The concept of time passing is one that only humans really understand, your dog wouldn’t have a clue if 5 minutes had passed or an hour. This is why some dogs develop separation anxiety when you leave the house. It can be a really terrible issue when your dog has it bad, a state of pure panic. And it can leave you feeling like you can’t leave the house, or that you have to bring your beloved pup with you. It is a damaging relationship for both you and your dog and it can lead to other bad behaviours in rare cases.
Let me paint a picture. It’s 10am and you have to go out to the post office for 15 minutes, you say to your dog “I’ll be back in a moment, don’t worry”, you put on your shoes and reach for your car keys. It’s then that you notice your dog has started to act up. Either running around you, between you and the door, or whimpering and whining and causing a fuss. You start to rethink your trip, “It’s ok” you think, “I’ll get my husband or wife to do it later”. Effectively putting your life on hold to comfort your pup and stop them from feeling bad. You can’t live like that, and I know, I did.
When I got my first dog I was living alone and working in an office in town all day. The normal routine was fine. I would get up, get ready for work and go. No fuss. When I got home I would be greeted by my dog with a happy waging tail. However if I left the house at any other time and for any other reason it would cause him to go into a state of panic. He would almost scream, like a child having a temper tantrum. I started to feel like I couldn’t leave the house or that I had to take him everywhere I went. And that’s mostly what I did. In circumstances that permitted me bringing him along, he came with me. Which made the situation worse. For those occasions where I couldn’t take him with me I noticed that his panic had gone from mild to extreme. I knew that I had to do something about it.
A ecollar wasn’t a solution. I knew that while it may make him be quiet and keep my neighbours happy. I wouldn’t help ease his mind and stop the panic. I had set up a camera to watch his reactions when I left the house. He would whine, howl, pace back and forth and show signs of extreme agitation. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but until I saw his reaction when I wasn’t there I had no idea how bad it was or how I could go about correcting the situation.
But back to the point, your dog doesn’t understand the difference between, “I’ll be back in 5 minutes”, and, “I’ll never see you again”. Whether you would like to admit it or not, you and your dog form a relationship that is beyond pet and master. You become a family or the more commonly and misused term “pack”. Your dog feels an urge to keep you within the family (pack).
The screaming and howling I experienced when leaving the house was a signal on how to return home again. And the state of panic was the fear if I would find my way back or not. Because my fence made it impossible for my dog to come and look for me he was forced to panic. He couldn’t come get me, he couldn’t smell me and he couldn’t hear me. I was gone… lost forever. The fact that I managed to find my way home time and time again didn’t seem to factor into his thinking, because each time I left, the reaction was the same.
I tried playing music for him, or leaving the television on to make him feel like someone was still at home. After all even if I spent all day inside, he never panicked knowing that I was just inside. I thought this may help, even if only a little. I’m not sure that it did.
So I tried turning my departure from the house into a positive. We developed a fun routine where he would get to do a bunch of tasks that he loved to do for 5 minutes before I left the house. I would get ready, put on my shoes get my car keys and make all the sounds and activities like I was about to leave the house. But instead of leaving I would go out and spend 5 – 10 minutes with him playing and training and providing some delicious treats, trying to associate the sounds of me leaving with fun activities. The very opposite of panic. I had already worked out what his triggers where (Putting on my shoes and the sound of my car keys), so it was those triggers needed to be stopped from developing into panic.
Obviously my first few attempts at this strategy were not successful. He would just swing back into his regular state of panic immediately afterwards. But I was determined, I wanted to get him to be in a calm state of mind each time he heard my pick up my keys. So I would practice multiple times a day, regardless of I was leaving or not. I would make all the trigger sounds regularly then come out and play with him. I wanted him to become numb to those sounds, the sound of my keys would no longer be the trigger for panic but the trigger for play.
I think the first steps in dealing with separation anxiety is to identify the triggers that cause your dogs to go into that panicked state. Each dog is different, has different levels of anxiety and will have different triggers. Your challenge is to identify the triggers that cause your dog to go into that state and work on alleviating the stress when those sounds are heard or sight seen.
I still deal with separation anxiety on a daily basis, however I can honestly say that the improvement is immense. From panicking and screaming, so a little whimper then settling down in his dog house, it’s a remarkable transition and I no longer fear leaving him at home when I have to go out into the big bad world.
It’s not going to be an easy road. But you will get there in time and with patience, I have more work to do, I will admit, but I my dog had a case of anxiety that was extreme, milder cases should be a much smoother road.
Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety? Ask any question and we will try to help you out below.