3 Simple Steps To Curing Dog Separation Anxiety

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One of the most common problems I hear from fellow dog owners is the incredibly stressful case of separation anxiety.

There are some breeds that are very social (such as labradors, german shepherds and basset hounds) that are more susceptible to problems when you leave them alone for any length of time…but in reality any dog can suffer from it.

Dogs with separation anxiety can turn into nervous wrecks, and as owners, we don’t know what to do.

We still need to go to work, buy groceries and take care of our children. So, what can we do to train our dogs that it is OK when we leave, that we will return and they need not worry?

It’s a tricky science with many people voicing their opinions. But, in the end, it comes down to simply being there for your dog and not supporting his behavior with reinforcement.

The Danger of Separation Anxiety

To start with, separation anxiety is often mistaken for excitement. When you return home and see your dog bouncing around wagging his tail, you probably assume he is just very happy to see you.

This may be the case, but it can also be a sign of excitability – the result of anguish he felt before.

That anguish comes about when he is left alone – some part of his canine instincts flash that he is being abandoned, a death knell to dogs.

You shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving your dog. Most dogs can handle it perfectly well, and even those with anxiety can be retrained.

But, if you ignore it or allow them to continue showing that excitement, it is bad for their health.

Not only can it progress to full-blown depression and anxiety, which hurt the heart, but it can result in destruction around your home.

Why Dogs Become Anxious

On a very basic level, separation anxiety is due to a dog’s pack mentality. If he is left alone, he feels that he has been dropped from the pack.

But on a more immediate level, your dog is anxious because you have not clearly shown him that you are a solid, in-command pack leader.

In the wild, a pack leader may often leave the pack for a time to hunt or scout ahead. If your dog sees you leave and gets upset, he very well might see you as a follower and himself as an alpha leader.

Your job is to take control of the situation, and show him that you are not only the leader of your pack, but that you will return every time you leave.

Dogs that openly accept their owner as the pack leader are infinitely less stressed and anxious. They can trust in you to deal with the issues at hand.

Of course, not all separation anxiety is as complicated as a pack leader dilemma. Sometimes, it can be simply due to a lack of exercise.

A dog that does not get enough exercise simply becomes agitated when you leave and will keep themselves busy while you’re gone by destroying your home.

Giving Your Dog What He Needs

Good dog ownership consists of giving your dog what he needs and not what he wants.

This may sound cruel, but in reality, by treating your dog as a dog and not as a human being, you will provide him with the stable, protected environment he craves.

He will be able to relax when you leave, and you’ll know that your $200 shoes are still intact every day when you return home.

If your dog does suffer anxiety it can be stressful..on you and your dog. So here are 3 simple first steps to get you started on fixing the problem…

1. Teaching Your Dog to Be Alone

The key to reducing the anxiety is to teach your dog how to be alone. Yes, it can sometimes be hard, and it can be made harder if he has severe anxiety problems, but it is doable for even the most severe cases with a little focused effort.

The first thing to do is stop reassuring your dog when you leave or return home.

If you praise your dog and give it attention constantly before and after you leave, you create a sense that he can affect whether you are home or not, and he will often get anxious or stressed when you leave.

He will want you to return to get that attention and will keep barking or whining until you do return.

However, by holding back that attention 10-15 minutes after you return, your dog will learn that you are, in fact, not going to give his attention whenever you return.

He won’t have anything to be anxious about and will learn to relax while you’re away.

Additionally, you should reduce how much praise and attention you give to your dog for no particular reason.

If you constantly give your dog attention when he hasn’t done anything, he will start to feel like it is always coming.

Alternatively, if you teach him that you will only give attention when he has earned it, he will know that he is not missing out on anything when you go away to work for the day.

2. Training Your Dog to Be Alone

All the dissociative training in the world will do no good if you don’t take the time to train your dog to be content when you’re away and to know that you’ll return.

You can do this by occasionally leaving him in a room or his crate for short periods of time. You should never give him attention if he whines or barks on his own.

Put him in his safe space, and then leave him alone for one-two minutes. Come back and let him see you’ve returned.

Then, stretch the time you’re away up to three-four minutes, then 10 minutes and so on until you can leave for hours at a time without your dog getting upset.

The last thing you should ever do when your dog barks or gets upset with you leaving is to yell at him. He’ll either think you’re joining in on the fun or that you’re giving him the attention he’s asking for.

In either case, you’re defeating your own efforts by giving him even that little bit of negative attention. Ideally, a bit of training and some careful efforts will make it easy to leave your dog alone in just a few days.

3. Reduce Boredom and Energy

Make sure you give your dog a good, long walk in the morning before you go to work, as well as a walk after you get home.

It also means spending time with him, playing and exercising before and after you leave and return each day.

Every dog, no matter how small, should be given multiple walks a day to ensure they don’t have an excess store of energy to draw on when you’re not home.

In addition, give him things to keep him occupied. A few simple toys can go a long way toward keeping your dog from barking or whining endlessly when you’re away.

A dog that is anxious and barks, misbehaves, frets or whines when you’re not home is fixable. It may take some patience and time on your part, but with the right approach, your dog can learn to accept and more importantly, adapt to the realization that you won’t always be there with them 24/7.