One of the biggest issues that clients call me about is Separation Anxiety. A dog owner calls me with issues ranging from simple whining in a crate, to dogs jumping through windows from the second floor to get to the owners who have left to go to work or the store. Massive amounts of destruction, not only to the physical property of the owner’s home and the dogs crate, but also the dog’s physical and mental condition are usually what owners arrive home to find.
I have heard so many ways for folks that have struggled. They have tried so many different “remedies” to stop this type of behavior, most with little or no success. Most of them are based on keeping dogs busy doing something, such as food based, exercised based, running around based. As far as I see it, all of it is Adrenalized behavior that will most likely create the same results or even make it worse. Unfortunately, in a good amount of these cases, the behavior leads to the surrender of the dog (this happens often). So many dogs are returned to rescues by Foster Families for excessive barking as well as separation issues. I get a good amount of calls from families that rescue dogs and they are struggling with separation issues. Most vets will suggest medication, and although I have seen this work in some cases, it is not the norm for it to work. I have also seen dogs get TONS of exercise but the issues still exist. I am a huge advocate of lots of structured exercise for dogs to help with this issue, but that is far from the solution to extinguish Separation Issues.
I want my readers to know that you can actually “correct” separation anxiety. I look at it this way, when a dog is in a state of panic and stress, they are suffering and in mental pain. It is our obligation as dog owners to be advocates for our dogs, we should be protecting them both mentally and physically. Most dogs do not self soothe out of separation issues, so it is our obligation to help them out of it asap. Most dogs that have separation issues continue to repeat the behavior over and over, they need our guidance to stop the viscous cycle that will not end.
One of the things that I do not see within 24 hours of a dog with separation issues arriving for a board and train IS separation anxiety issues. We excel at being pro-active and preventing it but I also have absolutely no problem correcting it.
Lets first talk about being pro-active and working on prevention.
A few things I notice with folks that have dogs with separation issues is that, they make their dogs too much the center of attention, they do not have enough structured alone time for their dogs, and do not work on controlling space.
This is what we do to prevent and eliminate separation issues:
1) Structured walks of at least for 60 minutes a day. Having the dog in proper heel position, which means your dog has his head at your knee walking on a loose leash, no pulling, sniffing, marking, lunging or barking. Your dog should not be meeting or greeting people or dogs on the walk. All that does is get your dog even more Adrenalized and excited and the goal is to teach your dog how to be calm. The proper structured walk is the foundation of GREAT behavior both on leash and off leash.
2) Crate train your dog. When you have a dog that is anxious, nervous and has separation issues and you find them soiling and destroying your house, you need to have your dog safely contained in a crate. Not only does this prevent destruction and soiling but it also prevents injury or even death to your dog who ingests something they happen to destroy. Removing something from your dog’s insides can be thousands of dollars in vet bills and dangerous tot he dog’s health.
3) Control the space in your home. Teach your dog the PLACE command and use it. You should NOT have your dog moving about your house, following you around, going from window to window, responding to every sound and sight. This creates a more anxious dog that just can not learn how to settle down. I look for a dog that is calm and even bored in the house. A dog that is content on just existing in your home is going to do a lot better with any anxiety issues when the humans leave.
4) Create the right atmosphere. The inside of your house should not be a dog park for your dog, it should be more like a relaxation spa. The goal is for your dog to learn how to relax, how to exist calmly in a world of chaos. You actually can teach your dog to relax by utilizing long duration exercises like Place and Down.
5) Keep calm. When coming and going from your house, keep your energy calm. Do not enter rooms excited to see your dog, using a high pitched voice with lots of petting, and allowing your dog to jump up all over you. I realize you miss and love your dog, but the message you are sending to your dog is that if they start jumping and being excited you will give them attention. You want your dog to be calm around you not Adrenalized.
6) Minimize physical, verbal and food praise. The greatest reward, in my opinion, for a dog is EXISTENCE, having a dog exist in our world with us is huge. In order to do that, we need to have our dogs mentally and physically behaved. I am not saying you should not pet your dog, or not give your dog treats, or not tell your dog how good they are. But I am saying that I see too many dogs already excited and anxious that get all ramped up with the constant rewards, praise, and treats. These rewards may benefit the owner and their feelings towards their dogs but are not benefiting the dog long term.
7) Treat k9 training like a lifestyle and not a series of tricks. Treat dog training like a book full of chapters and do not skip any pages or chapters along the way. You need to keep up with the small things daily in order to prevent any of the big things from happening.
8) Don’t question your dog to get it excited. Stop saying phrases like “Do you want to go for a walk” “Do you want to go for a car ride” “Do you want to eat”. All of these thing get your dog wired up or Adrenalized while you feel good because your dog is excited about something. In my book, all it does is cause too much excitement. What do you want the dog to do? Say yes or no? The dog is going for a walk, going for a car ride and going to eat, because you said so and that is just the way it is.
9) Add more exercise. Adding walking on a treadmill to your daily routine. This has helped dogs decrease separation issues.
If all of the above things are still not working, you can actually correct anxious behavior. In my book, that is one of the kindest things you can do for your dog. Having your dog live in a state of anxiety just sucks for your dog as well as the people around you. You can use remote collars at very low levels to stop the whining. You can use a good quality bark collar (not the citronella type, those are quite abusive in my book) but the collars that give a light stimulation to your dog for barking. By doing this, you are stopping all of the anxious and Adrenalized behavior which keeps building up and is very harmful to your dog. Keep in mind, the only thing that is mean and abusive about separation anxiety is NOT fixing it, and leaving the dog in a state of unbalance or returning the dog to the shelter that the dog came from, which happens A LOT.
Remember, we NEVER see separation issues for more than 24 hours on my property, so a dog suffering from this for years, can come to us and it stops. This is why I am so passionate about all of the rules I outlined above. Follow these, and with small daily changes you will see dramatic results.
Solid K9 Training Providence, RI (401) 527-6354
For more information on training dogs visit us at http://solidk9training.com.
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