How To Create (and Deal with) Separation Anxiety
naughty playful puppy dog after biting a pillow tired of hard work
We tend to be a very busy society! As I have said before, computers, jobs, smart phones, family, sports and many other things take time away from our dogs and our pets.
20 years ago people spent much more time at home.
Also, 20 years ago more people chose to have families.
Today, I think more and more couples are opting out of two legged children and opting into four legged children.
Let me first say, I think this is fine and a personal choice; heck I am in this very demographic. I have three furry children and no, well… less furry children.
The problem arises when people truly treat their dogs like children.
Or worse (which I think is more common) people treat them like little royal, angels.
I say “royal” because often dogs are paid homage to and given everything they desire.
I say “angels” because many people are of the belief that dogs or animals can do no wrong.
I disagree with most of these things.
Actually I Wish People Treated Their Dogs Like Children
Actually I wish people treated their dogs like real children (the ones with rules and boundaries, not the out of control ones).
Because good parents give their children love AND structure.
Let’s face it, sending your child out into the world at 18 having never had any boundaries or rules, never going to school and having been given everything they desire probably isn’t going to work out well for them if you expect them to ever have normal lives.
Children have to go to school and learn to exist, they grow, they test boundaries, they learn about structure, when they are old enough they learn to be left alone and how to manage themselves and they must learn to have normal relationships which essentially teaches them how to become independent.
The success of a parent is often measured by the success and independence of their children. We all want better things for our children than what we had, and we want them to be successful adults.
I laugh (mostly to myself) when people complain about others treating dogs as children because I think that would be a great thing. Teaching, rules, boundaries, normal loving relationships and independence.
What they really mean is that people treat dogs like royalty or some kind of angelic thing that must be worshipped at all times.
The Two Main Groups
The two main groups that I see suffer from this the most are:
#1 The Childless
People who don’t have children of their own, often have more spare time. This is not true of everyone of course. Some people are married or committed to their jobs, etc. But as a trainer I see a lot of young people who don’t want children, or don’t want children NOW but get a dog to fill a void.
And, therefore they spend an excessive amount of time with their dogs, and most of it is not spent working on training and rules.
Dogs are in laps, watching TV or hanging out while their owners surf the net and they are spoiled and given anything and everything they want with no real rules or boundaries.
#2 The Empty Nesters
Parents, whose children have moved away, often feel a little empty so they adopt a dog.
Often times, these were good parents; really good parents! And, their children relate to me how they would have NEVER gotten away with the things that the dog gets away with on a regular basis!
For some reason these sweet people think that their children needed boundaries and rules, but their dog just needs more love.
Repeatedly, These Kinds of People are Creating Separation Anxiety
I want to again say, that most of these people are kind hearted people; who certainly aren’t trying to create issues.
Sure, sure there are people who pay no attention to their dogs at all and that also can create negative behavior and separation anxiety but most often it is people who over bond and over love them that create problems.
Creating a Monster
By giving your children, or your dog EVERYTHING for NOTHING you are creating a monster.
And, unfortunately life is harsh.
Children with no boundaries and no independence regularly wind up addicted to drugs and inadvertently kill themselves.
Dogs with no boundaries who can’t function independently and suffer from severe separation anxiety also frequently inadvertently kill themselves or wind up in shelters where they are killed because their owners can no longer handle their behaviors and no one else wants to adopt a neurotic, sometimes aggressive dog.
Yes, children without boundaries can also end up having aggression issues!
I once worked for a Service Dog organization and we had placed a dog with an older gentleman and she had been his Service Dog for several years. He needed to go to the hospital for surgery one day and his wife and family decided to leave the dog outside on a tether for a few hours until they returned home.
Unfortunately the dog was not used to being alone, and once left she panicked and hung herself.
It was even more devastating because the man lost his best friend and his helping hand, after all most Service Dogs give up that need for independence because they spend their life attending to their person.
What Can You Do?
First and foremost is to take this article and this problem seriously and don’t let it develop; remember the Service Dog.
The majority of dogs aren’t Service Dogs and don’t need to spend every waking moment being someone’s eyes, ears, or hands.
Dogs need to learn independence (I think even Service Dogs) and if we don’t give them structure (through training and exercise) and if we never leave them; we are creating neediness, neurosis, and phobias that would not otherwise exist.
Although you may WANT to spend every waking moment cuddling your dog and spooning in bed watching movies… this isn’t good for either of you!
Addiction is BAD
Addiction is always bad.
Psychology Today defines addiction as a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life, responsibilities, and work.
Certainly you want your dog to love you, but it crosses a line when he thinks he can’t survive without you.
You don’t want your dog to become the addict and you to be the drug, or vice versa.
Most people can rationalize that they can live without their dog for a few hours or even days (although I have seen people with separation anxiety from their pets), but dogs don’t have that mental capacity.
If they are never left alone and independence is never fostered, they don’t know how to deal with suddenly being left or being expected to be independent.
What happens if there is a death in the human family, someone is hospitalized and the dog cannot come?
The last thing these owners want is to come home to a dog who has broken windows or eaten through doors or walls or hurt or killed himself.
How To Teach Independence
Training teaches your dog and conditions your dog to think.
Training also builds confidence, and confident dogs suffer from anxiety much less (think confident people).
Training is also mental stimulation and mental stimulation can be exhausting (more on this in a minute).
Just like school, and boundaries teach children about life and independence; dog training and rules teach dogs about independence.
If my dog show signs of anxiety and/or panic while I am home; I would work on obedience and overcoming issues; not cuddling or coddling (which doesn’t help dogs at all).
The much dreaded “E” word! Exercise is crucial to most behavior modification programs.
A physically or mentally (ideally both) stimulated dog is a happy, tired, and usually confident dog.
When you work on leaving your dog and teaching some independence, having a dog that needs a nap because he is exhausted from all that you have provided for him (note I say YOU he isn’t going to exercise or exhaust himself until you are gone and he is panicked and then it is too late BTW). https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/dogs-exercise/
I pair mental AND physical stimulation by asking for obedience with exercise.
Want to chase a ball and retrieve? Then you have to sit, down, heel, give me eye contact and focus etc. for however long I determine you are capable BEFORE I throw your ball.
20 minutes of retrieve and training and my dog is totally smoked!
Even swimming is great for having an exhausted dog and can be great on a hot day or even for older or young dogs who aren’t as safely agile. I take my dogs for an hour of dock diving and they will sleep for hours!
I am visiting a friend for a week and I have 3 dogs. And, not all of my dogs are good or safe with their dogs or their children, which means they have to spend some time in crates. They get to be out with me while the kids are at school and they do dog shifts, so they aren’t living in their crates!
So I took my boys to the pool yesterday and paid for an hour and a half of dock practice and swim time. I got home at 6 and basically didn’t hear a peep (of course I fed them and let them out to pee a few times) from them until the next morning. It was a great way of making sure everyone is happy.
Teaching your dog HOW to be alone is also crucial.
A child that was never taken to school, never left alone, would also have a panic attack if he/she was left with no information or knowledge of what would happen. Being alone and being independent needs to be taught to people as well.
I work from home.
I am also a dog trainer.
I travel around the country competing and going to seminars and training.
I spend A LOT of time with my dogs. I mean probably an extreme amount.
But I also teach them how to be alone.
Even if I am not going out of the house for the day for work or errands, we still work on crate training and alone time.
I crate them knowing it is a true skill they need.
When I train with one, I crate the others.
When I compete with one, the others must be crated.
The truth is, it isn’t realistic that you will NEVER have to crate or leave your dogs.
Even my dogs that I can leave loose in the house without worrying about accidents or chewing are still crated. I may need it some day.
The perfect example is staying here with friends, I need crates! In order to spend time with family and friends and to stay in certain motels my dogs need to be crate trained.
I find it a disservice of the dog world for people who don’t ever crate.
Having worked at a vet, we knew the dogs who were comfortable in crates and those who had never been crated. And, when a dog goes to the vet sick, or for surgery or anesthesia they must be crated or caged.
It is sad to watch dogs panic and try and injure themselves.
And for those dogs who chew or pop out of crates… they make aluminum crates that are nearly impossible to break out of or hurt themselves inside. Often these crates are used for police K9s and can be expensive. However, it is cheaper to buy an extravagant crate than it is to replace the carpet or walls in your home, or even one vet visit for stitches!
Alone time and independence, like anything else is something that needs to be worked on and trained.
For more help with crate training click here
Got a crate squawker click here.
And to find out why some dogs get aggressive when left at home click here.
If Your Dog is Hurting Himself
If your dog is hurting himself it is time to get help from your vet and read this to understand more.
Your vet can prescribe medication that can make your dog more comfortable when you leave and while you work on behavior modification.
Imagine having PTSD from war and having visions and panic attacks, insomnia; you would probably want medication to help as you worked with a doctor, psychiatrist, or other homeopathic doctor while you worked on your own behavior changes and modifications; right?
A dog that truly suffers from separation anxiety will benefit from medication AND behavior modification just like people.
And, both are critical. Only medication will create the “addict” and will not address the behavior or the problem. Avoiding medication, sometimes, like the above example is sometimes horrifying and traumatizing and also will not work. Medication and behavior modification take time but go hand in hand.
And, until you can conquer the problem; I would look into finding a good doggy daycare that will keep your dog from hurting himself, screaming, barking all day or chewing and allow you time to work on problems in a fashion that is conducive to overcoming the problem and not making it worse.
For more on that click here https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/doggy-daycares-save-lives/
Remember to treat your dog like you would your children!
- Mental Stimulation
- And foster Independence!
Trust me, you will thank me for it one day!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.