Solving Separation Anxiety
Updated: Jun 13
Every once in awhile I come across a tidbit of learning that turns everything I thought I knew upside down…or maybe it’s right-side up.
That was the case for separation anxiety in dogs.
To start off, what is separation anxiety? Separation anxiety is the dog’s stress and worry that you have left or will leave your dog. This might show up as barking, whining, digging, biting, chewing, escape attempts, or more. Another symptom of separation anxiety is that your dog follows you around like a shadow.
But why is your dog so worried about you leaving?
Is it because your dog really likes you and feels safe with you and wants to be around you all the time?
That is the general consensus. Trainers, vets, dog experts, and dog owners all over will tell you that this is the case.
This is what I used to think, too. I used to think that the dog was anxious because the owner had left and now the dog felt unsafe and insecure.
But I was wrong. I was looking at the problem from a human standpoint. I wasn’t looking at the behaviour through the dog’s eyes.
When we look at this issue using dog psychology - rather that human psychology - separation anxiety makes so much more sense. Better yet, we actually have a solution for it, too.
When you leave and your dog is anxious, it’s not that she likes you, misses you, feels insecure without you and wants to be with you. It’s a cute sentiment and it does help us humans feel special and wanted. Unfortunately, it’s just not the case.
From the dog’s point of view, when you leave, he’s worried, yes, but not for his own safety - he’s worried for your safety.
You see, if your dog is anxious when you leave, the real problem is that your dog sees herself as pack leader, the one in charge. She gets upset when you leave because it’s like her pup has wandered from the den and she wants to protect it and bring it back. Underdogs aren’t supposed to wander away from the den like you do and it stresses the alpha dog out!
This means that to solve separation anxiety, there’s no use trying to fix each specific behaviour, such as barking, whining, digging, though the use of clickers, treats, or shocks. That just doesn’t address the root of the problem.
There’s also minimal benefit in trying to make the dog calmer when you leave with the use of calming medications, soothing music, or prolonged cuddling and comforting. Those things also don’t address the root of the problem.
If you are going to address the root of the problem, to really solve separation anxiety, then you must become the pack leader in the dog’s eyes. You must be the alpha dog, who leaves the under dogs safe in the den, calm in the knowledge that, as alpha, you will always return to the den and pack.
When you are the pack leader, your dog can finally relax and be a calm canine. In my consults I don’t train your dog. I “train” you how to be the pack leader in your dog’s eyes. Visit https://www.calmcanine.ca/services to find an option that’s best for you.
Here’s to You and Your Dog!