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Separation anxiety is a fairly new term in the dictionary of dogs. It’s really not something anyone had to deal with in years gone by. So we have to ask ourselves what has changed and where did this come from?
I think in order to understand separation anxiety in dogs we have to look back at where it came from. In my generation this was not something dogs had to deal with. So why are so many dogs burdened with this unpleasant and irrational fear?
In past generations, one thing was for sure; dogs had boundaries! Some dogs were lucky enough to be allowed in the house, but they were certainly never allowed on the furniture! Not a lot of families simply had one pet, being a dog. Most animals were kept in multi-pet circumstances on land, farm or in the city. People had reasons for owning animals. Animals were not ‘pets’ like today’s standard of ‘pet’. Sure there were pets, but they had their place. They were loved, cuddled and played with. But at mealtime they were no where to be found. They were not allowed to hover or beg where people were eating. Nor were they allowed to nuisance visitors and guests. They learned their place and respected the boundaries.
Now let’s fast forward to today. Basically, dog have very few boundaries. They’re allowed wherever they want, whenever they want. Essentially they’re allowed to rule the house. They’re pampered and enjoy all the comforts of today’s modern society. And why not, they deserve it! They love us unconditionally and would give their lives for us in an instant! They’re faithful, loyal, they are our best friend no matter what. As a human I agree with all of this. But what about the dog? In their minds, do they agree? Yes, dogs are pack animals. So our intellect tells us that our coming and going without them stresses them out. Add to that a dog that may have been abused or rescued from a terrible situation. And maybe that’s why they have separation anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, these things are all true……to a point.
Think like a dog
There’s one very important difference between humans and canines. Humans think like humans and canines think like canines. We need to understand how dogs perceive our actions before we can understand their thought process. First of all, dogs don’t understand equality. Everyone is either above or below them. The alpha is at the top and it’s up to the alpha to rule the pack. Alpha’s don’t send mixed signals. They use their body language to communicate and are very clear and precise. When we allow our pet dogs some alpha roll luxuries but not all, we are telling them that we’re not a confident pack leader. And maybe we’re not capable of taking care of the pack. This can result in irrational fears on your dog’s part. We need to put our own selfish needs aside and communicate with our dogs in a way they can understand.
So as much as I know you don’t want to hear this, if your dog is having separation anxiety issues it might be your fault. The exception here is if you have a newly acquired dog and you have not yet tackled the issues they came with. Having said that, dogs don’t live in the past. Even an abused dog will try to enjoy today. I know you love your dog. But there’s a big difference between loving and understanding.
How do you deal with a dog with separation anxiety?
There’s no hard and fast rule. Every dog is different. This problem ranges from extremely minor to extremely major. So you cannot help all dogs the exact same way. But there are some things you can start to do. For instance, stop coddling! Coddling only creates unhealthy neediness. For both you and your dog. You need to be honest with yourself and decide if you’re inflicting your own personal issues onto your dog. If you are, it’s not fair to your dog.
Keep your coming’s and going’s very low key. Don’t engage in big, drawn out hello’s and goodbye’s with your dog. Practice without actually going out. For instance, if you need to use the bathroom, shut the door behind you. Don’t let your dog come with you. You’ll only be a minute, it’s no big deal. But when you do go out, leave on some classical music. Classical music and crate training has been proven to calm dogs down. They’re natural den dwellers, so a proper size crate with only one way for them to see out will comfort a stressed dog. (see housebreaking a puppy for crate training tips).
Do not give your dog attention when they demand it. As a matter of fact, if they do demand it don’t even give them eye contact. Wait till they go lie down, then call them over for attention. They’ll still get the attention. But now it’s on your terms, not theirs. Being a confident pack leader will help your dog with their own doggy confidence.
Exercise your dog
A little walk around the block is not enough for most dogs. So play with them outside, give them things to smell and learn about. Teach them things so their brains get exercise too. Make their lives interesting by letting them think, learn and explore on their own four paws.
And finally do not coddle their irrational fears. If they’re fearful, stay calm and loving but don’t start to show attention until they’re acting a little more brave. If they try to hide behind you, slowly step aside and let them stand on their own. Once they do, praise them. Basically, don’t ever give them attention for fears. Give them attention for showing healthy, confident behaviors.
Written by Brenda McBurnie, Certified Dog Trainer and natural Nutrition
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