Fixing serious separation anxiety is difficult work and there are no quick fixes. I repeat. There is no quick fix. If someone is selling it don’t buy it. It really does require a lifestyle change.
Separation anxiety is when a dog is scared to be separated from their owner. It causes extreme anxiety which can result in the dog panicking and acting out. This is where dogs can hurt themselves or destroy your home.
Curing separation anxiety in a specific dog requires a reputable trainer. But the foundations are all the same. Again this is a total lifestyle change and often involves what we don’t want to hear. So.
Dogs need boundaries and alone time. You can not just love up on them all the time. “All they need is love”, to be quite blunt, is bullshit. In this sense a dog is like a child. We feed children to a certain age and then it’s time for them to start using cutlery on their own. One day, parents say, “That’s it. Time to eat on your own.” They set a boundary. “I will provide the food but I will not put it into your mouth for you.”
For dogs it is similar. We provide the safety and security of a home for them, so we do not personally have to be that safety and security all the time (i.e when we need to go out). Boundaries teach independence. Independent dogs don’t freak out when you leave.
The furniture. Kick them off. This isn’t a dominance thing. It’s a distance thing. Before they are cool with you leaving they need to be cool with being 4 feet away. They don’t need to be cuddled all the time.
This is exactly like feeding young children. It is not cruel to tell a small child they need to start going to the refrigerator on their own when they are thirsty. Or they have to start fixing their own snack. They need to learn it themselves. Once they learn it, you can relax a little bit. (My mother will hand me a drink from the refrigerator sometimes. If she doesn’t, I’m not going to die)
Dogs also need alone time. Crate train your dog. A crate is not cruel, a crate is a safe space. I am not willing to debate this. If a dog has separation anxiety, crate train it. It works.
Our own feelings and emotions actually play a large part in how are dogs react to our behaviour. Dogs are quite intuitive but they are not mind readers. If every time you leave you are worried about how your dog will react to your leaving, your dog is only going to pick up that you’re leaving and you’re worried. This will naturally cause them to worry, kick starting the anxiety.
It’s important to maintain a nonchalant attitude about leaving the house. It is not a big deal or a production, it is just another thing you do. Calm, confident energy is what dogs respond to best. This is a constant across the entire dog training spectrum. Dogs look to humans for leadership. And in scary situations a calm confident leader is a good thing to have.
When coming home it should be the same. Entering the home is no big deal. Wait to greet your dog until they have calmed down, regardless of whether they are crated or not. The less of a big deal something is the less likely it will trigger anxiety.
Our own energy is reflected in our dogs. It is heartbreaking to see them freaking out with anxiety. But letting our emotions get to us will only make it worse. Fixing separation anxiety and/or crate training doesn’t happen in a day, sometimes it takes quite a while. Fixing separation anxiety is probably best compared to weaning. It can be a potentially long process and it will be frustrating and challenging and rewarding.
Dogs are scared to be alone because they lack confidence. Fixing separation anxiety is building a confident dog. Confidence comes from facing challenges and over coming them.
There are many different training exercises /games to build confidence and many of them do not involve the act of leaving your dog home alone. But they are all part of the process.
I urge you to consider crate training your dog. An equally powerful tool is the “Place” command, where you have the dog sit/lay in a designated place until you tell it to move. Both of these teach dogs to be calm on their own, away from us humans.
A dog that suffers from bad separation anxiety shouldn’t be cuddled until this problem has been solved for some time. It is perfectly acceptable to have a dog sit at ones feet, and not on the couch. The separation has to start somewhere, and they have to be able to accept being five feet away before they can be okay with you being totally gone.
Lastly, hire a professional trainer. Dogs need a one on one assessment to determine their thresholds and once those are known and understood, a proper game plan to cure the anxiety can be implemented.