Helping a Dog that Suffers from Separation Anxiety - The Dogington Post
Ask the Trainer

Helping a Dog that Suffers from Separation Anxiety

I get questions on how to fix separation anxiety very often. I wish there was a quick easy answer. However that is not the case. SA for a lot of dogs is so severe that they are losing all control. This leads to urination/defecation in the house, torn up walls/doors, puddles of drool etc.

Firstly, lets get some myths out of the way. When this is happening this is not your dog seeking revenge on you. Your dog is not doing this because he is mad at you and trying to get back at you. This is also not happening because your dog thinks he is in charge and did not give you approval to leave. (The last one sounds silly but I’ve heard that one mentioned on TV before.) It is important that we understand that is a pretty serious condition in dogs that depending on the severity can take from 6 months a year to fix.

Secondly, it is important that we make sure this actually is SA and not just a bored dog. A dog that has copious amounts of energy will find a way to get rid of it. If the human doesn’t give him a proper outlet he will find one himself. Which typically means the dog destroying something of the humans.

When dealing with moderate to severe cases one of the first things I recommend to do along with the training protocol is to get the dog on a medication to help with the anxiety. It is important to have a training protocol because medication alone is not going to fix this.  I know that not everyone is a fan of the medication part of it. My response to that is the amount of stress that the dog is going through on a daily basis is not healthy at all. If we can give him something that will help remove that horrible stress and it is only there for a short period of time it is worth it. I have tried using some all natural herbal anxiety remedies and have had mixed results. From my experience they do not always work as well and are rather pricey. When I was going through anxiety issues with my dog I started off with an all-natural herbal product that was $30.00 per bottle and that didn’t even last a month. I switched to a fluoxetine and was spending $10.00 a month. It is a good idea to hire a trainer to help you with this. It is also a good idea for the vet, trainer, and owner to work together as a team in solving this.

A couple things you can try along with the fluoxetine that are natural that could be helpful are DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone), a Thundershirt, and different relaxing music.

Lets talk about how to get the anxiety to cease. The ultimate goal is going to be the human leaving the house and the dog not caring. One of the first things you can start to do is incorporate a cue that lets your dog know you will be back. I usually say, “Be right back.”  This is the last thing the dog hears you say before you leave. That means the next thing that follows it in regards to you is that you are coming back. With repetition he will start to associate you saying, “be right back” with you coming back.  You can do lots of repetition of this. Say your phrase, step outside for 1 second, come back in and reward him. He will start to associate you leaving and coming back with good things. Each time you do this increase the amount of time you are outside. In the beginning your dog will be very concerned with you leaving.  After some repetition he will know exactly what is going on and will start to relax when you do it.

The next exercise is going to consist of some auto-shaping. For this you will need something that has a hole in it like a Kong and something awesome to put inside of it like Peanut Butter. The idea with this is to keep the dog busy and focused on something besides the human. I like to use a crate for this because we can create a place of comfort. Every case will be different though so use your best judgment. The idea is that we are going to give the dog something it really enjoys for a short period of time and we are going to stay right next to the dog. The first time you do this do it for like 5 minutes. After 5 minutes tell the dog “okay” and safely remove the Kong and PB. If you cannot safely remove it do not attempt. The next time you do this increase the amount of time that he is in the crate with the Kong, and also take a baby step away creating more distance. Remember to stay stationary during this exercise. If you move around there is a good chance the dog will notice which could result with him focusing on you and potentially getting anxious. Continue this pattern. If done correctly you will get to the point where you will be able to be out of sight and your dog will be comfortable with that. A quick tip in regards to the Kong and Peanut Butter: You can put the Kong and PB in the freezer prior to this exercise to make it last longer.

These are just a couple ideas on how to help your dog be more comfortable when you are out of sight. Remember to take baby steps to ensure your dog stays comfortable. If you try to rush this you will just end up with an anxious dog. Once again hiring a trainer could be very helpful with this process.

Remember that to fix this issue it is going to take dedication. It is going to be very important to practice protocols multiple times a day. Also remember to stay very patient.

Thanks for reading!

Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Pam ingram

    Jan 18, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    I have a 18 month old neutered rottweiler male. He is housebroke and I also have two other dogs in the house. My problem is he is very destructive. I bought a new 100 dollar large plastic crate for him when I left. He managed to ruin the front door and he chewed the front side out. He managed to get two of my comforters off my bed and in the crate. He literally tore the crate up. Now I leave him out and he has torn my couch to pieces. I walk him before I leave. I am to the point of finding him a new home. Please help

  2. Shelagh Wood

    Nov 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Our rescue GSD cross used to be very stressed when we left him until one day our bedroom door was left open and he found his safe place. Some times he sleeps on our bed more often he sleeps on his own bed in our bedroom and just about manages to wake up when we come home.

  3. Audrey

    Jun 7, 2014 at 5:52 am

    Hello

    I have a 10 month old husky, he is very energetic and destructive. his hardly alone in the house but when he is, he destroys the garden and sprinklers. i do not how to help him not bite or destroy so much. he does listen but as soon as you turn your back he is back to doing it again or finds something worse. his very into things like ropes,etc because he loves to pull. we do exercise him as much as we can during the week, however this has not help.

    please help!!!

  4. Deanna

    May 6, 2014 at 8:20 am

    A dog with true separation anxiety should never be crated. They can severely hurt themselves. Anxiety while being crated is a hallmark sign of separation anxiety. Also, the concept of establishing leadership over a dog is outdated and based on erroneous research on caged wolves. Some TV personalities persist in perpetuating this false believe. Developing a strong human-animal bond through positive reinforcement is a much better long-term strategy in achieving behavior modification.

  5. Chris Wolfe

    May 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I thought it was important to NEVER leave toys down for dogs. I was corrected by a dog trained over this issue and told to never leave anything down for the dog to play with. When I asked why he said, “If something came unattached or the dog managed to chew off a big piece of plastic, whatever, it could choke her to death.” Needless to say, before I leave the house I pick up every single toy my dog owns. What’s more, every toy I buy has a huge disclaimer: You should never leave a dog unsupervised with toys.
    I just thought of a Kong as a dog toy and that’s why I’m asking.

    • Peter

      Nov 18, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      If your dog can chew a piece off a Kong then the rest of your house would hardly be a challenge for him.

  6. Elaine

    May 5, 2014 at 9:30 am

    There is no such thing iin language as “firstly,” “secondly.” Just say “First.”

    • Amy

      May 5, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Yes there is… I suggest Google, or maybe a dictionary. You seem have a limited grasp of the English language and shouldn’t be trying to correct a person on their use of words you don’t understand. Secondly and thirdly are also words.

  7. pamela

    Feb 17, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    I partly agree and disagree with your strategy. I have been thru this 3 times with 3 different dogs. Here is what I recommend and worked everytime.

    Educate yourself with many different experienced people not just vets.
    no drugs unless your doctor (preferable holistic) diagnosis a mental disorder or suggests it would help complement your and your dogs efforts.
    Patience is number one and key
    pre-occupy their brain with food toys, Peanut butter is too hard on their stomachs, try frozen raw or canned food
    I choose not to say anything but “go lie down” with my hands on my hips with confidence and I wait until they do, period.
    Establish leadership number 1, from the minute you enter the house with the dog on the leash. You are the boss and are in control and there are no problems. These guys dont need to be running thru your house.
    Make sure you have walked them everyday twice a day and if no place to walk get a treadmill cheap on craigslist and walk them for 30 -45 mins on it. Make them tired mentally.
    I gave my one dog a job to do which was go watch the house while Im gone. Its a mental connection and confidence and energy that they pick up.
    I do feel when they are desperate they are confused who is the leader so I dont agree with the writer.
    And lastly, I agree leave the house initially for 2 mins then 5 mins and continue to build up to 1 hour etc. Possible leave a sweatshirt or some clothing on a particular spot. Establish THE SPOT. I do not believe it will necessarily take 6mos but every dog is different along with every humans patience is different. It could take a week. Must be committed to make house or crate a happy place.
    Jane Fennell is wonderful and she helped me with my Border Collie and thats what got me the start to success. Stay committed and carry on!

  8. Margaret Szlabonyi

    Feb 13, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    You know, part of the problem is that we need to “listen and observe” what our pet is telling us. When my husband and I first married, I had a dog, and he had two cats. At that time my dog was about two. The blending of our household was uneventful and they all watched over and even cuddled with one another. Then our younger cat who was thirteen, passed away. We were fortunate enough to have him home with us to pass and my husband made sure both our other cat and our dog had some personal time with their “brothers” body prior to us taking the body to the vets to be cremated. All was well for two years. Then our older cat passed away (also at home). At the time he passed, all of us, including our dog were with him. Shortly after his passing (within weeks), our dog began showing signs of separation anxiety. We did find some success with the use of a Thundershirt (which we use for her anxiety of rainstorms and thunder) and leaving a radio on a easy listening channel. However, we observed that when my cousin came from out of town to visit and brought her dog, she didnt have a problem at all with our leaving! We realized then that what she needed the most, was another animal in the house. We adopted an older cat (six years old, our dog was nine). Voila! problem solved!!! As someone mentioned, dogs are pack animals. Our dog just needed another pack member like herself. I realize this may not be the answer for everyone. I just wanted to point out to observe what is going on in your household and start from there. Another thing Id like to mention is that dogs pick up on our emotions as well. So if we are anxious about the situation, they will be more so. A calm approach will definitely help the situation. Good luck!

  9. Rachael Chadwick

    Feb 13, 2014 at 9:17 am

    My Sister’s black lab pup is eight months old and suffers from separation anxiety even though she is with me or her Grandma all day! No matter what we do she puts herself to bed and is a nervous wreck. The minute Mummy comes back she is the life and soul of the party, playing happily with my two Border Terriers as if nothing was wrong. We are mystified! She’s rather highly strung for a Labrador, she doesn’t do anything destructive when left alone, just mourns. Any ideas or suggestions please! We’re hoping it’s just a shy puppy phase and she’ll grow out of it. In the meanwhile we’re giving heaps of cuddles and tlc and kisses and paw holding, which she gratefully accepts but doesn’t come looking for.

  10. Robin Simrill

    Oct 29, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Dogs ARE pack animals, it stands to reason that it would make a lot of them anxious to be left behind. When we had a golden we also had a cat buddy. Now we have a jack russell & a rat terrier. Their job while we are gone is to look after each other–they are very happy pets! Some dogs do need to be an only pet but it really worked out well for my jrt and rat terrier when we rescued the rat terrier and he rescued us 🙂 So, anyway, that’s one solution….

    • Joe

      Mar 19, 2014 at 11:20 pm

      Great answer, and you get the benefit of having two little buddies to share your bed and couch. Lucky humans.

  11. Liddy

    Oct 4, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Our kelpie pup has severe separation anxiety, compounded by being young and energetic. We alternate taking her to.daycare and our parents house. She comes home tired enough from her playtime that we can then try leaving her alone for short periods of time uncrated. When we adopted her last June, we literally couldn’t leave her alone for 5 minutes. If she has been sufficiently exercised, we can now leave her alone for up to 2.5 hours! It has been slow going but we want to do right by her..

    • Joe

      Mar 19, 2014 at 11:19 pm

      Thank you, your post has been the most realistic and actual helpful.

  12. Jen

    Oct 1, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Two leading causes dogs have anxiety: Owners are tense about leaving the dog and the second cause is “No Pack”. Dogs are pack animals and when they are left alone they panick. Also, no one mentioned having a dog walker come in several times a day. Also, all dogs no matter what their size should be walked briskly at least a half hour before the owner leaves, preferably longer. That generally means getting out of bed early enough to do that!

  13. Tony Knight Dog Listener

    Oct 1, 2013 at 5:01 am

    Alternatively, if you want to find out how to solve this problem easily and without using ineffective drugs or gagdets, try Amichien Bonding. It works brilliantly and is completely natural. Check out this testimonial from Hayley in Melbourne, Australia:

    My dog Roxy had a severe case of separation anxiety and I used Jan Fennell’s Amichien Bonding methods to help solve the issue. Roxy would bark/scream all day, she destroyed doors & window frames and she was incredibly stressed when I would leave the house. I was very concerned that I would not be able to solve her behaviour but I needed to try something. Jan’s method worked so well that I have since changed professions and am now an Amichien Dog Listener. The majority of the clients that I see ask for my help due to their dog’s separation anxiety. It is a very common issue but very easy to solve – believe it or not. Follow up on the links Tony Dogz Knight has suggested. They really will help. Gadgets aren’t effective long term sollutions as they don’t deal with the reason your dog is stressed – they feel responsible for you!

  14. Rob

    Oct 1, 2013 at 2:06 am

    When you get home, fire a few blasts from a shotgun. After a while, the dog will be glad you’re leaving.

    • Julie Jo

      Oct 5, 2013 at 12:13 am

      I like the idea’s in the article. The dog will think it a good thing when you leave and come home. Makes sense to me.

    • Jockopfw

      Mar 18, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      I usually lock my dog in the closet. The darkness seems to calm him.

  15. Amy

    Sep 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    For the separation anxiety for my pup I also leave a radio on when I am going to go out for a bit; the dog hears human voices and I think it comforts her somewhat and she doesn’t feel so alone. Also quieter music is calming for dogs!

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