What you need to know about anxiety in dogs
How do you train an anxious dog?
Many have experienced what it is like to own or live with a dog who has separation anxiety. Dog anxiety symptoms can be the nightmare you never wanted. And the dog didn’t choose to be this way either. Many people think that the dog does bad things for the sake of doing bad, to get attention, so as not to be left alone or simply to get what they want. Many people jump to a conclusion that bad behaviour is the result of puppy separation anxiety or dog separation anxiety. That is not necessarily the case, but the dog certainly could have legitimate anxiety issues. The concerning part of understanding the root cause of the undesirable behaviour, and if the behaviour is textbook anxiety, is first to look deep into the upbringing of the dog. For instance, many dog trainers say to implement routine into your dog’s life. This is the WORST thing to do, especially if a tinge of anxiety is waiting to be exploited. Routine submits the dog to zero creativity, locks a dog in to one process of day-in-and-day-out events. This makes travelling, moving or shifting the routine for the dog very difficult. Negative, dangerous emotional effects can push the dog to negative limits and these negative limits have a breaking point. Destruction of personal property, destruction of a home, howling, depression, barking and even running away. Routine might be good for people. An animal is not designed for routine, your dog needs stimulation not a brain-rot lifestyle to waste away in.
I have included an exert from another article, see below.
“1. Establish a predictable routine”
“Since your dog is anxious, you need to begin by making his day calmer and more predictable whether you are home or away. Establish a daily routine so that your dog can begin to predict when he can expect attention (including exercise, feeding, training, play and elimination) and when he should be prepared for inattention (when it should be napping or playing its favored toys). Try to schedule these times for object play and naps at times when you would normally depart.”
In my opinion, this is the worst advice and approach you could introduce and force onto the dog. I will break it down.
“Since your dog is anxious, you need to begin by making his day calmer and more predictable whether you are home or away.”
If the dog is anxious, the dog needs to gain confidence, needs a clear leader and needs to know proper accountability. Anxious dogs are typically under exercised mentally and physically. Just because the dog ran 10km does not mean the brain is tired. Balance is critical! In order to make the dog’s day calmer, exercise the dog so it not pining to go out with so much pent-up energy.
“Establish a daily routine so that your dog can begin to predict when he can expect attention (including exercise, feeding, training, play and elimination) and when he should be prepared for inattention.”
Dear lord, NO, no, no, this is pathetic and incorrect advice. In the above they state to “Establish a daily routine.” Which pretty much means lets rot the dog’s brain and set the dog up to continuously fail in the future because the dog has no coping mechanisms or strategies to feel safe.
“…your dog can begin to predict when he can expect attention.” This is an abomination to the animal dog. This sets the dog up for failure and teaches the dog that you are its slave, and you are to be there on its beck and call. You will notice in your own dog, if you have applied any of this advice your dog has become demanding. Thanks to terrible advice in many articles like the above the outcome for the dog is a disaster. Dogs should not be set up to predict when you should be home. If you are late getting home and the dog eats the couch, then you would blame yourself for being late. Wrong way to shape the expectation. Regardless if you are late or not the dog is not to have a free pass to eat a couch, or cause any other destruction. Give your dog tools to cope. Give your dog the gift of learning and expanding its toolbox with life skills. Add to your dog’s set of skills, do not isolate and minimize the capabilities your dog can achieve. Puppy anxiety and dog anxiety are mostly caused by bad dog trainers, giving bad advice. You can’t beat yourself up and be down on you and your dog if you have been taught and educated the wrong way.
“…expect attention (including exercise, feeding, training, play and elimination) and when he should be prepared for inattention.”
My skin crawls when I read this and when I have heard this type of nonsense from clients who have been spoon feed this garbage. “EXPECT” wow, when did the dog become our master, when did we sign up to be on call for such slavery to the dog. I have always understood from clients that they want a buddy, companion, dog friend, a side kick to go hiking and explore the world, hang out and grab a latte or glass of wine at a winery or a pint of beer at a brewery. This is a healthy life where you train and educate the dog to be a good dog citizen not be on call 24/7 to create a broken pet. Dogs do not expect, let’s get that straight.
“…and when he should be prepared for inattention.” The twilight zone is real if you follow this nonsense. Be prepared for inattention! Please dear lord, Insert a hard NO.
Tools you need for dog separation anxiety training
Train your dog, educate and raise expectations, stay far away from routine. Of course, some routine you will not be able to avoid. Expose your dog to as many sights, sounds and activities as possible. Start small and build up, create learning experiences everywhere. Don’t dummy your dog down. Tell yourself your dog can do this. Be patient and know this takes time. Eliminate baby childish talk to your dog. The dog needs a leader not a maid. Be the example and be strong. Don’t give up. People create broken dogs, very few dogs come broken. Some do, not many! You need to build a plan, specific to your dogs needs to fix the issue. You will need someone like myself who has 30 years’ experience and has an enormous amount of experience.
Some behaviours are irreversible, majority are fixable. I can promise you this one thing. The implementation of routine if pathetic and damaging. Any dog trainer who says that routine needs to be part of the training does not know how to help you. No positive results will be achieved.
Puppy separation anxiety is real, to minimize the negative effects do not remove the puppy from the mom until 9 weeks of age. The pup needs to be with siblings and mom to learn tools to get through life. Puppies removed before 8 weeks have more issues and are not set up with as many life skills.
Can you train separation anxiety out of a dog?
Simple tips to get you started with two of the most common issues around separation anxiety. Crate your dog and leaving the house. For these two situations where people get push back I suggest you put the pup in the crate for 30 seconds, then build up to 5 minutes, the 20, on hour and keep building. This works well with leaving the house. Leave the house to take out the recycling, come back in. Short duration of departure becomes longer and extended to the limits you set. The dog needs to know you are not deserting it, when you come back in to the house or let the dog out of the crate pay no attention. Do not say anything!
Secret tip for anxiety dog training
A secret tip I give clients is this powerful advice. Take the dog out for a busy adventure, lots of mental stimuli, sounds, smells, and place the dog into a sit well over 30 times, make it sit for up to 3 minutes at a time, not all the time. Keep the training fresh! Short sit stays, for 10 seconds, 40 seconds as an example. Stay away from a twenty-minute mundane same old walk, go down an ally, down different streets and get busy. Lead your dog!
This blog is a small glimpse of what I implement for my clients, every dog is different, and every dog require precise tools to battle anxiety issues. For more help in this space, I am available for Zoom consultations and Private dog training consultations.
Written by Brad Pattison, Dog Behaviourist, Vancouver Dog Trainer & Puppy Trainer
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