Robin and I were at a Dog Training Lesson last Thursday in Dawsonville working with a new Home Dog Training client and his two-year-old Brittany Spaniel named Matty.  My client had permitted Matty to “have the run of the house” since he brought her home as a puppy from the breeder. Needless to say, she would almost never listen to him.

Solutions for your dog's separation anxiety

Because of the “free reign” that she had been allowed, she totally believed that she was the boss and that she “ran the show”. With our arrival at our client’s home, Matty’s “rule of the roost” was about to end.  It only took about three hours of training to have Matty understand that she was no longer the boss of the house. She willingly accepted her new role as a member of the family beholden to our client and his leadership role over her.

Our client was overjoyed that he finally reclaimed control of the house and Matty’s polite focus.  Now that she was respectful and focused, we needed to tackle one more issue.  Our client told us that he believed Matty was suffering from separation anxiety.

In dealing with this problem, our first task was to establish if Matty actually had separation anxiety.  A great deal of our clients will tell us that they believe that their dog has separation anxiety without understanding what causes it, the warning signs, and corrective measures.

We would like to share some of the key points of our conversation with you…

Let’s start off by looking at some of the common signs associated with your dog’s separation anxiety:

  • Barking Uncontrollably. If you are always getting calls and comments from your neighbors that your dog is always barking when you are gone, this could be a sign of separation anxiety. To be clear, this isn’t just having your dog bark for a few minutes after you leave or as you are opening the garage door when you return.  This is when your dog is barking from the time you leave until the time you return.
  • Being Destructive. If you come home and see that your sofa is in tatters, there is a “new hole” in the front bedroom wall, or that all the things that used to be on the shelves in the pantry are now torn apart and scattered all over the kitchen floor, it is a strong likelihood that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety.

Next, let’s discuss some of the causes of these inappropriate behaviors.  It is a common misconception that your dog’s separation anxiety is caused by his being left alone at home. Although this concept is often true for humans, your dog has a different perspective. Here is what he is going through:

  • Your dog’s canine perspective focuses on the fact that a group always has a strong and resolute leader. When he acts out in the ways mentioned above, it is clear that he does not see you as a strong leader. Someone needs to be “the strong leader” for the group and all the members of the group to be safe. Since it is not you, he must take on the role of the leader.
  • When you leave the house, you have left the safety of the group and have entered “the unprotected, dangerous world”. By locking the front door or closing the doggie gate, you have made it impossible for your dog to follow and protect you.  Since he perceives himself as the leader and your protector, he can’t do his job and protect you.
  • His barking is his attempt to call you back to the safety of the house and his “protective zone”. The more you don’t respond and comply, the more nervous and anxious he becomes. To put this in human terms, he is feeling the same way a mother would feel if she couldn’t find her child in a busy mall.

What can we do to alleviate this problem?

I want to start off with some good news and some bad news.  Let’s go with the bad news first.  Separation anxiety can be one of the longest inappropriate canine behaviors to correct.  Now for the good news.  We have a clear and simple path that will always correct and eliminate separation anxiety.

To start off, it is crucial that your dog perceives you as his leader, caregiver, and protector.  This will fulfill your dog’s need for self-preservation and understanding that he does not need to step up to be the leader. If anything goes wrong, he knows that you will deal with it.

If you leave his sight (leave the house), you are only doing it under the guise that he will remain safe.  You accomplish this “transition of perceived leadership” through directed training that will have your dog provide you with respectful focus and the establishment of a bond of unwavering trust.

Once your leadership is established, you must have your dog understand that everything will be fine when you leave the house. This process involves many simple steps. Although I went through all of them with my client, I would like to share two of them with you today:

  • Practice leaving the house for different lengths of time. In most cases, when you leave the house, you are going out for dinner, heading off for groceries at the market, or getting to work.  All these actions mean that when you “go out the front door”, you are always going away for an extended period of time. This anticipated “always notion” creates heightened anxiety within your dog. Eliminate your dog’s anxiety by creating an exercise where you leave the house for different lengths of time. Start leaving for a few minutes and come back.  Other times, go through the door, close it, count to ten, and come back.  This will eliminate your dog’s observation that every time you leave, you are gone for a long time.  In removing this assumption, you start to decrease his anxiety that often leads to his inappropriate behaviors.
  • Constantly change your leaving routine. Just like Robert De Niro in Meet the Fockers, your dog is constantly observing your actions.  He knows exactly what you always do as you get ready to leave the house. He has established a “notion in his head” that when he sees specific actions, you are about to leave the house. This means he will start to become overly anxious even before you walk out the door. Solve this by changing up your leaving routine.  Sometimes perform your “leaving routine” but sit back down and watch TV. This will minimize his nervous tension of your “about to leave” and will help eliminate the triggers causing his separation anxiety.

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

Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over nineteen years.  We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.