Does your dog get nervous? Virtually any dog will show some degree of anxiety from time to time. However, some dogs have extreme levels of insecurity that is triggered whenever their owner leaves. This is called separation anxiety, and it can reach very high levels in some dogs. Sadly, this is a common reason for owners releasing their dogs to shelters or having them euthanized. Though this is a serious behavior problem, with patience, the behavior can be changed.
Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety
- Does your dog whine and cry or nervously pace when you prepare to leave for work?
- If your dog can’t see you, do they become nervous or agitated until they find you?
- Do your neighbors tell you your dog barks constantly when you are not home?
- Does your door look shredded because of their scratching to get out?
If the answer was yes to any of these questions, don’t despair. With some patience and gentle behavior changes, your dog should be calmer while you are away. Your furniture and neighbors will thank you.
Treating Separation Anxiety
Exercise – If time allows, take them for a 30-minute walk or throw the ball around the yard, anything that will burn off some energy and help them relax. As a side benefit, allowing time for a walk before work will also help you mentally prepare for your workday.
Train your dog with reconditioning – Your dog knows your every move and what they mean. Pulling out your green coat, picking up that black bag and taking your car keys means you are going to work and be gone all day, his reaction is panic. You put on your t-shirt and running shoes means he gets to go for a walk, his reaction is happy. Different departure cues create different reactions. Simulate situations that would cue that you are leaving your dog – then change it up. Pick up your car keys, put on your coat, but then sit on the couch. Confuse your dog, until you stop getting standard reactions.
Calm is key – Whenever you are coming or going, be calm. Let him know that you entering and exiting is no big deal. It may be hard, but don’t give them sad eyes when you are getting ready to leave the house or big happy smiles and exaggerated motions when you come home. If you do, you are part of the problem.
Ignore them – When you enter or exit the house, either during your practice sessions or actual situations, ignore your dog. No eye contact, no reaching down and petting. You are teaching them that your coming and going is no big deal. When you have settled in for a moment or two and the situation is calm, then you can greet your dog.
Music Calms The Savage Beast – or so the saying goes. Your dog may not be a savage beast, but he would probably feel more calm with some nice music to keep him company, or perhaps he would like to watch tv?
If you have the ability, recording the sound of your voice and playing during the day can also be calming. Be sure to play this voice recording while you are present several times, so they don’t associate hearing your voice recording with you leaving.
Don’t expect your dog to learn new behaviors overnight. All of these reconditioning techniques take time and patience. Each dog is different and learns at a different pace. But with consistency and gentle teaching, your dog will learn to be calm and confident when you leave, knowing that you really will come home.