John's Natural Dog Training ~ Canine Separation AnxietyCanine Separation Anxiety

Help for Dogs & Owners

by John M. Rubin
Canine Separation Anxiety - CSA

Although it is not clearly known why it occurs, it is commonly thought that dogs seem to develop separation anxiety either because they are born with a predisposition to display anxiety or fear when under stress, or the owner has unknowingly facilitated the dog's neurosis by creating an inter-reliant relationship with the dog during early developmental stages. Regardless, separation anxiety can greatly affect the lifestyle of the owner who must deal with the destruction and constant complaints from neighbors.

These caring dog owners are desperately looking for the answer that might relieve the obvious suffering that their pet must be experiencing. Separation Anxiety is typically seen in younger dogs, especially when these pets are adopted from an animal shelter or rescue organization. It is not commonly seen in mature or older dogs, although dogs that develop separation anxiety at a very young age may be at greater risk for recurrences later in life.

Thirty years ago this condition was unknown in dog training circles. Today, it’s a rare dog owner who hasn’t heard of separation anxiety, experienced it with a one of their own dogs, or at least had an acquaintance whose canine companion reportedly suffered from this difficult disorder.

 Read article on Canine Developmental Stages

Separation Anxiety may also occur in dogs with a high inclination towards dependency - certain breeds may be more affected than others. Traumatic events in a young pup's life may also increase the likelihood of the development of overly strong attachments.

This could include:
  • Early separation from the litter (separation prior to 7 weeks of age.)
  • Frequent or sudden changes in living situation during the human socialization period.
  • The birth of a baby or new pet in the home.
  • Lack of imprinting or "bonding" during early socialization periods (pups kept in pet stores or animal shelters and/or crated for long periods of time.)
It is generally accepted that there are three types of separation anxiety
  1. Transitional Anxiety - this usually occurs in adolescent dogs and for a period of 4 to 6 weeks in duration.
  2. Permanent Anxiety - this usually occurs during fear impact stage and is most likely permanent.
  3. Conditional Anxiety - can occur at any age and is usually triggered by a change in environment, such as new baby, new home, etc.

Dogs that experience separation anxiety are not being disobedient, nor are they behaving in such a way as to get the owners attention, manipulate or seek revenge for being left alone. Separation anxiety is a mental disorder and must always be viewed as such if the owner is to help the dog - to any degree that one can.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
  • The dog follows owner from room to room, whimpers, paces, pants heavily, excessive salivation or shivers when the owner prepares to depart. (The anxiety usually builds and within 20-35 minutes of departure the dog may begin to cause damage to its surroundings.)
  • Excessive whining and barking during the period of separation - the most common behaviors.
  • Dogs displaying Separation Anxiety will often scratch and dig in the carpet or at doors and/or windows in an attempt to be with their owner.
  • Destructive chewing - also very common. In severe cases dogs will experience vomiting, diarrhea, and will sometimes self-mutilate.

Almost all dogs affected will become overly or hyper-excited when the owner arrives home.

Help for Canine Separation Anxiety

There is no easy way to resolve the problem once Separation Anxiety has developed. It will not go away on its own, and most often a complete "cure" is never experienced. But, there are many things an owner can do right away to begin to ease the symptoms.

Separation Anxiety can range from minor to severe. Depending on the level of symptoms exhibited, methods used to reduce the frequency and intensity will differ. It is very important to always keep in mind that punishing your dog will only cause the problem to escalate. It could even cause a dog with minor CSA to become a dog with severe CSA.

While it is very disheartening to come home to a shredded couch, feces-covered carpeting, or even just a note on the door from the apartment manager notifying you of a noise violation, the problem will not be resolved with verbal or physical punishment. This disorder must be dealt with using the psychology of the dog, and some preventative measures by the human.

Do's

Enroll in an obedience class or program from beginning to an advanced level so as to create a feeling of consistency and confidence in your dog.

Alter your departure routine. Keep it low-key. Your dog knows that picking up your purse or keys, checking doors and windows, etc. are your preparations for leaving.

Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you. A used towel or old t-shirt that you've slept in recently can work wonders.

For mild anxiety, leaving your dog with a frozen raw marrow bone, a deer antler or a Kong filled with your dog’s favorite treat can help. Power chewing can relieve stress for many dogs.

Teach your dog a word or action that you use every time you leave that assures your dog you'll be back. Dogs easily learn to associate certain signals with short-term separation from their owners. For example, when you get the mail or take out the trash, your dog knows you come right back and won't become anxious. Therefore, begin using a unique word directed at your dog every time you perform these tasks such as "break-time" or "leaving".

Walk or exercise your dog before you leave. Do the same when you come home. This helps to disassociate the act with your departure routine.

Ignore your dog for the 30 minutes before you leave home, and for 30 minutes when you return. Never make it a big deal when you are leaving and especially when you return. Do not say good- bye or hello - hard to do but very necessary!

Anti-anxiety medications are sometimes used to reduce anxiety. Usually these medications are used only in severe cases. I only recommend them when all else has been tried and failed.

Holistic remedies can sometimes help. In most cases, drugs do not resolve the problem and should only be used in combination with a training program.

Don'ts

Punishment is not an effective way to handle separation anxiety. In fact, punishing your dog upon your return home may actually escalate his/her separation anxiety.

As a general rule, it is not advisable to get another dog or pet. Your dog is experiencing Separation Anxiety from you and your absence. The existence of another pet will not resolve the problem. But, for young dogs with very mild anxiety, getting another dog can be a solution - but only if you want another pet and can devote the time and energy for both.

Do not crate your dog unless he/she is already used to and fond of the crate. Crating can make matters worse and your dog may urinate, defecate, self-mutilate, howl, or even become injured in an attempt to get out of the crate.

Canine Psychological Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

The following exercises should be worked on when you are at home for an extended time, on the weekend or even in the evenings. These exercises won't eliminate your dog's Separation Anxiety but, they can help reduce the symptoms and possibly the severity of your dog's episodes. Introduce one at a time and over a period of few days. Practice a few times each day. You may need to start with shorter training periods. Use your best judgment. It is far better to start slow than push a dog with severe anxiety.

  1. Ignore the dog for a period of 30 minutes while in the same room. Do not pet, look at, or speak to the dog even if it whines. (Petting your dog because it whines or barks only reinforces the behavior.)
  2. Restrict the dog's access to you. Crate or tether your dog in the same room or near the room you are in. You can give your dog a bone or chew toy but not every time you perform this exercise. Combine with exercise number 1.
  3. Increase the physical separation by tethering or crating the dog further away from you, but still within sight. Again, you can supply a bone or chew toy for pacification but not every time.  Combine with step number 1.
  4. Eliminate the dog's visual contact with you within the same room. This can best be accomplished by covering the crate.
  5. Tether or crate your dog in another room while you are still home but in an area where he/she can still hear and smell you.

These exercises can take some time to garner results. Patience and consistency is the key. By using the crate or tether, you are accomplishing two things; getting your dog used to confinement, and in doing so keeping your dog from destroying your home.

Finally!

You can use routines to actually help your dog deal with stress and anxiety. It can relieve your stress and anxiety in the process. Do one or more of these things on a regular basis throughout the week or month.

~ Find a good doggie daycare with experienced handlers who provide activity and interaction for your dog. A once or twice a week visit can make a big difference.

~ Have a dog walker, willing friend or family member visit once or twice a day a couple days a week.

~ Take your dog to work with you once or twice a week. These days many businesses are accepting of this practice.

Our Team

John Rubin. Head Trainer/Owner-President

John Rubin has been training dogs for over 27 years and has extensive equine experience as well. He is the founder of John Knows Dogs. LEARN MORE

Bonnie Rubin. Co-owner/Vice President

Bonnie co-owns John's Natural Dog Training Company along with her husband John Rubin and is co-owner of Kamp Kanine. LEARN MORE

Jessica McCloskey. Lead Trainer - CPDT-KA

Jessica McCloskey is John and Bonnie's daughter and has been working with and training dogs from a very early age. LEARN MORE

Need Help Fast?

We offer full customer care and support. Please contact us if you need assistance: 877-447-8597. John can be quickly reached at 858-395-0050.