When treating separation anxiety it is important to understand WHY the dog is experiencing anxiety. Dogs are social animals and a disruption in the social order can lead to stress. Some dogs bond closely to one person and so you often see separation anxiety, not at the level of destruction within the home, but to a person. This manifests itself in barking, lunging and growling at anyone who comes close or in pacing, whining, panting and increased activity when owner is away. This activity could be destructive or not where self-mutilation could occur, or damage to household objects.

First, identify which type of separation anxiety your dog is experiencing.

Type 1: Destruction to property (can include car)

Type 2: Self-mutilation

Type 3: Strong bond to one person

Type 4: Any combination of above

Then evaluate if the problem is mild to severe. Mild would be the occasional destruction of a shoe, or toy while you are away, while severe would mean the ripping, tearing of an entire couch or wall or both. Mild self-mutilation might be licking, while severe would be obsessive licking, biting self or jumping out a second story window. A strong bond to one person is rarely mild, but often high, severe or even extreme in nature. When their person is away from the house there is constant pacing, panting, racing around from window to window, door to door, whining, barking and a frantic look in the eyes. This could also lead to jumping through a window or screen or even chewing. When out walking or when another person approaches this dog will growl, bark, lunge and even snap or bite if another is too close. Sometimes types 1 to 4 occur in combination.

The key to curing separation anxiety is in making what is unpleasant and scary, pleasant and positive. The dog should be able to look forward to its time alone. Often it is a lengthy process which needs consistent effort.

Treatment of Type One – Destruction of property.

Depending on intensity of the separation anxiety, plan to take weeks, even months to change your dog’s habits step-by-step. If your dog is destroying property then the first priority is crate training. Once crate training is successful, room train, and then train to the household. While this process is taking place, you’ll teach your dog to respect household rules and regulations through four specific steps for the life of your dog. Anxious, stressed dogs need clear and unwavering guidelines.

 

STEP ONE. Whenever you come into the household from a closed door, whether from outdoors, in, or an indoor room, be very neutral with your dog. No matter what they do, remain calm, walk through nonchalantly and do not give the dog any attention until they have clearly relaxed for at least five minutes. In the beginning, this process could take some time, but you’ll release a lot of anxiety and responsibility from the dog building confidence and increasing, not decreasing, your bond. Your dog will begin to feel more at ease with your coming and going.

STEP TWO: Visitors.

Attention seeking can occur with visitors as well, so instruct visitors to be neutral with your dog, almost as if the dog is invisible. This means no staring, talking to the dog, or petting. You might have them toss out a treat and then when the dog relaxes and is quiet, then call them over to meet and greet everyone.

What happens is you are showing your dog how to relax on their own. If no one is making a big deal out of them, they have no reason to attention seek, they become calmer and respect rules. Some dogs will take longer to calm down then others, but a key point of the process to cure separation anxiety, is to teach your dog HOW to calm themselves. These first two steps should be for the life of the anxious dog.

If your dog is destructive you’ll need to crate train with the idea that from crate training you’ll evolve to room training and then to whole house training.

CRATE TRAINING – take this very slow. The goal is to help your dog enjoy confinement. First, change the way you talk about the crate. Call it a “cottage” or “a safe zone” or “doggie bedroom”. Make it comfortable. If your dog cannot handle a fluffy bed, put in a rug or thin blanket or nothing. Most dogs will not be able to work on a kong or toy because they will be too anxious, so that will come later. Right now you want to train them to be in the crate and build the time. The magic number is 10 minutes, but you might need to start at 10 seconds and slowly move forward from there.

First, practice tossing a treat into the crate and allowing the dog to go in and out of the crate. If you use a clicker, click and treat when the dog is in the crate. If your dog is backing out, either the crate is too small or they are simply telling you, they are uncomfortable with the crate right now. So take it slow. When your dog actually goes in and turns around to face the door, give them a jackpot, three to five treats delivered

one right after the other. Once this is mastered and your dog is eagerly playing the game, then start to close and open the door while they are in the crate.

Now when they go in and turn around, close the door, praise and treat or click and treat. Treat through the closed door. Then open it. Do this and increase the time the door is closed to one minute. When you get to one minute, then you’ll start to move away, step by step until you are out of sight and coming back. Continue this process until you can be out of sight for 10 minutes. Reward highly. Once you reach 10 minutes, you can progress in 20 minute increments or even 30 depending on the dog. The caution is to move slowly rather than rush the process.

It is similar for an x-pen, acclimation to a room with a door closed. Once you get to a room with the door closed and there is no destruction or whining, barking, then and only then progress to the whole house. This process is slightly different.

HOME ALONE

If your dog has successfully gone through all the steps above, now it is time to train them to the whole house. Usually dogs who have separation anxiety are attention seekers. This means they initiate contact and get it whenever they want it. The steps above teach the anxious dog they WILL get the contact they need, but not whenever they want it. This increases the bond you will have with your dog and makes them much more confident.

STEP ONE. No FREE contact. Use the Premack Principle of “you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you”. Your dog will receive petting, attention ONLY when doing some skillwork. He will do something to get something. Attention exercises will include sit, stand, down, FREE, come. You can use any 2, and in any order. Do this four to six times daily.

STEP TWO. Activate foraging senses by having your dog search for their food. A 15-minute search will tire your dog. Take a handful of food six to eight times a day and ask your dog to “FIND”.

STEP THREE: Your dog needs mental stimulation to overcome separation anxiety. This means a few times a day let them problem solve using a treat ball, where they have to roll the ball to get the treats out, or overturn several cups with treats hidden underneath and let them find these hidden treasures.

STEP FOUR: Teach your dog to “go to your mat”. Mat exercise has three steps, distance or go to, lie down on, and stay. So train these separately first. Get a strong down, then a strong down stay and then go to. When your dog is on their

bed is when they get a lot of attention from YOU, this is where they receive contact and it becomes the place they go to feel secure when you are away. So it is pretty boring unless the dog is on their mat. Do as often as possible.

STEP FIVE: Cut out a circle from cardboard. Make a face out of it – eyes, nose, mouth. Do this on both sides and attach a string so it can hang around your neck, or on a doorknob. Over the next days, when your are home you will wear this around your neck so your dog can see it. It will carry your scent and will serve as your clone when you are absent. The idea is that it is a replacement for you to give the dog social comfort visually. You can use this with a t-shirt, sock and start to train it at any one of the levels below.

All of the elements above are like puzzle pieces training and you have to have all the pieces in place to help your dog like being home alone.

SIGNALS and BED. CREATING DISTANCE so you can leave the house.

1 – Say your dog’s name (FIDO). Wait for them to look at you.

2 – Then say “mat” or “bed”. As you say bed point to the bed with your hand – signal, plus voice.

3 – Give dog a treat on the bed and at the same time say GOOD!

4 – Ask your dog to stay and STEP 3 to 4 steps away. Put two treats on the floor and go back to your dog.

5 – Say FIND and point to the treats on the floor. Your dog should walk to the treats and eat them. YOU do nothing, say nothing.

6 – REPEAT. When you can, start to walk further and further away. GOAL: Your dog goes eagerly to their mat, stays there calmly, until FIND cue is given.

7 – REPEAT all of above but now in step 4 you’ll start to add DURATION, increasing the time you are away to longer and longer periods. Start with five seconds, then 15, then three and so on. Clicker trainers will understand this concept because you are doing variable duration work. The dog never knows how long you’ll be gone. GOAL: Your dog stays, is fully relaxed until you come back and give the FIND signal. The FIND signal is dog’s reward for calm behavior while you are gone. It gives them something to look forward to.

8 – REPEAT but in number 4, you will be far enough along where you can now leave the room and walk to the main door. Open and close the door twice as if you would go out, but don’t go out. Place two treats on the floor next to the main door and go back to your dog (who is lying on their bed calmly waiting). Ask them to FIND, repeating number 5 above. Now you’ll increase the wait between the first open-close of the door and the second. Your dog is now learning to stay alone in the house calmly. Again do in variable seconds working up to longer and longer times.

9 – Finally, REPEAT 3, but this time you’ll go out the door and stay out for 10 to 15 seconds. Place two treats on the floor next to the main door and go back to your dog. Ask them to FIND. Increase time you are outside until you reach the magic number of 10 minutes. Do this until your dog is finally, relaxed whenever left alone and shows no signs of anxiety.

If your dog gets up, or whines, or howls this is a cue they are not ready for this stage. Move backwards in your training and slowly move forward again. Keep your dog below their threshold of anxiousness. To learn to be calm and relaxed takes a step-by-step process.

This process will create a confident, calm dog, who will look forward to staying alone as being a positive experience, rewarding and anxiety will decrease.

bed is when they get a lot of attention from YOU, this is where they receive contact and it becomes the place they go to feel secure when you are away. So it is pretty boring unless the dog is on their mat. Do as often as possible.

STEP FIVE: Cut out a circle from cardboard. Make a face out of it – eyes, nose, mouth. Do this on both sides and attach a string so it can hang around your neck, or on a doorknob. Over the next days, when your are home you will wear this around your neck so your dog can see it. It will carry your scent and will serve as your clone when you are absent. The idea is that it is a replacement for you to give the dog social comfort visually. You can use this with a t-shirt, sock and start to train it at any one of the levels below.

bed is when they get a lot of attention from YOU, this is where they receive contact and it becomes the place they go to feel secure when you are away. So it is pretty boring unless the dog is on their mat. Do as often as possible.

STEP FIVE: Cut out a circle from cardboard. Make a face out of it – eyes, nose, mouth. Do this on both sides and attach a string so it can hang around your neck, or on a doorknob. Over the next days, when your are home you will wear this around your neck so your dog can see it. It will carry your scent and will serve as your clone when you are absent. The idea is that it is a replacement for you to give the dog social comfort visually. You can use this with a t-shirt, sock and start to train it at any one of the levels below.

All of the elements above are like puzzle pieces training and you have to have all the pieces in place to help your dog like being home alone.

SIGNALS and BED. CREATING DISTANCE so you can leave the house.

1 – Say your dog’s name (FIDO). Wait for them to look at you.

2 – Then say “mat” or “bed”. As you say bed point to the bed with your hand – signal, plus voice.

3 – Give dog a treat on the bed and at the same time say GOOD!

4 – Ask your dog to stay and STEP 3 to 4 steps away. Put two treats on the floor and go back to your dog.

5 – Say FIND and point to the treats on the floor. Your dog should walk to the treats and eat them. YOU do nothing, say nothing.

6 – REPEAT. When you can, start to walk further and further away. GOAL: Your dog goes eagerly to their mat, stays there calmly, until FIND cue is given.

7 – REPEAT all of above but now in step 4 you’ll start to add DURATION, increasing the time you are away to longer and longer periods. Start with five seconds, then 15, then three and so on. Clicker trainers will understand this concept because you are doing variable duration work. The dog never knows how long you’ll be gone. GOAL: Your dog stays, is fully relaxed until you come back and give the FIND signal. The FIND signal is dog’s reward for calm behavior while you are gone. It gives them something to look forward to.

8 – REPEAT but in number 4, you will be far enough along where you can now leave the room and walk to the main door. Open and close the door twice as if you would go out, but don’t go out. Place two treats on the floor next to the main door and go back to your dog (who is lying on their bed calmly waiting). Ask them to FIND, repeating number 5 above. Now you’ll increase the wait between the first open-close of the door and the second. Your dog is now learning to stay alone in the house calmly. Again do in variable seconds working up to longer and longer times.

9 – Finally, REPEAT 3, but this time you’ll go out the door and stay out for 10 to 15 seconds. Place two treats on the floor next to the main door and go back to your dog. Ask them to FIND. Increase time you are outside until you reach the magic number of 10 minutes. Do this until your dog is finally, relaxed whenever left alone and shows no signs of anxiety.

If your dog gets up, or whines, or howls this is a cue they are not ready for this stage. Move backwards in your training and slowly move forward again. Keep your dog below their threshold of anxiousness. To learn to be calm and relaxed takes a step-by-step process.

This process will create a confident, calm dog, who will look forward to staying alone as being a positive experience, rewarding and anxiety will decrease.

 

by Leah Roberts