Separation anxiety in dogs can be a heartbreaking and even dangerous behavior that is sometimes difficult to treat. However, with some patience, consistency and the right techniques, most cases can be managed and improved over time. Treating separation anxiety in dogs is best approached from a training and biological perspective.
Here are 5 tips to consider:
#1: Punishment Makes it Worse
You may be tempted to punish your dog when you return home to a scene of destruction, thinking it might curb the behavior. However, research is clear on this subject: Punishment makes this problem worse!
Separation anxiety stems from insecurity, that is, your dog does not feel safe and confident when you are away. Punishment makes dogs feel less secure. On the other hand, dogs trained with positive, reward-based methods are more confident.
Consider enrolling in positive reinforcement based training class at your local pet store or animal shelter to transform your relationship with your canine companion and learn a host of training techniques for this and other behavioral problems.
Counter-conditioning is a training technique to reprogram an anxiety producing trigger to give it a new and more positive association for your dog.
For example, let’s say every time you put your shoes on, your pooch assumes you are leaving and starts to whine to express his anxiety. He has probably noticed that this action is a good predictor that you are about to leave the house.
What if you gave your dog something he loves almost every time you put your shoes on?
Shoes on – Game of tug!
Shoes on – Toss the ball!
Shoes on – Bonus piece of kibble!
What if every time you left the house your dog got a hollow dog toy filled with peanut butter to keep him busy for a good 20 minutes? Um, yes please!
Instead of associating your leaving with loneliness and abandonment, you can begin to teach your dog to associate this trigger with a new, positive experience – a fun, delicious, and engaging food reward!
Make a note of all the triggers that your dog has learned to associate with you leaving which cause him to display anxious behaviors. These are precisely the triggers you should reprogram with a more positive association.
#3: Practicing and Rewarding Mini-Separations
Although it may sound counter intuitive, one of the ways you can actively teach your dog to gain more confidence with being alone is a training program that encourages her to practice being alone under very controlled circumstances, rewarding her for calm behavior in your absence.
One way to do this is to first train a solid Down/Stay, using reward-based training methods. Start rewarding with a piece of kibble at 2 seconds of a Down/Stay, and slowly increase the time before reward over several training sessions. Just ignore failure and reward success.
Once you have a solid Down/Stay on command and your dog will give it to you for 2 minutes reliably, you can start doing this trick with her on the other side of the door in a room by herself. Of course, you will start back at just a few seconds of a solid Down/Stay (without whining) before rewarding.
Over time you can increase the duration of your mini-separations, turning this into a game where she is rewarded liberally for staying quiet in her room for up to 20 minutes, which you will practice a few times a day.
#4: Crate Training
Crate training is sometimes recommended for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety for two reasons. First, teaching a dog to feel safe and secure in her crate can eliminate the sense of unease that comes from having the run of the house when her family is gone.
Second, destructive canines have been known to chew through drywall and be electrocuted by exposed wires or choke on pieces of destroyed toys or furniture. A well-built crate can give you the piece of mind that your dog is safe when you are gone.
Crate training is more involved than simply putting your dog in the kennel and shutting the door! In fact, if done poorly, crate training can even exacerbate separation anxiety issues! Be sure to do some research on how to train your dog to love the crate long before you leave her alone in it.
#5: What Can I Give My Dog for Anxiety?
In addition to training techniques, you may also be considering medications for your dog's anxiety. While there are pharmaceutical tranquilizers available through a veterinarian's prescription, these drugs can cause unwanted side effects such as drowsiness and can be hard on your canine companion's liver and kidneys if used over a long period of time.
Instead, it might be time to try a safe and effective natural supplement that can help calm dogs: CBD Oil.
Now that the news is finally out there, the demand for CBD products is through the roof – and there are plenty of dirty and even falsely labeled scam products in this rapidly expanding market.
If you are looking for the best, be sure to give Lolahemp a try. We source our oils and chews from certified organic hemp and we display our third-party batch testing right on our website – you don’t have to guess if you are giving your dog the best!
Know When to Contact an Expert
If you want to learn more about treating separation anxiety in your dog, we here at Lolahemp recommend this book by Patricia McConnell. Her methods are based in the science of animal behaviorism and focus on positive, reward-based strategies.
It is also important to recognize if you are not making progress within a few weeks or if the problem is severe enough to require immediate help from a professional animal trainer (such as if your dog is a danger to herself when left alone).
In some severe cases of separation anxiety in dogs, your best bet is to get a pro on the case as soon as possible.