Does Your Dog Have Separation Anxiety?

As a Miami dog trainer, I have seen dogs tear down drywall, destroy furniture and rip up carpeting when their dog owners are not home. We think it’s because our dog is lonely and misses us. Actually, it’s because your dog’s natural instinct is to protect you and when you’re not home he can’t do his job. Other times it does result from boredom, particularly a dog who is left alone with nothing to do for too long.

It is true that dogs by nature are social creatures and they like to be where the action and people are. However, some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and can cause them to howl and bark endlessly when you are gone. Some even engage in destructive behaviors. Some dogs even poop the minute they see their pet parent leave even though they are normally house trained.

Dog separation anxiety usually results from:

  • Fear
  • No clear pack leader
  • A major change in the dog’s schedule
  • A lifestyle change like a move

The key to any condition like separation anxiety is you need to establish yourself as the pack leader. Your dog needs to know it is your job to protect him and not the other way around. It is also your responsibility to establish the rules and boundaries.

A dog that is anxious will often worry that it is his job to be leader of the pack. If you’re not there and within his sight, how can he keep you safe? Most dogs don’t have the personality to be pack leaders, but they feel a responsibility to do so.

A true canine pack leader, however, is free to come and go as he pleases because he is capable enough to assess whether leaving is safe for him and the pack. Therefore, the pack does not worry when he is away.

Treating Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can be moderate or severe or anywhere in between. If it is mild, you can try:

  • Leave your dog with something that smells like you – an old t-shirt
  • When you come through the door at night don’t make a big deal about it. In fact, don’t acknowledge your dog until he has clamed down. The same should happen when you leave.
  • Make sure there is noise – a TV or radio
  • Your dog needs something to keep him busy. Leave him with lots of toys, particularly ones that are mentally challenging. For instance, Bark Busters produces the GameChanger, which you fill with small treats and your dog has to work to get them out.
  • Before you leave, take your dog for a walk. A tired dog is not destructive.
  • If you are going to be gone for 8 hours/day, consider getting a dog walker.
  • Your dog may enjoy doggie daycare a couple of days/week where he/she can interact with other dogs.
  • Train your dog using a crate

If your dog suffers from severe separation anxiety, you will need to call a dog trainer or you will tear your hair out trying to overcome it. I will put you through a series of exercises and practice sessions:

  • Demonstrate you are the leader of the pack in a canine way
  • Be sure your dog’s basic needs of food, shelter and entertainment are all met
  • Practice separation at home
  • Simulate leaving the house
  • Reestablish your leadership when returning home

You should never punish your dog for his separation anxiety driven behaviors as this could further break down the dog’s ability to recover from the stress of the being left alone. Living with a dog and treating a dog with moderate to severe separation anxiety will require diligent training compliance and a great deal of patience.

If you need help with separation anxiety, call me – Luis Escobar – or email me. I’ll be happy to help you and your dog overcome this distressing behavior.

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