In addition to the many dogs suffering greatly from this condition, it is also frustrating for an owner who is afraid to leave their dog alone for any period of time. This is out of fear their dog will harm themselves or destroy the home when they are gone. I even saw a case where the dog was so overwhelmed by his anxiety that he thought crashing through a window would be a better option than being left alone! Fortunately, this dog was amazingly unharmed!
However, despite the severity and widespread problem of separation anxiety in dogs, I find its root cause is still misunderstood by many dog owners and professionals in terms of it being treated in a way that at times makes the problem worse or mistakenly views the dog as untrainable.
Separation anxiety is often interpreted by dog trainers and behaviorists as the dog “missing their owner” or “just being anxious by nature” and take approaches to dog training that do not directly address the causality of the anxiety by trying to build up time duration and object permanence skills or rely on confinement and devices alone. Even worse sometimes are veterinarians who immediately medicate a dog out of pure misunderstanding of why the problem exists before even looking into a behavior and lifestyle change for the dog and their owner as the possible solution!
By taking a more thorough multi-faceted approach, I have had great success with cases of separation anxiety by following my 3 part program that addresses the actual cause of the problem from the ground up by consistently applying the necessary Security, Safety, & Supplements in a dog’s daily life.
1. Structure + Awareness = Security
The bottom line is that some dogs have a greater potential for anxiety than others. This has far less to do with a dog’s breed than individual levels of misdirected drive and the makeup of their sensory/nervous systems. Because of this, many dogs are raised with an incorrect perception that they are getting through the day and getting their resources (food, shelter, attention, etc.) by keeping track of the everyday life us, humans are creating around them in terms of the chores, interactions, and routines we commonly do on a daily basis.
In speaking with and observing thousands of dog owners, I find these behaviors are usually misinterpreted as something less important to them than it means to their potentially anxious dog. Examples of what I often hear from owners is that their dog is just following them and reacting to every little thing they do because he simply, “Wants to be near us…” or “He’s just excited to (blank).”
Unfortunately, if this goes unchecked due to lack of awareness or understanding of what these behaviors mean and contribute to on our part (I totally understand we do not own our dogs to have to monitor them 24-7 like a prison guard while we come home from work, entertain our guests, go to the bathroom, etc…) a highly sensitive dog with these potentials will try to wrap their head around the thought of, “how to keep track of you when you are now out of the environment since it works all day long when your are home???” Since a dog has no perception of what has happened, they quickly learn that by acting out in some way or retaining their anxious feelings, you miraculously return so they may resume the daily monitoring of your everyday routines unbeknownst to you. (Until now!)
As much as my clients hate to hear this, the solution is to take time throughout your busy day to “keep track” of these dogs in real-time as they are getting too wrapped up in human business to promote both structure and awareness on your part that you are able to manage your family/pack just fine without their help. This eventually carries over to when you are gone and gives them the message that you can do this when you are away from the environment as well.
Keeping track of our dogs in need of daily structure can be accomplished by doing something as simple as giving them a focus-based command (Heel, Sit, Down) to simulate a job they need to perform whenever they are getting too caught up in your human activities. Even if this means keeping your dog on lead here and there for a few weeks, it can re-establish a more secure relationship based on a structured and calmer association in your presence plus prove great awareness on your part as their human pack leader who can allow them to relax when not in their presence.