Robin and I were at a new Home Dog Training Client in Atlanta last Tuesday working with his two year old Maltese named Agatha.  My client had allowed Agatha to rule the house since he got her as a puppy and she just would not listen to him.  She thought she was the boss and ran the show.  Robin and I entered the scene to change this for our client and to let Agatha know that she was not the boss.  After about two and a half hours, Agatha began to understand her role in the family and was really quite happy in relinquishing the leadership role. Our client was very happy that he finally regained control of the house and Agatha’s respectful focus.  One last thing that we needed to work on was Agatha’s possible separation anxiety.  The first thing we did was to determine if Agatha actually had separation anxiety.  Many of our clients tell us that they think their dog has separation anxiety without understanding what causes it, the warning signs, and corrective measures…

We would like to share part of the conversation we had with our client with you.

Let’s first look as some of the classic signs of your dog’s separation anxiety:

  • Uncontrolled barking.  If your neighbors let you know that your dog is backing uncontrollably almost the whole time you are away, you could be dealing with separation anxiety.
  • Destruction.  When you return home and you find your sofa in shreds, a big hole in the kitchen wall, stuff pulled down from shelves and tables, etc., there is a strong possibility that you are dealing with separation anxiety.

Now, let’s talk about some of the causes of these bad things.  We often make the mistake of saying separation anxiety is our dog being afraid that he has been left alone.  This might be true for us (i.e Home Alone Movies), but your dog is different.  Here is what is he is going through:

  • Your dog’s canine perspective assumes there is a strong leader to protect the group.  It is possible that he doesn’t perceive you as a strong leader. Because of this, he believes he needs to step up to be the leader and protector of the group.
  • So you have left the group and have gone “somewhere else” in the dangerous world.  You locked the door, closed the gate, etc.  You are gone and your dog can’t do anything to protect YOU.
  • He tries to call you back and becomes increasingly nervous that you are not responding.  He is feeling the same way a mother would feel if she couldn’t find her child in the mall.

How can we make this better? 

Separation anxiety and aggression, are the two most time difficult canine behavioral issues to resolve.  It is critical that you become the leader of the group and let your dog understand that he doesn’t have to be the leader and take charge.  This is done through proper training to achieve your dog’s bond, trust, and respect.

Next, you need to direct your dog to the notion that it is OK when you leave.  There are many steps you can do regarding this issue.  I would like to share two with you now:

  • Leave for different lengths of time.  Up until now, you normally leave the house and stay away for several hours.  You go out to dinner or to work and your dog is by himself for an extended period.  What I want you to do is to start leaving for a few minutes and come back.  Just walk out the door for ten minutes and come back. You can go through the door, close it, count to ten, and come back.  This will remove your dog’s observation that every time you leave, you are gone for a long time.  In removing this observation, you begin to decrease his anxiety and time available to “get into trouble”.
  • Mix up your routine when you leave.  Your dog is always watching you.  He knows precisely what you do as we prepare to leave.  When he starts to see these action occur, he starts to become anxious before you even leave.  Make a list of all the things you do before you leave.  Now, do them but the order or leave some of the actions out.  You can even prepare to leave and simply go into the family room and watch TV.  This will remove your dog’s observation of “Watch out, Daddy or Mommy is getting ready to leave” and will break up another trigger for the bad things caused because of separation anxiety.

Good luck, separation anxiety is a difficult hurdle to clear.  With patience and consistency, you can solve the problem. 

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.