Although I think most people diagnose any anxious dog or naughty dog as having “Separation Anxiety,” I have seen some unfortunate cases.
True Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Separation anxiety is not just soiling the house, barking, and shredding your things.
True separation anxiety usually comes with self-injurious behavior; meaning the dog will cause injury to himself trying to get out of his crate or out of a window.
These behaviors can be terrifying.
The harsh reality is that it is much easier to entirely AVOID true separation anxiety than it is to try and treat it!
My very first dog, when I was 18, broke a window trying to come with us when we left him! I quickly learned about the importance of crates!
And, unfortunately, people are usually the cause of these behaviors.
I had one client who had NEVER left his dog alone.
If he had to go somewhere, he paid someone to sit with the dog.
This created a dog that literally couldn’t function alone.
Another client tethered their dog outside because they didn’t want him destroying the house when the owner had surgery, and sadly the dog strangled.
Both of these clients had unhealthy relationships with their dogs.
Imagine refusing to send your child to school, never letting him sleep alone, or letting him have friends, or any interaction, without you?
It sounds a lot like child abuse doesn’t it?
Why, then, do we think it is normal to foster such neediness in our canine companions?
Let’s discuss ways to help set up a healthy relationship with your dog.
Here Are My 6 Essential Tips to Avoid Dog Separation Anxiety:
1. Let Him Sleep Alone
One of my dogs has free range of the house because she has earned it over the years.
She doesn’t get into things and is, all in all, a great dog!
And, even though I love her, and I don’t mind her sleeping with me; I still occasionally crate her at night and let her sleep alone.
I never know when I might require surgery or a night away where I can’t take her, and I don’t need her to panic if she has to be crated every once and a while.
By crating her occasionally, I prevent her from having a panic attack if ever it is needed.
And, it is healthy for both of us to sleep alone occasionally!
2. Let Him Spend Time Outside
My Belgian Malinois is very attached to me, and in general, doesn’t like being outside for long if I am not out with him.
However, I require him to spend an hour or so outside each morning while I shower and get ready for my day.
Leaving him outside with a bone to chew on helps him to foster some independence and teaches him that he can function without being around me constantly.
Don’t get me wrong, I like my dogs following me around the house (it allows me to ensure that they aren’t getting in trouble), but they have to be able to be solo on occasion.
When he was a puppy, I would give him special treats outside so that he learned to enjoy his morning time.
And, ironically, now he loves going outside in the morning (still) but HATES being outside at night. We joke that he is afraid of the dark because he will throw a pretty harrowing fit if he is outside for too long at night. That tells me the early training as a puppy stuck.
You don’t have to leave them out for hours at a time (I actually don’t think that is safe), and I never leave my dogs outside when I am not home, but an hour here and there should be no problem.
3. Leave Him Home
Leave him home! Don’t always take him with you.
I remember when I was a young kid and my parents would leave me alone for an hour or two. I LOVED it!
Give him a great treat and let him learn to function alone!
I am also a proponent of crate training because I think crating dogs is essential to good manners. Either way, let him function for a while without you.
Ironically, being alone is a normal part of life for all of us!
Give your dog and your puppy some healthy space, occasionally, to foster his independence.
4. Let Him Have Friends
Take your dog to doggy daycare.
Take him to the groomer.
Let a dog walker take him for a midday walk once a week.
Let the neighbor kids throw a ball for him.
Whatever you do, make sure that he can form normal relationships outside of his relationship with you!
Again, this is all about setting up a healthy relationship and healthy boundaries.
Someday you may need to have surgery or spend time away from him, and it is best to have a dog that already has some social skills.
Having a dog that no one else can touch, or a dog that panics without you isn’t good for either one of you!
5. Take Him to Training
Obedience training helps raise a dog’s confidence.
And, it stands to reason that a confident dog has less anxiety.
Training your dog, giving him rules and limits, and teaching him how to do things will lessen his need to spend every waking moment with you.
Just like school improves confidence for children, and is critical to their mental health, the same is true for your dog.
Even if your dog has been through obedience training, there are dozens of other sports you can become involved in; agility, nose work, lure coursing, and weight pulling will all give your dog healthy habits and things to do with his body and his mind.
6. Let Him Walk
This is mostly for those little lap dog owners!
We sometimes joke at the veterinary clinic that certain dogs’ feet probably never hit the ground, because their owners carry them everywhere.
Put your dog down and let him walk!
Let him be a dog and learn to conquer the world without you.
It isn’t healthy to pick your dog up every time they are faced with something that they may be intimidated by or afraid of.
Those of us with big dogs can’t pick them up at will.
And, these little dogs need the ability to be able to function when you are not around.
Picking him up and carrying him all the time isn’t good for him!
Let him be a dog and learn how to function without you; it is crucial to his well-being.
The Hard Truth
The truth is that we love our dogs, and we want to spend every waking moment snuggling them because it feels good and it lessens our anxiety, but it isn’t good for them!
Dogs need to learn to function alone, to be confident and independent.
You wouldn’t want to create a totally dependent child, understand that it is just as unhealthy to create a needy and dependent dog!
You can love him and snuggle him, just make sure there are healthy boundaries in place.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.