Separation anxiety happens when a dog that is super-attached to its owner gets stressed when left alone.
Part 1 looked at the causes of separation anxiety, and symptoms to diagnose separation anxiety. Part 2 will discuss preventing separation anxiety from developing.
It may be difficult to diagnose that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, especially when most dogs will not show any signs as long as you are with them. If you suspect that your dog is distressed in your absence, installing a camera to observe his behaviour when you are not around is recommended.
Learning to cope with being left alone is a very important part of your dog’s training and should start as soon as you get a new puppy or dog. This will help to prevent separation anxiety from developing in the first place. The aim is to gradually increase the length of time that you leave your dog alone while creating an association between your absence and a positive experience (such as treats and toys). Each dog is different, and no two dogs will respond the same, so it is important to progress at a pace that your dog is comfortable with.
Kong dog toy
The first step involves teaching your dog to “stay” while you move away (but remain in the same room), always rewarding your dog when you return. Build up to moving progressively further away and for longer periods of time, the distance and length of time depending on your dog. If your dog reacts or moves, do not reward and do not punish, simply go back to a shorter distance or less time away. You want your dog to remain relaxed and unconcerned.
The next stage involves leaving the room and shutting the door, progressively staying outside the room for longer periods of time. If you have a glass door or burglar-proofed gate in your home, you can use these to start with. This way, your dog will still be able to see you even though you are not in the same room with him, and he can hear you as well, but he will not have physical access to you. You can then progress to using a solid door to separate you and your dog, once he is comfortable being left alone with a glass door or burglar-proofed gate separating you.
During this stage, you should give your dog a puzzle toy (such as a Kong stuffed with treats) to preoccupy him while you are gone. If your dog has a toy to play with or a treat to gnaw on, he is far less likely to focus on your absence as he has something to do rather than sit around getting bored. Once you reach the stage where your dog is happy to be left alone for up to an hour, leaving him alone for longer periods should pose no problems.
Part 3 will look at treating separation anxiety that has already developed in dogs.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2023