Separation anxiety affects a huge percent of the dog population, maybe as high as 14%. But this majorly stressful behavioral issue also happens to be one of the most misunderstood parts of dog training.
Separation anxiety affects a huge percentage of the dog population, maybe as high as 14%. It is one of the most common complaints of pet parents. This destructive behavior may include urinating, howling, chewing, or digging.
But this majorly stressful behavioral issue also happens to be one of the most misunderstood parts of dog training. Why? Because naturally we as humans try to approach it from a human’s point of view rather than seeing the true cause.
We will look at how training your dog to see you as the pack leader can help with separation anxiety issues as well as all the relevant information concerning this behavioral condition.
The Pack Leader and the Anxious Dog
The answer to how to stop separation anxiety is clear and simple: you must show your dog that you are the pack leader. Their anxiety is triggered right after a guardian leaves his or her dog. As a leader, your job is to resolve the underlying anxiety by training them to be left alone.
Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from their guardians, the people they’re attached to. Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety are often extreme and can result in self-injury and household destruction, especially around exit points like windows and doors.
Soon, we’ll get to some of the most common things dogs do to act out when they are experiencing separation anxiety. They must be recognized, but simply treating the symptom rather than the cause will get you nowhere.
Simulated vs. True Dog Separation Anxiety
True separation anxiety is different from simulated separation anxiety where the behavior appears to be learned. The latter also occurs when the dog lacks leadership as wells as self-control. True separation anxiety, on the other hand, causes a dog to experience real stress during the absence of his owner.
One difference is that in simulated separation anxiety, the dog knows that he will get attention if he acts badly. Even scolding can be rewarding for some because they see it as attention. That means simulated anxiety is consciously done, unlike true separation anxiety.
Negative attention can be a reward in many cases if the owner is unaware that certain needs of his dog are not being met. In these cases, there is little real stress involved, just misbehavior.
Simulated separation anxiety is also easy to overcome through gradual training, exercise, and strong leadership.
Symptoms of Dog Separation Anxiety
Here’s one thing I want you to think of before we get into your anxious dog’s behavior: does the behavior stop when you return? If so, then obviously your being away is connected to the cause. Now, let’s look at some of the symptoms:
This helps calm them by releasing endorphins similar to what you experience when chewing gum. Some dogs love to nibble on door frames, window sills, clothes, and even the piano! This behavior can result in self-injury when not resolved right away.
Barking or Whining
This is your dog calling for you to return to the pack as you would call for a lost child. They can also be howling when left alone. This kind of noise due to separation anxiety seems to be persistent and doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything except being left alone.
Escaping While You’re Gone
This is often destructive and sometimes dangerous since it can result in broken teeth, cut and scraped paws, or damaged nails. What’s happening here is that your dog is searching desperately for you. They may also feel so scared in the area they’re confined to.
Digging or Destroying Things
This is another way for your dog to indicate that they are extremely stressed and anxious. They may dig in an attempt to escape or simply to divert their attention.
Your dog will display this through things like excessive licking or chewing of itself, which is a sign of stress.
This is commonly and often incorrectly seen as a medical condition when in fact it is due to stress.
If your dog is house trained but begins having accidents in your home, and it’s only occurring while you are away, it is very likely to be caused by separation anxiety.
When left alone, some dogs walk a specific path in a fixed pattern. Some do it in a circular pattern, while some walk back and forth in straight lines. If your dog is pacing at night it can be a sign of anxiety.
Some dogs defecate and consume all or some of their excrement when separated from their doggie parents or guardians.
Why Do Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?
There is no conclusive evidence as to why our furry pals develop separation anxiety but since far more dogs who have been adopted from shelters have this behavior than those kept by a single family, it is said that loss of an important person can lead to the anxiety.
Here are other situations associated with the development of separation anxiety:
- Change in residence
- Change in household membership
- Change in schedule
- Change of guardian or family
The Importance of Becoming Your Clingy Dog’s Pack Leader
To once and for all put an end your dog’s separation anxiety, you must attack the cause. You must become your dog’s pack leader.
Separation anxiety is very simple. It occurs because your dog has come to see themselves as the leader of your pack. To them, you are no better than a puppy or another member of the pack.
In the wild, dogs will not wander away from the den on their own. But here in the real world, your dog’s separation anxiety will continue until you show them that you are the pack leader. This means that much of the solution relies on obedience training and discipline.
Then, and only then, will you be able to come and go from your home as you please without worrying about what kind of havoc is taking place back at the “den
Need help with this approach? Start by checking out this video series on that very subject!
How to Stop Dog Separation Anxiety
You need to spend time training your dog. There are various articles showing how you can train your dog, such as through counter-conditioning. However, we’d recommend watching some videos instead.
Through proper training, you can show your dog what you want from him in and around the house and you assert yourself as the pack leader.
Learn how to teach your dog to do the following:
- Sit at the door
- Lie down
- Wait for their food
- Give their paw
- Stop biting (for puppies).
Small steps will help them become respectful and confident dogs free from separation anxiety and other behavioral problems.
Here are the most common training strategies you can utilize to treat your dog’s anxiety:
- Counter-conditioning. This is to change your dog’s response to the stimuli responsible for separation anxiety, usually replacing the anxious behavior with a more pleasant one.
- Desensitization. This is where you slowly introduce your dog to the source of their anxiety, preferably in small doses and at a reduced intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can go a long way toward managing anxiety.
You and other members of your family are the pack leaders, and you need to be recognized as such, not as dictators, but as leaders. For example, if your dog comes up to you and nudges your hand, or slaps you with his paw, you might think this is cute and he is petted, when it is actually disrespectful.
This becomes a habit, and now your dog thinks “I am in control and I can tell you what to do.” Then, when he cannot carry it out, he becomes stressed.
Teach Your Dog to Be Independent
Just because you are the pack leader doesn’t mean your dogs have to depend on you for everything. Teach them to be alright by themselves by breaking the bond a bit. This is hard for some people to do, but remember, you are trying to reduce the anxiety your dog feels when she is left alone and this is the first step.
Dogs with separation anxiety are often called “Velcro dogs” because they tend to follow their leaders everywhere. Discourage them from following you all the time. This can be done by teaching them some basic commands like sit and stay.
You can also put them in a crate or room and leave them there for short bits of time. Gradually increase the time from 15 to 30 minutes.
When you do this don’t forget to give them their favorite stuffed toy or chew toys. Don’t make them feel like this training is a punishment, and never punish them at all. This approach is just ineffective for treating separation anxiety and can just make the situation worse.
Tips for Stopping Dog Separation Anxiety
There many things you can do to help ease your dog’s separation anxiety. These, however, are not always long-term solutions to the problem.
- Make your arrivals and departure low-key. Ignore your dog for the first few minutes then calmly pet them once they have settled down.
- Leave them with your recently worn clothes that smell like you.
- Establish a word or action that you use every time you leave that tells them you’ll be back.
- Leave them some interactive toys for distraction.
- Confine the dog to their own space.
If your dog seems to worry when you always head out by destroying, barking, and maybe eating their feces, then you might be dealing with a case of separation anxiety. Although leaving your worn clothes and their toys with them may help reduce their fear, the situation may require further training.
The best solution to curing your dog’s separation anxiety is by asserting yourself as the pack leader and teaching them obedience and discipline. Once you’ve succeeded in doing so, all the other behavioral problems that your furry pal has will be alleviated in just a snap!
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