Hands down – separation anxiety – is the worst behaviour issue I’ve had to live with in my own dogs and often the hardest on clients. Typically dogs with this disorder tend to make great pets. They love their people so much and just want to be with them all the time.
Separation anxiety has a range from dogs who stress a bit – pacing, little bit of drool, some vocalization all the way to dogs who will injury themselves (I’ve had one of the latter). The severe cases often require enormous amount of time, money and people to help you with dog sitting. They also require a Veterinarian who can offer support and medication while the dog is undergoing behaviour modification. It’s extremely hard on everyone involved.
So this blog entry isn’t about resolving separation anxiety – there’s no way to cover that in a blog entry! If you’re in the midst of this please consult a local experienced behaviourist (a person who has a Masters or PhD in animal behaviour) or a very experienced dog trainer. Nicole Wilde also has a great book which can help – “Don’t Leave Me”.
This entry is all about preventing separation anxiety in the first place. My Pointer was a prime candidate for developing separation anxiety but happily I knew just how to set him up for success.
Some warning factors:
- Difficult to crate train – lots of vocalization, urination in crate, etc.
- Breed (Pointers are one of a few breeds more likely to develop this issue however it can affect any dog regardless of breed)
- My husband was off work due to an injury so our puppy was almost never alone
- Our pup was a “velcro” puppy and preferred to be with us at all times – preferably on us
So here are the steps I took to ensure that my guy would end up being a happy, well adjusted member of our family.
- Ari had to spend time alone every day even if it’s was only 5 minutes. We did have other dogs around however the presence of other dogs rarely helps a dog with separation anxiety from their humans.
- We worked extremely hard on crate training. All of his meals were fed in the crate as well as tasty treats. We worked on having him comfortable in the crate in all circumstances – at home alone, at home with us home, at dog training classes, in the car, etc.
- Ari would receive special rewards when he was in his crate and alone. We would give him stuffed kongs, interactive toys and yes even extremely large knuckle bones (as isn’t the kind of guy who swallows bones).
- We also worked hard on confidence building activities like down stay, agility exercises and tracking. These fostered independence in him.
- We planned a mix of high energy exercise as well as thinking games to balance out his day. The worst thing you can do is take a dog from a high state of arousal (say playing fetch) and then leave them alone when they have anxiety. See my blog entry about different types of exercise.
This took Ari a few months to really settle in but by 4-5 months he was happily staying home alone and we avoided having a massive issue. Help set your dog up for success by teaching them how to be alone happily.