How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Separation anxiety in dogs is a hot topic in 2021 with 1000s of lockdown puppies becoming more and more anxious. As a dog trainer, preventing separation anxiety is one of the biggest areas I concentrate on from day one.
Some dogs are quickly incapable of being left without barking the house down or destroying the furniture. Owners despair and I don’t blame them – it is one of the most frustrating behavioural issues. But why is it happening?
In this month’s blog we’ll be dissecting how separation anxiety is commonly caused and how to prevent it.
Separation anxiety can be hard to resolve – each dog and their human are different. By that I mean the relationship dynamic, breeding, early life experiences, mindset and commitment to training.
However, separation anxiety is really easy to prevent. These are the simplest methods to ensure your dog or puppy can sleep and settle independently without fear.
The first day sets the precedent
The first day your dog or puppy comes home sets the precedent for your relationship. Many owners will spend the first day totally enamoured with the new arrival (I mean, who wouldn’t?) and the pup sits on their lap for most of the day, sleeping, playing and eating.
This sets the puppy up for failure.
When dogs are separated from their usual family or pack, they will bond with the nearest kind person very quickly. It happens in our dog hotel, and is one of my secret weapons to ensuring a happy dog. As soon and mum or dad leave, the dog will bond with their new handler and that bond is strong.
On the first day, set your puppy or dog up for success with ensuring they enjoy a balance for short activities and cuddle followed by intermittent naps in their crate (not in the bedroom). 3-4 naps before the end of the day will allow your puppy to see that people come and go as they settle without fuss or fear.
During this time you must do several “test runs” leaving the room. Scatter kibble before you go to ensure a happy puppy and an engaged nose.
Avoid spending the entire day next to your puppy – this makes leaving them at bedtime really stressful for everyone and causes whining and crying to the extreme.
Noone wants a stressed puppy.
99% of puppies cry on the first night
99% of puppies cry on their first night for a little bit and then fall asleep within about 10-30 minutes, often a lot less. It’s a normal behaviour – they’re calling out to see who is there. They are a little bit stressed from the change of environment. It’s a survival instinct.
If you’re lucky enough to have sourced a good breeder, your puppy will already be used to sleeping in a crate or kennel and seeing people come and go as part of their day. They may even be thoughtful enough to give you a small blanket that smells of their mother.
Familiar scents are comforting.
Many new dog parents baulk when their new pup cries because the sound is horrendous. It pulls at our heart strings and makes us feel guilty. This is a weak energy that feeds fear. Remember to meet all dog behaviour with proactivity and calm.
If you have followed the steps mentioned earlier, you will have set your puppy up for success in settling.
Continually going back to your puppy to check on them, or “giving in” by taking them into your bedroom will have the opposite effect intended. Instead of preventing separation anxiety it can inadvertently encourage it. Not in all dogs, but many learn to panic this way.
As soon as pups recognise that crying brings you back they can become highly reactive to your absence. They know being loud will work, eventually. This can lead to unbridles panic.
The crying can go on for hours when this lesson is learned and is often the start of separation anxiety getting it’s foot in the door. The dog is in prolonged distress which is not what anyone wants.
Instead of lying in bed worrying, invest in an indoor cctv camera – they’re really affordable and allow you to see that your puppy is safe and how quickly they settle.
Puppies often wake again in the middle of the night because they need a wee – it’s okay to attend to them in this context. Pups learn the context very quickly.
Why bedroom sleeping can backfire
Bedroom sleeping can backfire on a lot of owners. All of the separation anxiety cases I handle start with “they sleep in my bedroom”.
Some dog owners will get away with bedroom sleeping dogs and never shave a problem in their lives. Others are not so lucky. This is because there are so many factors are at play. All people and their dogs have different lives, personalities, early life experiences, routines and so on. Your name Dave probably can’t give you the answer because his life and dog are different to yours. However there are tried and tested methods that do not involve bedroom sleeping that really work, due to how dogs are wired.
It is a myth that bedroom sleeping creates emotionally stable pups. (Breeders, parentage, personality and early life experiences shape far more before you even bring the dog home. If you have a rescue, separation anxiety in dogs can be a lot harder when you don’t know their history).
By spending 24/7 in your dog’s presence, they learn to only settle when you are nearby. It shapes clingy behaviour. You may have heard the term “velcro dogs” – these are the dogs that will follow you to the bathroom, and you’d better let them in with you or suffer the perils of endless door scratching and crying. This is another indication that a dog is becoming highly insecure and unable to stay calm on their own. They must be able to see you at all time or panic ensues.
If you’re letting your dog into the bathroom with you because of squeaking or scratching, the anxious behaviours is once again being encouraged and can become worse over time. The quicker you act the faster it can be resolved.
What are your limiting beliefs?
We all have limiting beliefs in life and many of us inherit our beliefs about separation anxiety in dogs from our parents or childhood experiences.
The beauty of dogs is they can be the family we choose for ourselves. We are ready to love them in ways that perhaps we have been prevented from doing or even been denied in our own lives.
This is a pretty heady cocktail of emotions and is not helpful when training any dog. Dogs need emotional stability and for all their needs and triggers to be met with calm and excellent behaviour modification strategy.
In this instance, mothering them is not necessarily the key to supporting them.
Babies need cuddles and comforting to stop crying.
Puppies need their needs met in other ways; leadership, stability and consistency. For many new dog parents, this can feel totally alien when our human psychology is screaming “go to them!”
If you’re yet to bring a new dog home, have the confidence to ride out the first night squeaks (cctv is a fantastic reassurance that they are okay).
If your dog screams all night without any breaks consult a vet and behaviourist immediately.
For more information on this watch my YouTube video series “Dog Training at Home”.
Prevent separation anxiety & start over
1. Exercise is key
When your pup is home for the first time, keep them awake a little longer than planned that evening. Play some games before bed, get them to a place where they are ready to fall asleep and with that, quietly exit.
Avoid allowing them to sleep all evening – this can energise them for full night of play, or crying.
They need a quiet, dark room to sleep.
2. Crate training is a huge advantage
Crate training is one of the most useful tools you will ever have in your dog training arsenal. Crates are fantastic for helping dogs learn to have an “off switch”, settle independently and keep them safe when unsupervised.
Many people do not like the idea of crates due to cage-like symbology – captivity, prison, discomfort.
The truth is, that is a human perception. Dogs do not have a pre conceived idea of crates or cages. They will however, feed off your energy. If you’re mistrustful, they will be too. Treat it like Disney Land and they will join in the fun.
As long as you use a crate with timing, compassion and positive experiences your dog will learn they have a safe haven where their job is to chew something magical and have a kip – solo.
Not sure how to crate train? Become a VIP member for just £59 per month and get unlimited access to my video tutorials on how to raise the perfect pup.
3. You must go out
Prevention is better than the cure in separation anxiety.
Working from home? Lockdown? No need to go out? Go out anyway – that means the whole family.
Crate sleeping in a separate room shapes the foundations for independent sleeping, however dogs are very intelligent animals. They know the difference between mum going into the next room and leaving the front door with keys and a bag.
Schedule 10 minutes of going out for a walk daily (without the dog) to ensure your pup maintains their “chewy stick and a sleep” routine in their crate. Exercise your dog first for best results.
Thank you and farewell
I hope you really enjoyed this months blog and found some tips to move forwards with your pet. This is a basic guide for the most common kinds of separation anxiety – after all, every human and dog is different. If you’re still struggling after trying these tips, it’s time to see a behaviourist.
Book a one-to-one training session with me here. We’ll complete a full behaviour analysis, spend some time together training and you’ll receive a tailored training plan PDF to refer back to at the end.
See you at the next blog,