Solving separation anxiety can be tough. Acting destructive or barking and crying when left alone is often a combination of demand behavior and anxiety. At Zen Dog Training, the most important lesson for solving separation anxiety is having your dog learn to settle and become more comfortable alone — while you are home.
Your furry little shadow
The best practice for treatment and prevention starts when both you and your dog are home together.
Instead of having your dog as the center of attention all the time, your dog must learn to tolerate being in the house independently, (without following you around from room-to-room.)
Interrupting this kind of “shadowing” behavior is the key to every good separation anxiety training plan. However, it is often difficult to implement because resisting smothering your dog with attention is so hard!
There are many things to consider when treating separation anxiety.
Separation Anxiety Training essential elements:
- Preventing shadowing behavior with daily independence training
- Determining the ideal departure ritual for your dog*
- Managing your dog’s emotional state (yours too!) when leaving them alone
- Knowing how to greet your dog when you come home
- Knowing what to do when your dog seems to be having a Separation Anxiety episode
- A Nothing for Free Program
- Increased Physical Exercise (a tired dog is a Zen Dog!)
- Increased Mental Exercise and Enrichment (for example: food puzzle toys, obedience training…)
*Ideal departure ritual means distracting your dog as you leave and being prepared before you go. Pre-pack your things and have a distraction set-up ahead of time so you can focus on leaving quickly!
Reduce separation anxiety with a departure ritual:
- Ignore your dog when you are getting ready to leave. Try not to talk to much or give any eye contact on the way out.
- Scatter or hide treats around the house to distract your dog from watching you leave.
- As you leave, try not linger or give your dog the impression they might be coming with you.
Acting decisively when you are leaving can help your dog better cope with your absence. Again, it is best to not to say anything when leaving, just set-up your distraction, avoid excessive eye contact with your dog, and quietly walk out the door (if you must, saying “Bye” or “I’ll be home soon” is OK).
Daily practice is a must!
Having a good plan is important but actually practicing every day will determine your success.
At first, training exercises should be practiced 10 times-a-day for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Once your dog is comfortable being alone for short absences they can learn to tolerate longer periods of time.
Teaching your dog to be comfortable with you home ignoring them is just the first step, once you can interrupt the shadowing behavior inside the house, practicing brief absences becomes easier. For a detailed plan to Solve Separation Anxiety please check out our eBook – How to Treat and Prevent Separation Anxiety.
Manage for Success
When training, it is essential to create an environment where you can set-up situations to teach lessons.
Management tools including: Crates, Tethers, Baby Gates, and Confinement Areas, are tools to help confine your dog to one area during training and will allow you to practice with less stress.
For example, putting up baby gates to prevent your dog from following you creates a mini-training session every time you walk out of the room. Other important tools include: a sturdy escape-proof crate, and strong gates that can’t be jumped or knocked over.
Always set your dog up to succeed by making sure they are tired and well-exercised before you leave.
Avoid Common Training Mistakes
Often with separation anxiety situations people unwittingly make things worse by coddling their dog or acting sad/sympathetic when leaving their dog alone.
Ironically, even though you feel sorry for your dog – you can make things worse by acting too empathetic, sounding sad or distressed when leaving. So, when coming home it is OK to say “Hi!” to your dog, but try to not get them overly excited, as you want departures and arrivals to be low-key.
Why? Because, the more emotional energy you give your dog, especially when you sound worried or concerned, the more they may think something is actually wrong or get unnecessarily worked-up about your arrivals and departures.
Break the connection
Even though it seems counter-intuitive, the last thing you want to do is teach your dog that crying, barking, and whining works on you and gets your attention.
In fact, you want to break the connection between them vocalizing and us responding. This means acting tough and ignoring dogs who bark, whine, or cry for attention. Also, teaching everyone to interrupt or ignore demanding behaviors (a Nothing for Free Program) also helps.
Zen Dog Training
Solving Separation Anxiety, should always include obedience training.
Better discipline through daily practice of commands, and positive reinforcement training helps improve the relationship you have with your dog. Plus, training impulse control games, and setting clear rules and boundaries will speed up the learning process.
The best part about a good Separation Anxiety Treatment and Prevention training plan is that it sets the foundation for the ultimate goal – having a Zen Dog!