Separation Anxiety - Common Questions and Answers
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is an involuntary panic disorder experienced by some dogs, which usually presents itself through three main behaviours:
Many dogs will show one or more of these behaviours when experiencing alone time, along with many other stress related behaviours such as pacing, drooling and panting.
Common Questions about separation anxiety
Do food toys help with separation anxiety in dogs?
Does exercise help separation anxiety?
Is my dog behaving out of spite?
Does spoiling a dog create separation anxiety?
Can separation anxiety be cured?
Should I crate my dog if it has separation anxiety?
So what are the facts about Separation Anxiety?
Food toys do not cure separation anxiety
Unfortunately, food toys are often ineffective in treatment for separation anxiety cases. Many dogs will not eat when anxious and so may leave the toy untouched until their owner returns. Even if they do use the food toy whilst their owner is gone, there are negative consequences that can come of this:
The presentation of the food toy can become a negative cue that you are about to leave. In these situations we have essentially conditioned the dog that the toy is a bad thing.
- The dog is only distracted for the time that it is eating the food, and eating the food itself does not mean they are not feeling anxious. As soon as they finish eating, their anxiety will build again.
- If you are filming your dog whilst gone, this can give you a false representation of how long they can cope.
Exercise doesn't solve separation anxiety problems
Although exercise is essential for a dog generally, it is not a solution in itself for separation anxiety. An exercised dog is just a tired dog. They will still have the ability to panic, feel anxious and afraid and so will have very little impact during alone time.
Exercise is just a small part of the picture in helping to treat a dog with separation anxiety, along with a number or other measures.
Your dog is not behaving our of spite
One of the common misconceptions about separation anxiety is that the dog is intentionally exhibiting the behaviours as it is resentful that you have left them. Unlike humans, dogs do not have the cognitive ability to behave out of spite. They are behaving this way because they are panicking.
Crating a dog is not a solution in itself for separation anxiety
Confinement anxiety (fear of being confined in a small space, crate or pen) has been found to be strongly linked to separation anxiety. Although general crate training is great for many reasons and allows a dog to have a safe space when their owners are home, it can be in-effective in helping dogs with separation anxiety behaviours. With separation-related behaviours, crates will only work to contain the dog from destroying items or toileting in the house, and not to treat the anxiety itself.
Crating your dog does not stop the panic they are feeling and they may actually feel less anxious being free in the house
Spoiling your dog has no impact on whether it will suffer separation anxiety
“Spoiling activities such as allowing the dog on the owners bed or feeding the dog from the table also were not associated with separation anxiety” – Gerrard Flannigan and Nicholas H Dodman 2001
The scientific understanding of separation anxiety is that it is an evolutionary trait in almost all social animals. Like PTSD, OCD, generalised anxiety and phobias, separation anxiety is an involuntary panic disorder, essentially A fear of being alone .
Separation anxiety can be treated
Separation anxiety will not go away on its own, but it CAN be treated. The best method for treating separation anxiety is a process called Systematic De-sensitisation. This is a specific programme of exposing your dog to micro-separations at a very slow pace, and at a level where they remain relaxed at all times. Their panic level (threshold) is determined on the individual dog's behaviour and body language whilst experiencing alone time.
Through separation anxiety training, the dog determines the pace every step of the way.
What do you need to start separation anxiety training?
Cameras or smartphones - Separation anxiety is best treated remotely with the use of internal cameras, phones or laptops. This enables us to monitor our dog's natural behaviour without the presence of a stranger.
Internet - A good internet speed is essential.
Commitment to training - Owners need to be very committed and patient to deal with separation anxiety. Progress is often measured over months rather than weeks, and regressions are very common.
Where do I start with Separation Anxiety Training?
It is important when starting your separation anxiety training journey that you contact a specialist. CSAT's (Certified separation anxiety Trainers) have had extensive training and understand how to read a dog's body language and identify individual stress signals.
I have had the pleasure to train to be a CSAT with Malena DeMartini, and can help you to create a personalised training programme which helps your dog to understand that alone time can be safe
The right help is out there, find out more on the button below:
Katie Brill (CSAT, PACT-KSA, ABTC-ATI)
Certified separation anxiety Specialist
Originally written May-23, Updated on 13th February 2024