Is your dog experiencing additional anxiety coming out of your shutdown?
There are many solutions and options for helping to minimize your dog's anxiety. There's a little new anxiety for all of us coming out of shutdown but now that we've been released there are many dogs experiencing additional separation anxiety. This article is not a cure-all for separation anxiety but can maybe help to shed some light or provide some direction with what to do moving forward.
First let's talk about what causes Separation Anxiety. There are many different potential causes for this behavior but the most common is lack of direction. During shutdown we went from leaving to goto work everyday to spending all-day with our dogs, and now that everyone is headed out again dogs are now experiencing additional anxiety due to having to adjust back to owners heading out again.
Dogs prefer direction and understanding. When you're home your dog usually knows exactly what to do and when. The behavior can appear differently for every dog but for the most part they're doing what they believe they're supposed to be doing.
Does your dog follow you around everywhere you go?
When you're not around for them to follow now what? Exactly, they're lost without some direction. Once their owner is gone they feel lost, frustrated, and are looking for direction. When their human is not providing them direction they sense they are not where they're supposed to be which can be the cause for anxiety.
What do we do?
We have to teach and train our dogs to learn that we want them to stay, by themselves, and wait for our return. This sounds like a simple solution but many of you are probably thinking how am I supposed to get my dog to learn that. The solution for training this is called Point of Reference or place training.
Cesar offers a video explaining this process. The idea is to designate a space where you want your dog to reside until you return or until you provide direction for them to deviate. For some dogs this may seem impossible as sitting in-place is just not going to work. We would encourage you to be patient and not give up quickly. It can take hours to train a dog to do this process.
Cesar makes it look simple but remember he's a pro and for the purposes of this video he used dogs that were not completely new to this training.
Every dog is going to be different and it may take longer, shorter, or be different for your dog to perform the same. There're many variables here such as your dog's maturity, desire for reward, and experience. Be patient and pay attention to what your dog may be telling you with the results. Adjust as needed until you get the results you're looking for.
So here's an example of how we utilized this method to help our Frenchie stop crying every time we stepped outside. Thankfully he's not destructive, however, we still didn't like that he would cry every time we left. It felt like we had to make a run to the car just so we couldn't hear him cry. Not an ideal situation.
We observed the video and followed it to the best of our ability. We don't have a nice outdoor table like what he used but our dog does have a dog bed. We call it his Taco. You'll have to stop by the shop and ask us why we call his bed "Taco".
Our dog responds to positive affirmation like affection and praise best. He really likes our approval. So, when he does what we want a simple pat on the head and "Good Boy!" really does the trick. Other dogs may respond better to toys or food. You know your dog best. Our dog was already pretty comfortable and familiar with his dog bed so it was not a new idea for him to sit there but us leaving and tell him to stay there was.
We started with simply asking him to stay while we stood on the other side of the room. At first he was like, you're being weird, but then he went into receptive mode where he was ready for training. He really started to focus on what we were doing and trying to participate.
It took a little while for him to stop getting up and stay in his bed while we stood on the other side of the room. However, once he stayed we immediately gave him his reward which is praise. He still would look at us like we were silly but he did stay.
We gradually increased our distance and then duration. Always returning with reward for successful stays. We started to walk around the room and then even into a hallway where we could no longer be seen. It sounds like it was quick. It was not. When he moved or left his bed we took him back to his bed and started over. If he did not stay with a particular distance or duration we simply reverted back to the previous location and duration until we regained desired results.
After performing this exercise for about 30-60 minutes our dog was getting the idea that we wanted him to stay in his bed. That was the direction we wanted and once he started to realize that we wanted him to stay it became easier and easier over time.
For us to leave outside the house this was the most difficult part. There're many common sounds and indicators that quickly reminded our dog that we were going to be gone and training was out the window. Consistency and persistence shall prevail and we were able to see successful results with stepping outside. We had to wait outside for up to 15 minutes sessions before we finally could start to really leave without the crying but we finally got there.
It's Never Done
Many people look at training a dog as "they're trained now". Dog training is a continual thing and must be continually administered for it to maintain its affect. We have to remember to always tell our dog to stay before we leave. If we don't, he cries, starts to regress, and when he does we have to begin the training again.
Consistency and followthrough are key for training to be most effective. We can now leave our dog at home and he seems to be much better now that he knows we want him to stay at the house, we do return, and he's rewarded for doing so.
Training a dog has many benefits and does require work but it can be well worth the investment. We're much happier now and glad we were able to find some information about what to do with separation anxiety for our situation. The video provided by Cesar was not created just for our situation but we were able to successfully get our dog to stop crying every time we stepped outside. We don't want to end this article with it sounding like everything is now perfect either. We've had to retrain a few times and still forget to tell him to stay so mistakes will happen. Just know that you're working on it and it will get better with time and practice. It may never be perfect and that's ok. Just remember to keep trying, be patient with yourself and your dog, and you will succeed.