. Some dogs will suffer in all situations some will suffer in just one or two. Know your dog and work using the same process as above in all scenarios. Many dogs suffer in silence so again pop a camera up as those dogs just verbalizing the smallest noise or pacing are in deep distress too.
- When you leave the house
- When your dog is separated in another room but youre in
- During a walk when the family is spread out. Your dog may prefer you all walk together
- One of you may enter a shop and the other left with your dog outside. Your dog can go into meltdown
- Left in a car
- Left at a kennel or someone elses home
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Desensitise Your Dog To Your Movement
When you move from room to room your dog has got into the habit of following you, they have become a velcro dog. When your dog cannot see or be with you panic sets in.
Step 1 is all about desensitising your dog to your movement and stopping them constantly following you when you are at home. Lets break this step down into 2, shuffling and standing up:
- Shuffling in your seat Before you get to the point of standing up and moving away from your dog, shuffle in your chair. Cross and uncross your legs, move your arms up and down. If your dog reacts to your movement, stop and wait for them to relax again. Repeat this until your dog does not react to your shuffling.
- Desensitise toyou walking Now it is time to get out of your seat. Stand, then immediately sit. Move towards a stand and step forward, then backward and sit down again
- Youll get to a stage when you can walk around your room freely while your dog remains rested. This can take a good few sessions, even more in extreme cases.
If The Problem Is More Serious
A dog with severe anxiety won’t be distracted by even the tastiest treats. You’ll need to slowly get them used to your absence.
They may start to get nervous when they see signs you’re about to leave, like putting on your shoes or picking up your keys. So do those things, but then don’t leave. Put on your shoes and then sit down at the table. Pick up your keys and watch TV. Do this over and over many times a day.
When your dog starts to feel less anxious about that, you can slowly start to disappear. First just go on the other side of the door. Ask your dog to stay, then close an inside door between you. Reappear after a few seconds. Slowly increase the amount of time you’re gone. Put on your shoes and pick up your keys. Ask your dog to stay while you go into another room.
As they get more used to the “stay game,” increase the amount of time you’re gone. Then use an outside door, but not the same one you go out every day. Make sure your dog is relaxed before you leave.
Only you can tell if your dog is ready to be left alone for longer periods. Don’t rush things. Give them a stuffed treat when you’ve built up to 10 seconds or so apart. Always act calm when you leave and when you return.
Gradually build up the time until you can leave the house for a few minutes. Then stay away for longer and longer periods.
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No Touch No Talk No Eye Contact
Dont make a big deal when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating to your dog that the time apart is no big deal. Its just business as usual! Depending on the severity of the dog anxiety, you may need to practice the rule for five minutes or up to an hour before you leave and when you get back.
How To Treat Separation Anxiety In Dogs
There are a number of steps you can take to resolve your dogs isolation- or separation-anxiety behavior. The program spelled out under Preventing Separation Anxiety below can also be used to modify an existing isolation/separation condition. However, you will progress much more slowly through the steps of the program with a dog who suffers from separation-related behaviors your dogs strong emotional response to being left alone will make this a much more challenging proposition.
Here are some other avenues to explore, to complement your modification work:
Fixing separation anxiety is hard work. Its all too easy to get frustrated with your dogs destructive behavior. Remember that hes not choosing to do it out of spite or malice he is panicked about his own survival without you, his pack, there to protect him. Its not fun for him, either he lives in the moment, and the moments that you are gone are long and terrifying. If you make the commitment to modify his behavior and succeed in helping him be brave about being alone, youll not only save your home from destruction, you will enhance the quality of your dogs life immensely as well as your own and perhaps save him from destruction, too.
Provide Interactive Toys For Your Dog To Play With While Youre Gone
Dogs with mild separation intolerance can also learn to enjoy the ritual of getting a treat-stuffed goody when their person leaves the house for the day. However, Flores cautions against leaving interactive food toys with dogs that are suffering from full-blown separation anxiety.
Sometimes, because the food toy has been given so often before departure, the food becomes a cue that something bad is about to happen, she explains. Once the food has been consumed, the dog will realize their person is still gone and panic.
The Steps You Need To Follow Are:
1. Establish a predictable routine
Since your dog is anxious, you need to begin by making his day calmer and more predictable whether you are home or away. Establish a daily routine so that your dog can begin to predict when he can expect attention and when he should be prepared for inattention . Try to schedule these times for object play and naps at times when you would normally depart.
2. Environmental enrichment – meeting your dog’s needs
During the times when you are interacting with your dog, make sure that you are meeting all of his needs for social interactions, play, exercise, training, and elimination. In effect, you should initiate enough regular interactive sessions and provide enough play and attention so that when each session is over, your dog is prepared to settle down and relax. At this point, new exploratory and chew toys can be given so that your dog has novel and motivating toys on which to focus when it is time to settle. Feeding toys can also replace standard food bowls to make feeding time more of a mental and physical effort.
3. Establish a predictable protocol for rewards
If your dog has separation anxiety, itâs likely that your dog’s favored rewards are the attention and play that you provide. Treats, food, play and chew toys may also be highly desirable.
“What behavior does my pet need to learn and what behavior should I never reinforce?”
4. Train âsettleâ .
5. Develop an area and surface for relaxation
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