It’s not unusual to hear dog training clients on the phone worried about their dog behaving oddly when they leave them in the house alone. Dog separation anxiety symptoms include…
- Barking or crying while you’re away
- Barking at you as you go to leave
- Nipping or biting you as you go to the door
- Losing bladder or bowel control while you’re away
It’s not the easiest thing to remedy but it’s so important because a dog with separation anxiety issues isn’t living a happy life. As a caring dog owner, you owe it to them to do your best to alleviate your dog’s anxious state. It’s hard because you’ll have to think with your head and not your heart in order to help your dog.
In many cases, dogs and owners become SO close that the dog simply can’t live without the owner. We often talk about the bond between people and dogs, but the truth is that too much isn’t always such a good thing. Dogs with separation anxiety are never unloved, for sure. I hesitate to say they’re actually loved too much (Is that possible?), but you can see where I’m heading with this: You can cause problems with your pet by showing too much affection at the wrong times.
The problem is that by feeling sorry for a worried dog with separation anxiety and lavishing lots of affection on them at the wrong time, you can inadvertently make it worse. (There’s nothing wrong with showing dogs affection – I’m as soft as tripe with mine sometimes – but only at the right times). When you leave the house don’t make a big deal of saying goodbye, just make sure your pets have the things they need – water, bedding etc – and go. Just come and go in a more matter-of-fact-way. I know it sounds rude and it doesn’t come naturally to people, but it’s the way of the world in the animal kingdom. If you stoop to caress your dog, telling him “not to worry, I’ll be home soon” etc, you’ll probably send out the wrong signals by mistake.
You can only help dog anxiety by acting as a good leader first and foremost. It’s really not so different in our world: If you’re feeling anxious or upset – would you feel reassured by another anxious and upset person? How do nurses and doctors with bad news to impart do their jobs? There’s a need to be both strong and caring at the same time. It can’t be easy for them and it’s no different for you and your dog. No matter how much you empathise, being supportive requires strength and stability. Care – of course – but be strong too. You have a job to do!
Being a strong, caring leader is always a good thing and the more you can learn about it, the better you’ll be at rehabilitating a nervous or anxious animal. Dog separation anxiety isn’t the easiest thing to remedy. You may need a little professional help to get you started and it’s rarely a quick-fix, but it’s always worth the effort.
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I’m Graeme Hall, “The Dogfather”, Master Trainer with The Guild Of Dog Trainers. Based in the Midlands, I work anywhere you need me in the UK.
If you’d like to hear how I can help with a dog behaviour problem – or how to avoid one – please contact us