Corey McCusker 00:03
Hello dog lovers, and welcome to Muttz with Manners Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup – young or old – so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach. Along with me, I have my co-host Diane Purser, Canine Educator.
Diane Purser 00:28
Hi, everyone. Thanks for listening in.
Corey McCusker 00:30
We have a passion for pups, and we thank you for joining us today. Today’s topic is Separation Anxiety.
Diane Purser 00:39
Corey, this behaviour can happen at any time in a dog’s life. The perfect example is the pandemic we went through in 2020-2021, where people’s activities changed quickly and dramatically. So if we don’t recognize it and take steps to help our dog, this can be very stressful for not only the dog but also their owner and family.
Corey McCusker 01:06
Exactly. So today we’re going to touch on what is separation anxiety? What are the causes of it? What behaviors may a dog exhibit when they are anxious? And what tips can we provide you to help prevent or deal with it?
Diane Purser 01:23
Corey, like all of our podcast information and tips, we know that in most cases, we’re not able to give you everything you might need to work on by yourself in this podcast. So we will always, at the end of the podcast, give you ways to find more information or how to contact Muttz with Mannerz for personalized help. Corey, what is separation anxiety?
Corey McCusker 01:48
Diane, let’s talk about the textbook definition. Separation anxiety is a condition in which the dog becomes upset when separated from one or more humans with whom he has hyper-bonded. A dog with true separation anxiety experiences severe panic attack when he is left alone. Escapes attempted by a dog with separation anxiety can be extreme and may result in self injury. Household destruction often occurs, especially around exit points like windows and doors. Some dogs have even jumped through windows in their desperate attempt to find their humans. This is extreme and the point that we want to avoid ever getting to. Separation related behaviours vary in intensity from one dog to the next. Milder forms of the behaviour, or more appropriately called ‘separation distress’, while the full-blown panic attack truly deserves the label separation anxiety. Diane, I think Tippy, one of your previous dogs, had the milder form of separation distress.
Diane Purser 02:57
Yes, actually, she’s a very good example of that. Tippy came from a bad background, very anxious dog, wasn’t treated well, and so when she came into our home and had a loving, stable family, she very quickly became very strongly attached to me. And what I noticed, unbeknownst to myself, I was causing an anxious behavior in her. And it was as simple as me having the routine of every time I was going to leave the house, going into our bathroom, and putting on mascara. Which she started to soon realize was an indicator that I was about to leave her. So of course, once I realized that I was causing this mild form – it was not severe – mild form, the easiest thing for me to do was as soon as possible was to change up my routine, do things in a different way, so that she wouldn’t be anxiously waiting and watching for me to do a certain behaviour myself that would cause anxiety for her. And over time, we were absolutely able to control that and help her through that to the point where it didn’t faze her at all.
Corey McCusker 04:18
Diane Purser 04:19
Now Corey, you also have an example but the opposite, you have with your Danes, extreme separation anxiety.
Corey McCusker 04:29
Yes, I had two Great Danes. Now, I had them at separate times, so my first Great Dane I rescued – Tiny – who was a little bit older, so about three and a half, and when I brought him home, hyper-bonded to me like we talked about. I had taken some time off just to adjust him and then I had to go back to work. So what was happening when I went back to work – Tiny wasn’t crated, so I left him free in the house. Well, what would happen was he would be pacing, drooling and actually went through the window of my home where one of my neighbours found him and put him in the backyard. So with him, I had to get in a dog walker. I worked with a trainer to just help build his confidence. I then had another Great Dane, Kira, who was much younger. She was about a year old, and she again hyper-bonded to me. And when I went back to work, she would not be crated. So I would put her in the bedroom, knowing what happened with Tiny, and actually the baseboard and the doors were destroyed. I ended up you know, again, bringing in another dog walker, I actually tried daycare with her. She was not good in daycare. So they both ended up after months of consistent routine, bringing in dog walkers to building their confidence. They both were able to stay at home and be without me when I went to work. So it was a very traumatic experience, not only for the dogs, but also for me, especially coming home and seeing the stress that they had been under and the destruction that they had created.
Diane Purser 06:16
Yeah, it’s not a nice sight. It’s not a nice thing to watch.
Corey McCusker 06:20
Before we talk about how they develop separation anxiety, I want to talk just about how the behaviors can develop in the dog. So can you touch on that, somewhat the causes?
Diane Purser 06:34
Well, the key to ensuring that your dog doesn’t develop separation anxiety or stopping it at its mildest form is to understand, of course, just like you said, how it happened. Now, one example is dogs that are being re-homed. So while it’s not at all uncommon for a dog who has found themselves all of a sudden in a shelter, or being re-homed in a rescue to develop separation anxiety, remember everything that they have been used to, and all of the humans that they had loved and spent time with, all of a sudden are gone. And they can feel abandonment and loss. This is very common. A simple change, though in schedule, or the loss of a family member through divorce, death, or a child that’s now going off to university or starting a job somewhere, these can also cause these feelings to develop in the family pet. A move to a new home could also have an impact. So as you mentioned at the beginning, your pup needs help to transition through these changes, just like any other family member would do in order to build their independence and confidence. Another cause that many owners are not aware of is their own behaviour towards their dog when they experience the change, and have fear or show timid behaviour. We mentioned the importance of building the confidence and independence. It’s natural for us as the owner to want to nurture and protect, but we’re doing them a disservice when we coddle them, or when they’re nervous, say at the vet and we’re going, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” Or you’re walking them and it comes across something that it’s afraid of and you pick it up and you’re, “Don’t worry, I’ll look after you. Don’t worry.” None of this is helpful. This behaviour in us can actually be counterproductive, as the dog is learning to rely on us to protect them and get them through everything. So by coddling them, you’re reinforcing the fear or anxiety.
Corey McCusker 08:41
Exactly. And I’ve seen that just so many times. You know, you mentioned separation anxiety. You know we just experienced when the pandemic came out. And I think there was a couple things I just want to point out. In the pandemic, everybody went from working, and then we’re working from home, so the dog had them all the time. Another time this can actually happen is when summer comes and everybody takes vacations and they come home. So there’s that – you know they go from that change, the transition of the routine changes. So you know, you’ve mentioned some really good points there. And I think people aren’t even aware. You know just taking a vacation in your home and you go back to work. That’s like a simple change, but for the dog, it’s a big change.
Diane Purser 09:24
Corey McCusker 09:25
Yeah. So what should we be looking for, to see, you know we just talked about some of the causes. So what are the behaviours that we might see? And separation anxiety is more than just a whimper when you pick up your keys or leave the house or put on your mascara maybe. To some it may seem like an untrained dog, but the unusual behaviour your dog is exhibiting in your absence may be signs of separation anxiety. And these behaviours include barking, howling, or whining excessively, chewing, and destroying property. I talked about, you know baseboards and going through windows. But it could be as simple as shoes, pillows, furniture or your clothing. The dogs might be having accidents. So they might be urinating or pooping in the house, like you come home and you find it, drooling, panting or salivating excessively, and trying to escape. So I talked about them trying to escape the windows, and sometimes the doors, but even if they’re crated, you might find they’re chewing or scratching at their crates trying to get out. And you might also see intense pacing.
Diane Purser 10:40
So Corey, I just want to jump in for one second, because you mentioned about the anxiety from being in the crate. And I know we talked about this, and it’s important for people to know that crate training the proper way will not cause the crate to be a problem. But again, that’s another topic that I know you can lead them to that information – we have a blog on for sure.
Corey McCusker 11:04
Yes, which we’ll include in the show notes. But a very good point, because once they become confident and independent in the routine, they’re comfortable in their crates. I’m sure many people listening, that do crate their dogs know that their crates they sometimes go to for comfort or to just sleep. So I’ve mentioned a number of symptoms, and some of these symptoms may result in self-injury. So in order to prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety, it’s important to help your dog be independent of the family. And we just mentioned one of the most important ways is to manage this by the crate training. So as I said, we’ll provide a link in the show notes for more information on crate training. So if you play with them all day, they’re going to get used to that constant attention. And they’re going to depend on your presence, which is completely unrealistic for the average family or owner. We all need to come and go. And it’s important that your dog can be on their own when we do go.
Diane Purser 12:04
So Corey, then how are we going to prevent this or stop its progression, once it starts?
Corey McCusker 12:10
Some of the things I want to recommend, if you ever have taken classes with me, you’re going to hear me say routine, boundary and structure. Keeping your dog’s schedule consistent. So when you walk them, their feeding times, their play times, their nap or rest periods. Leave your dog alone at home a couple times a week, but first start in the house. So don’t just go to work and you haven’t done any work with them being alone in the home. Again, crate them during the day. A lot of people just crate them during the nighttime for sleeping but crating them during the day. And then also try leaving them in one room while you go to another room. So getting them used to not having your presence right there beside them all the time. So as I said, start with short separations, and then you can gradually increase it over a span of a couple of weeks. When you do leave the house, don’t make it a big deal. Don’t be like, “Okay, I’m going. You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay.” You know Diane talked about that coddling, You know what? Just get ready, maybe put them in a crate, maybe five minutes before you’re leaving, just go around doing your business. And then just go. And also, when you return, make sure you don’t make it a big deal when you return. Maybe come in, just go have a glass of water, put your stuff down, and then let the dog, just you know, get used to you being back in there. And then you know, go over and pet them. Make sure your dog gets tons of exercise. And I don’t mean just physical, I mean mental too – as a tired dog will be less stressed. So when you are taking them for a walk or maybe doing some obedience even before to mentally drain them, that’s really important. Provide new toys to encourage independent activities. There are a million toys out there that you can get for them. There’s a lot, like with Kongs, that you can fill them, that can kind of get them to play with a little bit longer than just, you know, a stuffed animal or something like that. Also, some people will consider daycare so that they have some time away from the home and as they’re away from the home they can socialize with other dogs and daycare staff. Another option which I utilized was a dog walker and have that dog walker come in daily to provide them with some exercise and some companionship. So those are just some of the ways that we would suggest and recommend that you help them, either preventing the separation anxiety or helping them get used to being on their own.
Diane Purser 14:46
Great information, Corey. Lots of it for everyone to digest. So to wrap up this important topic, we know, as we mentioned, separation anxiety can happen at any time in the dog’s life. And it can happen for a variety of reasons. We hope that the information that we’ve given you has made you aware of what it is and how it can be caused, the different behaviours your dog may exhibit when they’re anxious, and tips to help you prevent and deal with it. Remember, build a solid foundation for your dog to be able to establish confidence and independence.
Corey McCusker 15:25
And if you are struggling with it and concerned, please reach out and get help whether it’s a trainer, a behaviouralist, or even your vet. We want to thank you for joining us today to learn about separation anxiety. And to learn more, or to listen to our other podcasts, please visit our website, www.muttzwithmannerz.com. If you have ideas for future podcasts, or any questions, please email Corey@muttzwithmanners.com. If you would like us to help you with separation anxiety, please contact us. Any last words, Diane?
Diane Purser 16:06
No, I think that covers it for today. But thanks everyone for joining us and I hope you found this helpful.
Corey McCusker 16:13
Thanks everyone. Have a great day.