Separation anxiety can be a very daunting, life-changing behavioural problem for dogs, you tend to find owners have to arrange their lives around the dog especially if they have no one else to help out. There are different levels of Separation Anxiety in dogs and it can occur when a certain family member goes out, when everyone goes out, or even if their keep in a different room to the owner. Therefore you tend to find that there’s not one specific way to treat Separation anxiety but in fact, it’s made up of quite a few different areas you have to tackle.
Always make sure your dog's basic needs have been met before attempting to treat Separation Anxiety!
Have they been toileted, fed, and access to water?
Have they had plenty of mental and physical exercise?
Have you encouraged any calming exercises like sniffing, licking, and chewing?
If you have then perfect, the dog should be in a better state of mind ready for treating Separation anxiety.
Leaving Your Dog Alone
Management when working through any behaviour issue is incredibly important. Imagine you are scared of dogs, would you ever get better if every time you saw a dog it bit you? It is very unlikely. Similarly with dogs and separation anxiety. If your dog is constantly being made to feel fearful, then it's unlikely they will get any better.
It is super important that your dog isn't left alone for longer than they can deal with. This might mean cancelling plans, using a dog sitter, doggy daycare, friend or family to watch your dog while you need to go out or, take your dog with you.
The best place to start in training for treating Separation anxiety is teaching them to settle/relax, start with teaching a “Go to bed” so you can use the bed for boundary control later down the line. There are many ways to teach a dog to relax and some of the methods we use are from The School of Canine Science, Kikopup, and The Relaxation Protocol by Karen Pryor. You can leave food puzzles, stuffed kongs, or other activities for them but you’ll find most dogs won’t eat if they're stressed so at the start of treating Separation anxiety may not be interested in food.
Triggers and Thresholds
There’s a big difference in triggers and Thresholds, triggers for Separation Anxiety can start way before you actually leave, it could be putting on work shoes, picking up keys, putting on make-up for girls, or putting work coats on. Whereas Thresholds tend to be more distance based like the living room door, the porch door, and the front or back door. Once you’ve worked out your dog's triggers and Thresholds then these are the elements that you need to change your dog's emotional response to. To change the dog's emotional response we need to pair these triggers and be left with something positive and worthwhile working for, so not just the dogs dry food but high-value rewards like chicken, cheese, hotdogs, or fish sprats.
List your dog's specific triggers and Thresholds in order of what your dog reacts to more. Then start at the lowest level triggers and thresholds and reward the dog for remaining relaxed before trying to increase the duration of time you leave the dog.
Building up time
Always go at your dog's pace and don’t try to increase the criteria if your dog isn’t settled. Set up a camera so you can see how your dog is coping. Start slow even if it’s just getting out the door and reward the dog every time you come back. If they are still relaxed then increase the time gradually. Always make sure the dog is relaxed before continuing and always reward the dog when you come back in, try not to make too much excitement when you re-enter by just dropping the treats for the dog.