Separation Anxiety: The Dog or You?

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by jtclough on May 10, 2010

As a professional dog trainer in San Diego I get many calls requesting information about the best way to train a dog with separation anxiety.  Many dogs end up in my exclusive dog training camp with this problem and in most cases the resolution comes from three simple things.


This works for both people and dogs!  I know it sounds so incredibly simple, but in actuality it is one of the most overlooked solutions.  Exercise.  Walking.  Running. Movement.

One of the aspects of separation anxiety is the nervous unfocused energy that doesn’t have an outlet.  It comes out in whining, spinning around, pacing, or other behaviors like chewing.  Exercise takes that edge off of nervous energy.  For dogs and for people.

Clearly Understanding Sit

The idea of clearly understanding sit is a concept that most people don’t even realize their dog isn’t proficient at performing.  Especially if it’s an older dog.

Sit is something we say to our dogs over and over and over again but the missing piece to the puzzle is does your dog do it and hold it for more than half a second?  And can your dog sit in a variety of scenarios?

A dog who likes food may easily sit under your feet at the table while you are eating waiting for a tidbit to drop, or even an offering from you straight from the table but sitting at an open door before going out is another story.

Sitting while other people pass by, while anther dog appears, in the car while in transit, or when introduced to anything new is another story.  This is where clearly understanding sit makes a difference.

By working with sit in all of the scenarios and following through so your dog can actually do it with duration makes a big difference in confidence.  In other words, your dog isn’t sure what to do when the nerves take over and without an action you can redirect your dog to do, the anxiety will take over.

Clearly training your dog to sit will take patience on your part and realizing that such a simple act can be such a huge confidence booster can be a relief as an owner of dog suffering from separation anxiety.

Human Attitude

Here is one that could be a much bigger factor than one would want to admit.  Even without the exercise or the training to follow through, our projections of emotions hugely affect dogs.

Once a dog starts showing signs of anxiety people tend to play right into it.  The reason dogs who come to my dog training camp show much less of the behavior from the get go is attitude.  My attitude is one in which playing into what has happened in the past isn’t part of the picture.  If a dog looks pathetic when I ask for a sit, letting the dog get away with that behavior isn’t going to help anything.

Just like the preschooler who clings for dear life to a mother’s leg because he doesn’t want to go to school, there has to be a time where you peel off the security blanket and guide them to the next step.  It builds the confidence in the child.  It allows learning to take place.  If you left the child to cling, never having to go to school, confidence would never happen.

Dogs with anxiety are unsure of what to do and have never been guided through the process so they know what to do.  You have to in a sense peel them off your leg and teach them confidence.  Looking pathetic is no different than the crying fit a child will throw.  Though it isn’t pretty we still lead them down the path of what to do instead of allowing them to continue the crying fit.  Same with a dog.  Big round sad eyes, shaking or whining is like a crying fit.  If you foster the behavior it will continue.

It is where the anxiety can become your problem and not the dog’s.

What To Do

Get out and get fit with your dog.  Clearly work on training concepts like sit in all scenarios and don’t fall into feeling sorry for your dog because of the sad look.  The best rescue is instilling confidence through guiding your dog on the path of what to do even in those times when it doesn’t at first feel comfortable.

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©Jt Clough K9 Coach, Inc 2010

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Is exercise the key to a well behaved dog?
May 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm


1 Nicole May 11, 2010 at 9:17 am

This article is really interesting; its simple and its a new way of looking at things. My dog never ever sits and he has the most severe separation anxiety that most people have ever seen. we have tried everything and are still trying everything we can find. One thing i know for sure is that attitude really has a lot to do with it. As far as the sitting, i never looked at it this way but it makes sense now, i’m going to look further into it. and exercise is always key, but my dog gets plenty of that. Hope this article helps others.

2 Dog training Sarah May 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Thank you for an interesting and well thoughtout article.

The point about lack of excersise being a cause of a number of problems is one I agree with and have warned people about in the past.

I think this is an important point and have told visitors to my site to come and read your article, I have also tweeted about your article

.-= Dog training Sarah´s last blog ..Is exercise the key to a well behaved dog? =-.

3 Ricardo Bueno May 20, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I haven’t had a dog in a while now (last one was named Tango)… But what I loved was to be able to go to the Rosebowl and do 3 mile runs with him. It was good company and refreshing as all heck!
.-= Ricardo Bueno´s last blog ..Open Discussion: If you knew then, what you know now… =-.

4 Dianne Ruth January 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm

My dog had a heck of a time whenever I was about to leave the house. Funny how they can tell these things. Now I take him for a walk before I leave and he is much more calm about my departures.

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