Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
- Khalil Gibran
Separation anxiety is a very real, very terrifying thing for a dog. Dogs are pack animals – they are meant to be together all the time. Separation from pack can mean death. We have to work hard to manage the situation for them to make it less scary, and for separation to become a normal thing.
To start with, have a specific area where you put your dog when you leave; a crate is a lovely place. My Sparta is too large for a crate: she’s baby-gated in a mudroom, which serves the same purpose. Start putting him in the area during the day for anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours. Get him used to be in that area during normal hours (when you are home). Remember, pack separating is not normal, so putting him in there only at bedtime (when your pack separates) only makes it that much more abnormal.
When you want to take him out of the crate, only remove him when he is calm; no barking, jumping, whining, etc. This will take a lot of patience at first. When you walk towards the area to release him, don’t talk to him. Act as normal and nonchalant as possible. If he starts to become anxious, turn your back to him. Keep your back to him until he calms down. You are trying to catch the behavior you want (calmness) so every time he’s calm, reward him by facing him and walking closer. Excitement means you turn and maybe even walk away briefly.
You are trying to catch a moment: calm. If your is barking and carrying on at a decibel 11, wait until they are down to a 8 before moving forward. If they start to pick up steam again, stop moving towards them, or even turn around an walk away. You are looking for progress, not perfection.When he’s finally calm and you have let him out, don’t pet him or make this situation abnormal. You don’t pet him after you walk out of the bathroom, do you? Act the same way. A few minutes after you release him, you can interact, but you don’t want him to associate his being released with any kind of excitement, such as petting or praise.Keep doing this, but add to the “drama”. Put him in there, walk out the front door, drive around the block and come back. Again, the only time he’s allowed out is when he’s quiet. Keep at it, and hopefully he will be calm in there again. The worst thing you can do is to try to reassure him. Act as you would in any other normal situation.
Positive reinforcement can be added as well. When the dog is calm in their crate, casually walk up and offer a treat. Do not make eye contact, nor should you interact at this point. It’s merely helping the dog realize that sometimes good things happen in the crate as well, but only when they are calm. Petting and sometimes even eye contact, can increase a dog’s energy. You are asking a lot of them…don’t make it harder on them by adding energy!
Under no circumstances should the treat be given to calm the dog down…the treat is there to reinforce behavior that the dog has already done: calmed themselves down. However, if your dog is already calm, feel free to give them an “extended” treat, as I call them: peanut butter filled Kong, marrow bone, antler, etc. Something that will take them a while to get through and keep them occupied.
Remember, you are trying to make something that, for some dogs, is truly terrifying, into something that is normal. That takes work, practice and calm. Stick with it. You will see results, and more importantly, your dog will not feel such despair when you’re gone.
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio