Separation anxiety is something that a lot of owners have to deal with. They walk out the door and their dog starts going nuts. The dog scratches at the door, tears up the blinds and curtains, and barks and cries. Some dogs even start panicking when their owner grabs the keys.
So how do you prevent this behavior in dogs? Is there a way to stop it once it’s gotten worse? Let’s explore your options.
Firstly, it is important to know that it is far easier to prevent separation anxiety than it is to cure it. The problem is that once a dog learns to become anxious, they don’t pay attention to much else than getting the owner to come back. But there are a few things you can do to help. These suggestions are the best way to prevent dogs from developing separation anxiety too.
1.) Change your routine every time you leave. Maybe your routine is to get dressed, grab your phone and keys, and then head out the door. Keep in mind that dogs are very good at picking up on patterns we humans tend to fall into. So change it up every time, and you will help prevent your dog from finding a pattern to panic about.
2.) Offer a treat of some kind before you leave. Now, you want this treat to be something that will take a little while for the dog to eat. But it also has to be something the dog really wants. Kongs, or kong like toys, stuffed with a bit of the dog’s food and then capped off with peanut butter or liver paste works well. If you have a heavy chewer, freezing the kong overnight is a good option and will make the treat take a bit longer to finish. Make sure to put a dab of fresh peanut butter or liver paste on the treat after pulling it out of the freezer to help entice your dog. The idea here, is to distract your dog and simultaneously reward them for not noticing you slip out the door.
3.) Desensitize your dog. This just means to get them used to you walking out the door. Practice leaving. Grab your keys, your wallet/purse, sunglasses, and head out the door like you would normally. Close the door behind you and wait ten seconds or so. Then come back in. Do this over and over and over repeatedly everyday for about 20 minutes. Make sure to reset the scene by putting your items back when you come in. Then grab them again as you walk out. Completely ignore your dog while doing this. Your dog may be panicking, barking, howling, crying, etc. Ignore, ignore, ignore! What happens is your dog will start to learn that there is no reason to panic! You are coming right back and he can count on that. Increase the time you wait before coming back in as your dog gets better at this exercise, and your dog’s tolerance will begin to lengthen. If your dog does not have separation anxiety, this is still a good exercise to help prevent it.
4.) Take an AKC Canine Good Citizen class. These classes are designed to help pooch parents teach their dogs good manners. Sometimes at the end of these classes they administer a test, which if passed grants the pooch parent a nice certificate. Quite a few therapy dog organizations use this test for their therapy dogs. The last item on the test is to have the owner walk away out of sight for 3 minutes while they leave their dog with a stranger. Sometimes this stranger is the teacher of the class and other times it is a volunteer. But it is a great way to get some live help if your dog has separation anxiety. Classes vary in price, but you will learn more than just how to keep your dog from panicking while you’re away. You’ll also learn how to teach your four-legged friend some valuable behaviors such as; sit, stay, come, walking on a leash, and how to greet strangers without jumping! Whether you take the test or not, CGC classes are a great tool for any dog owner. Find CGC trainers in your area on the AKC website.
5.) Crate train. Some people are totally against crating dogs. But it doesn’t have to be all bad! Dogs are natural den dwellers. Spruce up their crates with stuff to nest with like blankets or towels. Puppies do better in crates if they have something to cuddle with like a stuffed animal of some kind. Often times, people just stick their dogs in a kennel with nothing in it and expect the dog to be okay with that, and some dogs are. But a lot of dogs cry and scream in their crates simply because it feels more like a cage than a den. The more you make the crate their own personal space, the better for the dog.. and the better for you.
Not only does crate training help keep dogs from going nuts in the crate, but it also keeps them from destroying your home. You can find tips for crate training on this blog, or contact your local trainer for some lessons. Crate training has many benefits from potty training to traveling. Crates are only negative if they are made to seem more like a prison cell and less like a den. Meaning, dogs should not always be locked in an empty crate with no food or water. They should have access to it whether you are home or not. They should be able to eat in their crates (great for eliminating unwanted begging at the dinner table by the way) and sleep in their crates anytime… comfortably. I recommend a few blankets at least, and a chew toy they like for when they feel stressed.
In the end, if none of these options are viable, or do not work for you, then your best option is to contact a behaviorist in your area. Not all dogs are the same. Each dog has their own personality and learned behaviors. Some are simply more stubborn than others. A behaviorist will be able to evaluate your individual case and customize a solution just for you and your dog.