One of the biggest issues that families in Savannah, Charleston and Hilton Head come to us for Dog Training Help is about is Separation Anxiety: issues ranging from simple whining in a crate, to dogs jumping through windows from the second floor to get to the owners who have left to go to work or the store. These dogs end up causing a pretty hefty amount of destruction, not only to the physical property of the owner’s home and the dogs crate, but also their own physical and mental condition.
Most people have tried so many different remedies to stop this type of behavior, but with little or no success. Most of them are based on keeping dogs busy doing “something”, such as food-based, exercise, or with games a. But the reason this fails it’s because it’s adrenalized behavior that will most likely create the same results or even make it worse. Unfortunately, in a good amount of these cases, the behavior leads to the surrender of the dog. So many dogs are returned to rescues by their owners for excessive barking as well as separation anxiety issues.
Most vets will suggest medication, and although I have seen this work in some cases, it is not the norm for it to work. I have also seen dogs get TONS of exercise but the issues still exist. I am a huge advocate of lots of structured exercise for dogs to help with this issue, but that is far from the solution to extinguish separation anxiety.
What to do?
When a dog is in a state of panic and stress, they are suffering and in mental pain. It is our obligation as dog owners to be advocates for our dogs, we should be protecting them both mentally and physically. Most dogs do not self soothe out of separation issues, so it is the owner’s duty to help them out of it. Most dogs that have separation issues continue to repeat the behavior over and over, so they need our guidance to stop that sad cycle that will not end on its own.
We take pride at being pro-active and preventing dog behavior problems it but I also have absolutely no problem correcting it. The secret is being PROACTIVE, not REACTIVE.
A few things I notice with families that have dogs with separation issues:
- They make their dogs too much the center of attention
- They do not have enough structured alone time for their dogs
- They do not work on controlling space.
This is a few of the things that we do here at DogWorx to prevent and eliminate separation issues:
- Structured walks of at least for 30 minutes a day. Having the dog in proper heel position, which means your dog has his head at your knee walking on a loose leash, no pulling, sniffing, marking, lunging or barking. Your dog should not be meeting or greeting people or dogs on the walk. All that does is get your dog even more Adrenalized and excited and the goal is to teach your dog how to be calm. Click here for a video explaning more about what a structured walk is, and how to help you teach your dog this skill.
2) Crate train your dog. When you have a dog that is anxious, nervous and has separation issues and you find them soiling and destroying your house, you need to have your dog safely contained in a crate. One thing we stress to all owners with anxious dogs is to remove all bedding, toys and such from the crate. Not only does this prevent destruction and soiling but it also prevents injury or even death to your dog who ingests something they happen to destroy, not to mention a hefty vet bill. Here is an easy way to start teaching your dog how to enjoy the crate.
3) Control the space in your home. Teach your dog the PLACE command and use it. You should NOT have your dog moving about your house, following you around, going from window to window, responding to every sound and sight. This creates a more anxious dog that just can not learn how to settle down. Look for a dog that is calm and even bored in the house. A dog that is content on just existing in your home is going to do a lot better with any anxiety issues when the humans leave. Here's a video on how to teach your dog to "place".
4) Create the right atmosphere. The inside of your house should not be a dog park for your dog, it should be more like a relaxation spa. Toys should not be tossed all over the place, nor should your dog have free access to them. The goal is for your dog to learn how to relax, how to exist calmly in a world of chaos. You actually can teach your dog to relax by utilizing long duration exercises like Place and down.
5) Keep calm. When coming and going from your house, keep your energy calm. Do not enter rooms excited to see your dog, using a high pitched voice with lots of petting, and allowing your dog to jump up all over you. We all miss and love our dogs, but the message you are sending to your dog is that if they start jumping and being excited, you will give them attention. You want your dog to be calm around you, not pumped.
6) Minimize physical, verbal and food praise. The greatest reward, in my opinion, for a dog is exist in our world in peace with us. In order to do that, we need to have our dogs mentally and physically behaved. I am not saying you should not pet your dog, or not give your dog treats, or not tell your dog how good they are. But I see too many dogs already excited and anxious, and adding constant rewards, praise, and treats will only make it more so. These rewards, in all honesty, are a way for us to feel better: they benefit the owner and their feelings towards their dogs but are not benefiting the dog long term.
7) Treat training like a lifestyle. Training is so much more than a series of tricks. Treat dog training like a book full of chapters and do not skip any pages or chapters along the way. You need to keep up with the small things daily in order to prevent any of the big things from happening.
8) Don’t question your dog to get it excited. We all do it, its a habit, but of you say things to your dog like: “Do you want to go for a walk” “Do you want to go for a car ride” “Do you want to eat”. All of these thing get your dog wired up or Adrenalized while you feel good because your dog is excited about something — all it does is cause too much excitement. What do you want the dog to do? Just say it! The dog is going for a walk, going for a car ride and going to eat, because you said so. It’s not about dominance, is about structure and rules.
9) Add more exercise. Adding walking on a treadmill to your daily routine. This has helped dogs decrease separation issues. Here's a step by step video guide on how to teach your dog.
I have met trainers, dog owners and even veterinarians across the world that believe these rules are abusive and cruel, and would suggest to just ignore the dog or let him be free. But in reality, the only thing that is cruel and abusive about separation anxiety is NOT fixing it. Ignoring the dog is only leaving him / her in a state of unbalance, where the only thing that will happen is having him hurt himself, or you ending up so frustrated with the issue that you will get rid of the dog.
Separation anxiety issues start to disappear not too long after putting effort in teaching them behavior, not just obedience . Follow these tips, and with small daily changes you will see amazing results.
Did these tips help? Still struggling with your dog? reach out to us! we would love to help you.
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