If your dog appears stressed out when you leave home or just the room, you may be dealing with a case of separation anxiety.
Vets define it as a behaviour problem expressed through a set of symptoms like excessive salivation, barking, whining, tearing up your home, scratching at walls, doors and floors and attempting to escape the room.
Learning about this kind of behaviour is the first step in training your dog to become more independent and confident.
Here are some factors to be aware of:
Recognise simulated separation anxiety
Some dogs display the symptoms of true separation anxiety as a learned behaviour. It usually occurs when a dog lacks leadership and self-control. For example, your dog knows that he will get attention if he makes a mess. And as far as dogs are concerned, any kind of attention is good attention. However, if a dog behaves this way, it may be a sign that some of its needs are not being met. You can help your dog overcome simulated separation anxiety by gradually increasing the time he spends alone as well as the amount of exercise.
What triggers it?
Dog owners often unknowingly encourage separation anxiety in their dogs. If you make a big scene out of your arrival just to “reward” the dog’s concern about your absence, you may provoke even more stress every time you have to leave. Different breeds have different instincts, and instead of holding those back, we need to learn how to support them. Terriers like to dig, retrievers are born to fetch things and guardian breeds need a space to guard. Moreover, many people put their trust in a pet boarding service which provides accommodation as well as proper care for your dog while you’re away.
Discipline before affection
As a dog owner, you need to instil a balance between patience, obedience and confidence. Your dog’s behaviour needs to reflect the harmonious partnership the two of you share. By putting exercise and obedience training before affection, you can train your dog to find confidence in himself and in your leadership, which is important for situations when your dog is left alone. If your dog knows that you will come home, he will feel less anxious.
Treat the root cause
The training should start the moment you get your puppy. A normal and healthy puppy taken from the litter cries when left alone, and a normal reaction from the owner is to pick it up and comfort it. Later, if the puppy is crying in a crate, we let him out. In both cases we are rewarding the dog for crying, and it is important to reward only the desired behaviour. Instead of interacting with your puppy all the time while you are together, teach your dog to find entertainment alone — which of course means you should have plenty of dog toys.
Make changes in your routine
Dogs are clever. They can often recognise a series of actions leading to a familiar result; for example, the actions leading to your departure for work. As your dog recognises the pattern, he can start displaying anxious behaviour. The key is to change your routine a bit from time to time. Use a different door and hang your coat in different places. The goal is to detach the dog’s behaviour from your actions. If you are watching TV and your dog comes to you every time you get up, try getting up and sitting down again without paying attention to your pet.
Remember, the most important aspect of proper dog training is patience and consistency. Only this way can you cure separation anxiety and help your mutt replace the fear and stress with confidence and trust.