Separation Anxiety

Anxious dog
Separation Anxiety
What to do to prevent the start of Separation Anxiety (SA). This is some basic information of what to do and what not to do when you first add a new dog to your family.

Separation Anxiety

This is some basic information of what to do and what not to do when you welcome a new dog home to your family.

Firstly, try not to over fuss the dog. I know that it’s so hard, particularly if they are very clingy but just be careful they don’t become totally dependent on you. Basically, for the first few days be a bit hands off and if you already have existing dogs let the new dog take the lead from them.

Make sure your dog has a quiet place they can go to over the first few days. A crate can be a good idea, set up in another room away from the hustle and bustle of the other dogs, the children, etc.  Never force a dog into a crate. And we advise leaving the crate door open so they don’t feel trapped. As they settle, then you can see if you can close the door just for brief periods. You want the crate to be nice and cosy and every time they go in it, they should have a treat, maybe a chew.

However, some dogs hate crates and will become incredibly stressed and panic stricken. Some dogs are far more at ease on a comfy sofa – just bear in mind in a new environment, their stress levels and uncertainty may incite destructive behaviour/chewing, so supervise. Do remove anything of any value or harm to your dog. And please don’t be angry at them. They are simply trying to soothe themselves.

If you do need a crate, we can supply one. We use SAVIC RESIDENCE CRATE, XL. Remember the dog is going to be confused at first and things will seem strange. The dog may choose not to take themselves off and settle but if they do want time out then you have provided the bolt hole.

If you don’t have other dogs in the house then it is more important to encourage independence. If you don’t do this you could end up with problems resulting in separation issues. Bear in mind, most dogs in a new environment will find it a source of worry and display some degree of anxiety when their humans are not close. Stairgates are great tools, as you can fix onto a door frame of a room where the dog is, allowing you to move in and out of the room, whilst the dog can still see you and hear you. Lurchers can and do jump, so it might be a good idea to get an extra high one which you can find on Amazon.

From the very first day the dog arrives try to gently encourage independence. If there are more than one of you, then you can try one of you leaving, leaving one behind, then swapping, just to get them used to someone leaving, coming back, but they still have some comfort in another human. Go out into the garden and come back, repeat throughout the day. Try and give them some time alone each day. Do not shut a door on the dog, greyhounds especially tend to freak when presented with a solid door - yes, these dogs have been kenneled during their racing lives but they can still see out. Shut doors usually result in manic scratching, blind panic and damage.

For dogs who aren’t displaying problems start with five to ten minutes and continue pushing up the time. Remember consistency is the name of the game, don’t get complacent - your dog needs to gain confidence and feel secure.

If your dog is already showing signs of stressing after as little as a minute and starts to howl/whine/bark, see if it subsides. If they continue, then you will need to build up the time far more slowly. Maybe even a few seconds at a time! So alter the routine maybe – take the dog on a nice, leisurely, sniffy walk before trying again. The calmer the walk the better. If you are throwing a ball or they are running around frenetically, then you are likely to have a hyped up dog on your hands. When you get back from your calm walk, let them find a comfy spot and just stay nearby while they drift off. You can then try and move about a bit. They may get up as soon as you move, in which case, find a calm chore to do, and do this in the next room so they know you’re there. Maybe give the dog a chew and see if that helps.

Sometimes people carry out these methods and everything is going swimmingly then the following Monday I receive a call from the owner to say that their dog has chewed the carpet, soiled everywhere or the neighbours have complained about the barking. Why might this be? Because the weekend they have spent the whole time with the dog. The first few weekends of new dog ownership need to be kept to the routine - time out during the day, brief absences being built up. If you have the dog settling with your work routine, make sure you still leave the dog alone for an hour or two morning and afternoon Saturday and Sunday for the first few weeks.

HELP! My dog has full blown SA!

Now for the dog with fully blown SA. They follow you everywhere, and if they can’t be near you, they whine/howl/bark/pace/toilet/destroy. The most obvious reason is the dog is confused and stressed. 

Start to think from your dog’s point of view not your own, he/she doesn’t understand why sometimes when you get up to leave, you put on your shoes, you pick up your car keys, and you place on your coat, he/she gets to come but other times you leave them behind. They are also in a new environment and everything is a bit strange to them.

You should only work to the capacity your dog can cope with. It can be a very long and exasperating process so please do not expect this to go away overnight. In some cases, you will need professional guidance.

Things you may need to help deal with SA:

1 tall dog gate

Rescue Remedy (chemist)

Dorwest Valerian and Skullcap Tablets

Dap Diffuser (vets)

Possibly a Pet Interactive Camera (selection on Amazon)

Heaps of patience!

Be creative – sometimes leaving a radio on helps (something not too chaotic, maybe a talking channel), try them with some licky mats, kongs or some treats in a toilet roll innard.

The dog needs to become desensitized to the sequence of your leaving. So, first you need to break it all down. First, you need to go towards the door and back again. Do this over the course of the day, for a number of days, maybe even weeks. When they are at the stage of remaining calm, then you can up the ante, go towards the door and open the latch (thus desensitizing them to the sound cue), again do this repeatedly during the day for a few days. The sound of the latch can be very triggering, so you may need to spend more time on this. Then maybe go back and revisit the walking to the door step, then back to the sound cue. And so on and so forth. To your dog, these actions need to become normal and less of a worry.

When you leave the house for the first time, you need to make your absence short and come back straight away. Build up the time gradually. Just wait outside the front door. If whilst you are listening outside the dog barks or whines, don’t go back into the house immediately - wait and listen to see if they settle down. If they settle, return calmly.

It may escalate. It is unfair and counterproductive to leave a dog in a stressed state. Their stress levels may well induce panic and then they will associate your absence even more with severe anxiety. So, take a deep breath or several and enter CALMLY. Remaining calm is so important as your dog has shown signs of stress so you certainly don’t want them to be picking up on your stress as well. Perhaps you have moved too fast with the training. So, go back a step or two.

If your dog cannot cope with being left in a different room to you for long (or at all), then they will certainly not be able to cope with you leaving the house. So leave home absences out of the equation and if you do need to go out, then see if you can get a sitter. Over the next few days, continue with the desensitization.

The main results in SA dogs are maintained with consistency, do not think oh okay, after three days he has been fine, all sorted now! – stick with the routine. This is something the whole family needs to keep up, children, in laws, dog walkers, whoever. Also, if you return home and the dog has soiled, damaged whatever DO NOT reprimand them and do not use the training/safe area as somewhere to place the dog for punishment! Not rocket science but they will no longer feel safe and secure there, plus they will have no idea what they have done wrong.

You may feel you are getting nowhere and it can be an incredibly frustrating and testing time. Should you need to consult a behaviourist to assist and guide you, then please see our section on Behaviourists. There are some good behaviourists, worth their weight in gold, who use positive, scientific methods. Sadly there are a lot of bad ones too and it can be a bit of a minefield, so please do go by the sites we recommend.







Dogs for Adoption