By Jennifer Kyzer, Master Trainer and Behavior Specialist
Whining, barking, drooling, panting, pacing, destroying and overexcitement are all signs of anxiety. If you have experienced your dog displaying any of the above behaviors, it may be time to address this common, yet unbalanced, behavior. When dogs are left alone and it causes them to go into a frantic mode, it can lead to anxiety not only for the dog, but for the family as well. Implementing a new routine, changing the relationship you have with your dog and learning some calming techniques can help ease this behavior.
Many experts agree that separation anxiety is a learned behavior that stems from an unbalanced relationship with your dog. Knowing this and taking responsibility to balance your dog will lead you to a calmer, more balanced dog and a better, more confident relationship.
Implementing a new routine as you exit and enter your home including rituals of obedience commands, setting a calm mood with white noise or soothing music, and quieting the environment before leaving the house will all ease the transition. Reducing arousal around exits and entrances includes: not engage your pup in ‘reassuring’ talk (i.e., “It’s okay, I’ll be home soon, don’t worry,”), as this type of talk typically increases stress in your pup. Rushing out the door while in a frantic state can also upset your dog; instead, try to incorporate a routine of calm exits. Upon returning home, ignoring your dog for a few minutes while going about your business as if you did not have a dog can calm the environment. For instance, if your dog has anxiety when you are leaving and then extreme excitement when you return home, that is fostered by you, the more they will anxiously await your arrival back home, which leads to more stress. Calming these entrances and exits can help lead to a calmer state.
In addition, proper crate training can help create an appropriate ritual for entrances and exits. Crating your pup while you are gone, in addition to crate training when you are home, can give your dog a safe place to find comfort. Introducing your dog to the crate correctly is key to having your dog think of the crate as his den. Proper crate training includes rewarding the pup for going in the crate on his own, not being confined immediately and continuing to create calm while in the crate.
Another aspect that can lead to separation anxiety is an unbalanced relationship with your dog. Imagine this scenario: a friend comes over to visit with her 3 year old daughter. The child plays for a few minutes then gets up, says goodbye and walks out the front door by herself. It is not hard to imagine the mother, who is responsible for keeping the 3 year old safe and happy, being distraught, shocked, and devastated. From a dog’s perspective - if your relationship is one that your dog feels a responsibility to make you happy, to take care of you, and that you all are only content and fulfilled when together - that is how a dog can feel when you leave them distress and anxiety on the dog, as well as the family.
Changing the relationship you have with your dog can have significant positive effect on separation anxiety. Promoting a leader-follower relationship, giving your dog mental and physical work, and being conscious of free affection will decrease anxious behaviors. To promote the leader-follower relationship, learn and teach with body language in addition to hand signals and verbal commands, have rules around the house, be consistent, and walk your dog with discipline. Your dog needs to know that you have his back, not vice-versa. Your dog needs to know well his role in the world and certainly in your family and that you are responsible for him. In general, initiating interaction and giving your dog “work” to do throughout the time you are with them, will allow them to rest when you are resting and when you are gone.