Major separation anxiety was the focus of a private lesson with a client today.  While there are many reasons why dogs develop separation anxiety, this particular case started because a client was home bound for an extended period of time due to medical issues.  She had just adopted her dog Woody, a 5 month old mix breed from the shelter about 4 weeks prior to her illness.  She adored this dog “to the max” because of his soft gentle nature.  He seemed like the perfect dog.  Further evaluation revealed she was very nurturing with the dog and home life with Woody lacked structure or training on a regular daily basis, because he just didn’t “seem to need it.”

The first change and first sign of separation anxiety in Woody was noticed when she recently returned to work and upon arriving back home the first day, she noticed the damage Woody had done to the moldings around the door and windows next to the back door leading to the garage.  Lack of structure in the home PLUS spending 24/7 with Woody while recovering had caused him to become seemingly inseparable from his owner.

Rx Treatment for Woody:

  • 1.  Putting structure into Woody’s life by requiring him to earn everything he wants, is the first step to building confidence in this insecure dog.
  • 2.  Having Woody perform sits and downs for everything from food and attention, to walks and potty breaks is just the beginning.
  • 3.  We began to revisit obedience training on regularly scheduled training sessions for these “sits and downs” so that we could begin to put structure and expectations into his life.  This will cause him to look at her in a different light – a strong leader.
  • 4.  At the same time, we began a program of desensitization to her departure ques such as picking up her car keys, purse, coat etc.

Perhaps the most difficult part of all is the implementation of the plan and consistency by the owner to cure the separation anxiety.  If she is so motivated, she will change and eventually Woody will change – all for the better.  And, depending on the dog, it could be weeks or months before meaningful progress is seen.

The interesting thing, is that it could all have been prevented had she begun to put structure in the life with the dog when he first came into her home.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children, and remember: “Opportunity Barks!”

Jim Burwell’s Petiquette