Separation Anxiety

Morteza

I have a 2 year-old Labrador who is very affectionate and obedient. He is very playful and friendly with other dogs and happy to be around humans. However, he hates it when I leave him alone at home. When he was younger he would cry, but now he has become destructive and leaving him alone means coming back home and discovering destruction. He has recently started chewing the wall so much that he has injured his paws and his gums. I have tried different medication and have crate trained him – he is absolutely fine in the crate when we are around and has no issue with the crate. It is only when he is left alone that he constantly barks when in the crate. I would appreciate your advice.

Sam Hughes

 

Morteza’s advice

Dear Sam,

Separation anxiety is among the most common dog issues that I have encountered. Dogs are social animals and the worst thing you can ask them is to be left alone. So it is natural for your dog to not feel good about being left alone.

Dog separation anxiety is often unknowingly encouraged by their owner. What I mean by this is that, we sometimes feel sorry for our dogs when we leave them alone at home and what we leave behind is a negative energy associated with our departure. Your dog is already anxious because you are leaving and by feeling sorry for your dog, you are causing a combination of feelings which are common ingredients of separation anxiety in dogs. We make the same mistake when we return home and make a big fuss and by doing so, we reward the dog’s concern over our absence, encouraging further stress every time we leave.

Therefore, you need to establish a balance between patience, obedience and confidence in your dog.

Medication tends to calm a dog’s senses a little but it is not a cure. It is only a temporary fix and you have to treat the root cause in this instance.

Try this: go for a long walk in the morning and by that, I mean a structured one where he walks next to you. When he wakes up, his energy level is high and we need to lower that before we leave him alone at home. You can also bike with him to drain his energy. Remember, running up and down in the park is great fun but that only makes him more excited. There is nothing wrong with that excitement, but it should be combined with a long walk back home so that by the time you get home, he is calm and tired. Feed him his breakfast and ask him to go to his crate or where he sleeps. He will follow you, take him back to his place time and gain until he gets what you are asking him. Do this quietly and don’t provide cues. Do not say anything but instead feel positive about what you are doing and do not feel guilty. Go through your leaving routine quietly and do not allow him to follow you. 

If he barks in the crate or his place, look for ways to control that. Teaching him “quiet” is good and he should learn that barking is not rewarded by you paying him attention – instead you should disagree with him. Try this for as long as it takes and each time ask him to lie down in his place until he understands it. Remember, you will have to do this as long as it takes. Either you win or him, decision is yours.

When you return home, pay him no attention and if he is banging at the crate or jumping up and down that ou are back, ignore it and walk away. I know it is difficult but you are helping him to calm down. And remember when you ignore him, you are only ignoring his excitement and that state of mind. Wait until he is quiet and if he is in the crate, ask him to wait while you open the door. He should not come bursting out.

Remember my training formula:

  • Patience: At first it may take up to an hour. Be patient, your dog is learning and does not know what you are asking yet
  • Consistency: Make sure you follow the same ritual every time, otherwise he will get confused.
  • Repetition: repeat this as long as it takes, each time, it comes easier.

Best of luck,

Morteza

 

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