Dealing With & Preventing Separation Anxiety

One of the most beneficial things about private boarding as a host-home at the Dog Ranch is the comfort and peace a dog may feel being in a new environment; yet still away from what they are used to...their humans.

On the flip-side, one of the toughest conversations is being honest and transparent enough (because most places are not) to talk to a dog owner about stresses and anxiety that is observed when their dog is in a new environment. Is the dog salivating, pacing, or whining? Does the dog have the inability to relax? Is the dog eating? Is the stool normal? Does the dog sleep during rest time? Will the dog sleep at night? Does the dog have confidence and independence away from its owners? Is the dog thriving in this environment?

While I generally do my personal best to get these answers during the assessment, there are many more triggers when it comes time to packing up for a vacation and leaving the dog behind.   

Simulated Separation Anxiety vs. True Separation Anxiety

  • simulated separation anxiety: the dog behavior appears to be separation anxiety but it is, in fact, a learned behavior
  • simulated separation anxiety, the dog knows that he will get attention if he acts badly. For some dogs, even being verbally reprimanded for such behavior is rewarding because he feels he was noticed.
  • true separation anxiety, on the other hand, causes the dog to experience real stress during the absence of his owner
  • negative attention can be a reward in many cases
  • simulated separation anxiety is fairly easy to overcome with a gradual approach, slowly increasing the amount of time spent in a crate—when you are at home as well as away—consistent obedience training, proper amounts of exercise, and being consistent in your training

"My dog is so perfect and well-behaved we don't need the crate anymore..."
While that certainly is wonderful news, what about the other components beyond behavior that the crate can train? The ones we cannot necessarily see or understand when we are with are dog...

  • incrementally crate WHILE YOU ARE HOME and physically present so the dog understands they can still function without following you around or being right where you are 24/7 (this becomes very crucial especially when you take your dog for boarding, to a hotel, etc)
  • start with short periods and then increase the time they spend in it (yes, this is good for a dog!)
  • feed in the crate, let them have their favorite bone or toy to occupy
  • the crate should be your dog’s safe haven, a place they feel secure and enjoy
  • anyone competing in a dog sport understands how important it is to have a dog that is crate trained. Dogs are separated from you a huge portion of the day until it is their turn to run. They NEED to be able to relax and function. It is the same for people who travel. Your dog needs to know how to function without you.
 
 One of the reasons separation anxiety is so near and dear to me is because my first rescue dog, Chesnee, had a severe case. She was destructive, barked for 8+ hours when I lived in a condo, and wore down all of her teeth on a wire crate. Due to the degree, a different and much slower approach had to be taken since perhaps she had a traumatic experience in dealing with the crate. Now, she is fully crate trained and preferable to this place of safety!

One of the reasons separation anxiety is so near and dear to me is because my first rescue dog, Chesnee, had a severe case. She was destructive, barked for 8+ hours when I lived in a condo, and wore down all of her teeth on a wire crate. Due to the degree, a different and much slower approach had to be taken since perhaps she had a traumatic experience in dealing with the crate. Now, she is fully crate trained and preferable to this place of safety!

So What Next?

  • start at home immediately - incrementally crating your dog while you are home and away
  • utilize the crate at night so your dog is able to be away from you and find peace and relaxation
  • utilize opportunities to take your dog to daycare or a single overnight stay to see how they are doing
  • you can still need your dog, and your dog can still appreciate you, but do not let your habits turn into eroding your dog's confidence/independence. let them function on their own. let them be an individual.
  • be consistent and evaluate your dog as your dog improves

Some of the biggest mistakes a dog owner can make is:

  1. Letting a puppy or dog out of the crate during the crucial training period of teaching crating in the first place. It is completely normal for a new puppy or dog to bark or whine when in the crate. It is something they need to work through (yes, it is part of getting a new puppy or a dog...just like a crying baby through the night). Letting them out when barking or whining is only making the problem worse. That is when the dog is starting to train you. 
  2. Getting rid of the crate too early because the dog seems to be okay with being out 24/7. Crating is a good thing. Let them have a place of safety. In the long run it will be very beneficial and allow your dog comfortability in new environments. Do not get on the express path to having your dog sleep in bed with you before they develop confidence and independence. Dogs are needy, and encouraging them to be so attached to us will turn out to be extremely stressful for a dog in the long run when they are without you.
  3. Prolonged "hellos" and "goodbyes." When you are leaving the house you do not need to make a scene that you are stepping out to go to the grocery store. You're setting off even more triggers that you are about to leave and perhaps working the dog up even more. The dog already knows you're leaving. They are great at picking up sequences and triggers -- things you do before you are getting ready to leave (shower, drying hair, picking up keys or purse, etc). 
  4. Making a scene immediately upon return telling your dog how much you missed them. Do not address the dog right away. Your dog should not be uncontrollably barking and whining because they are so excited you are home that you need to rush over there and let them out. Your dog needs to know how to relax. Take your time. Get to them when you get to them. 
  5. Free-feeding - leaving the bowl down forever or constantly trying to get your dog to eat by offering something better. Your dog should learn that what you offer they need to accept. This will also help them in their regular training regimen and also when you are away from them.