What is Separation Anxiety and what do you do about it?

Separation AnxietyMany dog owners contact me saying that their dog has separation anxiety, but the understanding of what separation anxiety is differs from person to person. As it suggests the dog is anxious because is it separate from you. The key thing is though that the dog thinks that it is responsible for looking after you, and this is what causes the anxiety. It isn’t because the dog is lonely, or bored, or sulking. Typically separation anxiety comes in one or more of three different forms. Destruction, i.e. chewing, especially around doors (as shown in the picture) although not limited to them exclusively; Barking/howling and Toileting. This can take place overnight, as well as when you are out of the building.

The destructive chewing is because the dog is stressed that it cannot look after you while you are not there (imagine how you would feel if your child went missing), and needs some way of relieving it’s stress. Chewing releases endorphins, so it may help them to calm down to an extent. Some dogs will focus on the doors as they are trying to actually get out so that they can come and find you and keep you safe. (I know, sad isn’t it, poor things!). Typically when the dog is destructive the owner will come in, see the destruction and tell the dog off. All the dog knows is that you’ve been out and have come home upset – they will then be even more worried next time you leave, thinking that it’s whatever is out there that has upset you.

Barking and howling the dog is doing because it fears you will not know your way home, so is calling out to you, so that you will know how to find your way home to him or her. Toileting is the same thing, but using the sense of smell rather than hearing. They have no concept that we have travelled for miles and cannot hear/smell their calls.

Ultimately the way to resolve this problem is to take the feeling of responsibility from the dog. That is where us Dog Listeners come in. We teach owners leadership signals that a dog understands. They are looking for them from us, and unfortunately our default human behaviour does not give the right message. When we learn to communicate with them in their language, they will realise that not only do we not need looking after, we are actually looking after them. Cue lots of relaxed dogs, heaving huge sighs of relief. Phew!!! Traditional dog training would have you leaving kong toys out for the dog, or showing them the destruction that they’ve done and telling them off. These activities will actually make the dog worse! The easiest and most important thing to do is to make nothing of it when you leave and the same when you come in. That means no attention at all at either time. Let your dog see your coming and going as nothing for him or her to worry about. The more you interact with the dog at this time, the more they worry about you… Practice this at times when you don’t actually have to go out, so you are only gone for a few seconds and the dog doesn’t have time to get worried.

I’d love your comments on this article – please add them in the comments space below!

There is more to it than this of course, so if you are worried that your dog may be suffering with separation anxiety and you need help please contact me – 07908 192656 I am based in Essex and travel to the surrounding counties too.

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