Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

4.16 Separation Anxiety

This hugely distressing condition, both for dog and owner, is more common in shelter dogs. It takes the form of the dog being over-dependent on the owner’s company and not coping when they leave. The dog may vocalise (whine or bark), attempt to escape (digging or chewing), and become frantically restless as a displacement activity.

Separation anxiety is often deep-seated and is a difficult problem to solve, especially as it’s inevitable the dog has to be left during rehabilitation. The principle of helping a dog to overcome separation anxiety revolves around rewarding calm, independent behaviour, uncoupling departure cues from the act of leaving, and decreasing the anxiety caused by departure.

If your dog has severe separation anxiety then medication prescribed by your vet may blunt some of the physical sensations of panic and distress, which helps the dog respond to retraining. As with so many behavioural issues this is a complex area and a qualified behaviourist is best placed to put a plan in place to help. The following table gives you an idea of the strategies which may help.

Aim Action
Teach independence
  • Have the dog lie on a mat on the far side of the room, give a chew toy to distract him, and spend time out of the room.
  • Ignore attention seeking behavior.
  • Initiate interactions and reward the dog for “Sit” and doing what you ask.
  • Practice the dog sitting on his bed, leaving the room (for longer and longer) and reward him for staying.
Desensitize to Departure
  • Vary your leaving routine e.g., Pick up car keys but don’t leave the house, wear your coat but without going out, exit by a different door.
  • Distract the dog with a chew toy, put on a cue such as a CD, and leave unnoticed through a different door. Return and reward him.
  • Practice short departures with the CD on, as a cue that you will return shortly.
Distractions prior to departure
  • Exercise and play prior to departure so the dog is tired.
  • Ensure plenty of play, exercise, and social time through the day, but expect the dog to rest away from you.
  • Give a high value toys 15 min. prior to departure and allow dog to settle. Remove the toy on return so it’s only available in your absence.
Care with confinement
  • Train the dog to accept a crate and be relaxed in it.
  • Ensure the dog is relaxed in the crate while you are elsewhere in the house.
  • Never shut the dog in a crate if he will be distressed and try to escape in your absence.
Coming home
  • Keep the return home low key.
  • Greet the dog only once he is calm.
  • Ensure plenty of basic obedience training. This helps him understand you are in control and he is safe, increasing his general confidence level and decreasing background anxieties.

Leave a Reply