What to Know About Separation Anxiety
Crate Training and Separation anxiety Training are Not the same. In fact Separation Anxiety Training is very different from most training, including most forms of behavior modification. In separation anxiety, we aren’t aiming to teach new behaviors, and we don’t use counter conditioning. We almost never use food or toys, and our end goal is a dog who is disinterested in their owner. In separation anxiety training, we are aiming for gradual desensitization, which is something that most people with pet dogs have never done before…
What Is Dog Separation Anxiety?
Whether in a puppy or an adult dog, separation anxiety is when your dog exhibits extreme stress from the time you leave them alone until you return. The symptoms can vary, but they will act as if they are terrified to be in the house on their own. According to a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, although we can’t know for sure what’s in a dog’s mind, we can think of SA as the equivalent of a panic attack.
Here’s the good news: As the responsible owner, of a new puppy, hopefully you are continuing to laying the foundation your Breeder started for a well-adjusted, well-behaved dog. Puppy training, socialization, crate training, and teaching your puppy to enjoy their alone time, all contribute. (Ask your breeder for a check list of things to introduce your dog to, that will continue to build their confidence.)
Therefore, many of the recommendations here are things you may already be doing or have already done. That said, SA does present some unique challenges.
The Difference Between Separation Anxiety and Normal Canine Behavior
Separation anxiety is a serious condition, and it goes beyond the occasional mournful whimper when you leave the house or the shredded sock waiting for you upon your return. It’s also not the same as boredom, and unlike a little mischief when your dog is left alone, separation anxiety is the result of legitimate stress.
What Are the Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Dogs can exhibit stress in many ways, so there is no one defining sign of SA. Instead, there are a variety of symptoms. One or two of them, especially if they only happen occasionally, may not be a sign of puppy separation anxiety. But if your puppy shows multiple symptoms on a regular basis, they may be suffering from SA. Here are some behaviors your dog may exhibit:
Anxious behaviors like pacing, whining, or trembling while you’re gone or as you prepare to leave.
Excessive barking or howling.
Destructive acts, such as chewing or digging, particularly around doors or windows.
Accidents in the house – urinating or defecating.
Excessive salivation, drooling, or panting.
Desperate and prolonged attempts to escape confinement, potentially ending in serious injury.
several of the above symptoms are also some of the most common reasons owners get rid of their dogs. This is especially unfortunate because it’s an issue that can be treated by implementing a few simple but important tactics.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Puppies and Dogs?
It’s unclear why some puppies are more prone to separation anxiety than others. There may be several reasons, including never previously being left alone and traumatic separation (such as would be seen in some abandoned shelter dogs). Even a single traumatic event in the owner’s absence, like the house being robbed, can lead to SA. Finally, she suggests that personality can play a role, with clingy puppies that are coddled the first year of their life perhaps could be at higher risk than the independent ones even if never actually left alone the first year.
Other triggers to watch for involve life changes like a sudden switch in schedule, a move to a new house, or the sudden absence of a family member, whether it’s a divorce, a death in the family, or a child leaving for college. Some research has even pointed to a lack of daily exercise as a possible cause. Because there are so many potential triggers for SA, it’s essential to work on prevention and start treatment at the first sign.
Keep this in mind when starting Separation Anxiety Training
1. Separation Anxiety Training is Slow by Design.
Separation anxiety training is slow. It should be slow, it needs to be slow. Separation anxiety training should be subthreshold work, which means that we are going at the dog’s pace. When we are working with dogs with anxiety, this almost always means that we will be moving at a snail’s pace. This can be frustrating for owners, especially because it moves much slower than any training they have done with “normal” dogs that they have had in the past. Many owners get nervous that their dog is not making enough progress. As dog trainer who treats separation anxiety I can tell you as long as there is a little progress and a lot of consistency each week you are on the right track. If you find yourself getting frustrated with the pace of separation anxiety training, just remember that slow consistency is proven to be the most effective way to help your dog through these behaviors.
2. Separation Anxiety Training doesn't require a trainer In your home.
There are many reasons for this, so don't get sucked into a scammer. Because separation anxiety training mostly consist of leaving your dog alone, it makes sense that you don’t need a trainer to come out to your house to work on it! And for separation anxiety training we do not want the presence of the trainer to become a predictor of alone time for the dog. We also want you to practice alone time in a real life context, and as a dog trainer, we cannot/do not come to your house every time you need to leave. This way, you can get up from your couch and leave the house, just like you would in everyday life. Also your own training allows for a bit more flexibility in scheduling, which makes it easier to practice with your dog in different contexts, like before you leave for work, run an errand , or on your lunch break!
3. Separation Anxiety is Super Individual. There is a general plan that most trainers tend to all follow to treat separation anxiety, but the treatment for each dog will end up being incredibly individualized. Separation anxiety training is very data driven, so your dog’s reaction to each repetition of alone time will affect how you shift their training moving forward. It is really important not to compare your progress to anybody else’s. Dogs are not racing each other through the same training program. A regression in training is not a failure, it is a sign of a need to restructure your training to fit your dog’s needs!
4. Regressions are Common. Regressions are incredibly common, they happen in almost every training journey, and usually they happen many times. Trainers would be surprised to hear about a dog who never experienced a regression in separation anxiety training. Regressions can happen because we accidentally push into a dog’s threshold, and need to go back to practice at a lower duration of alone time. They can also happen because we haven’t been practicing consistently enough, or because we practiced too many times in a day. Regressions sometimes happen because there was a loud noise while the dog was home alone, sometimes they happen because the dog was left alone on a day they weren’t feeling good, and sometimes they happen for seemingly no reason at all. It is completely normal for dogs to backslide during separation anxiety training. If your dog is stuck after a regression, or if they really are not progressing forward in their training, then reach out and we can work together to help figure out how to modify your training plan to work through that obstacle.
5. Small Wins are the Best Wins! You already know that separation anxiety training will be slow, but what you might not know yet is just how good the small victories will feel! For some dogs, our first big win is being able to step out of the door without any panic. For other dogs, we will be able to walk to the mailbox without hearing a howl! For some others, we might be able to run to get coffee and come back! These wins may sound insignificant, but for those of us who are working through separation anxiety, they are huge wins. In all likelihood, it will take time before we get to go to dinner without worrying, or go to work without having to check our cameras, but getting freedom bit by bit is so incredibly rewarding. Knowing your dog is comfortable while you venture out of the house without them is an indescribable feeling for our separation anxiety pups.
Separation related behaviors are a unique challenge for pet owners and dog trainers alike. Luckily, we have a lot of knowledge that allows us to address these behaviors in a humane, efficient, and effective manner. Separation anxiety takes patience and time, and it is important to trust the process. . Slow and steady really does win the race to defeat separation anxiety. Are you ready to get started ?
What Can I Do To Prevent or Help My Dog’s Separation Anxiety?
It’s exhausting to come home to destruction and upsetting to see your puppy in such distress. It’s even more devastating for your dog. Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to deal with SA. Some of the treatments are the same as the preventative measures and may already be part of your puppy’s routine. But consider all of them again as you tackle SA. Look at the following methods of prevention/treatment:
1. Crate Training
It bears repeating that a crate is to your dog’s friend and your ally! It’s an important training tool and the solution for many puppy challenges. It isn’t cruel or unhealthy if used appropriately. Instead, it can provide your pup with a safe, quiet place to relax. The trick is to teach them to associate their crate with wonderful things like chew toys and food-releasing puzzle toys so they are happy to spend time inside. Serving meal in the crate can help make the crate more enjoyable to. Some dogs feel safer and more comfortable in their crate when left alone. However, other dogs can panic. Watch your puppy’s behavior to see if they settle right down or if the anxiety symptoms ramp up. Remember, the goal is not to crate your dog all day, every day as a solution to their SA. It’s to keep them and your house safe while you teach them to enjoy being alone.
2. Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning
An important part of raising a mentally and physically healthy new puppy is teaching them to be comfortable in the world and to form positive associations with new experiences. That’s equally true for time away from you. Teach your puppy that separation has its rewards. Start by leaving them for very short periods of time and gradually lengthen the amount of time you’re gone.
You can also make your departure routine less distressing by desensitizing your puppy to the signs you’re about to go out. For example, pick up your keys or put on your coat, then go make dinner rather than heading to the car. Even better, toss your puppy a high-value treat right before you touch your keys or coat. In time, they will look forward to the signs you’re about to leave rather than panicking.
If your puppy is already conditioned to go into stress mode when they know you’re leaving them, try countering that reaction by using a high-value treat they really love and that you only bring out for important lessons and rewards. If they get a special treat right before you leave, they might even begin to look forward to your departure.
Exercise can’t cure SA, but it certainly can help treat and prevent it. First, make sure your puppy gets plenty of age-appropriate physical exercise. This is especially true for large, high-energy dogs with a lot of it to burn off. A tired, contented dog who’s had a brisk walk and playtime with you is more likely to settle down when you leave. Second, don’t neglect your puppy’s mental muscles. Training sessions, puzzle toys, and cognitive games are all good choices. A brain workout can be just as exhausting as a physical one: and lots of fun, too.
4. Clinginess: Playing it Cool
Don’t encourage overly clingy behavior. Instead, develop independence by teaching your puppy to be on their own in another room, even when you’re at home. Teaching a solid stay is another way to battle excessive attachment. Start with short lengths of time, and once your puppy can stay for several minutes, you can begin to leave the room. Eventually, you should be able to leave his sight while they stay for five or ten minutes. Then work on the Place command.
It’s also important to play it cool when you leave or return to your home. You can greet your dog with love, but don’t get over-the-top emotional. Keep things calm and without fanfare. If you get worked up, your dog will see your comings and goings as a major event to worry over. Plus, if you return home to damage or accidents, don’t punish your dog. You will only add to their anxiety and worsen the problem.
Can Separation Anxiety Always Be Prevented?
Separation anxiety in puppies and dogs isn’t always preventable, despite your best efforts. And once SA has taken hold, it can be a complicated process to treat. Consider working with a Trainer or a Behavioralist to help smooth the process.
However, as serious as this condition may be, it has a high rate of treatment success. With patience and a positive attitude, you may be able to reduce your dog’s suffering and put separation anxiety stress behind you.