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With the many common myths and misconceptions swirling around about dogs - especially dogs with separation anxiety, it's not easy to find answers on how to have a relaxed, happy dog at home during alone time.
In this guide we're going to separate the true from the false, to help you understand separation anxiety in dogs and treating separation anxiety successfully in training sessions.
Here are 5 myths many pet parents whose dog has separation anxiety have heard disguised as advice, and 5 facts to listen to instead.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs Myth #1: Let your dog "bark it out."
The facts: Separation anxiety is a panic disorder.
It's a serious condition, much like panic attacks in humans. Dogs who fear being alone are in true distress and not in control of their behavior. Separation anxiety is not something your dog can control or behavior your dog decides to do, and not caused by you or something you did.
Excessive barking when home alone is one of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety will often bark excessively, sometimes for hours on end when left alone.
This might not seem too harmful - after all, it's just a dog barking, right? Unfortunately, this can actually cause your dog a lot of distress. And if your dog is left alone for long periods of time, this can lead to other serious issues like self-injury, destructive behaviors, and urinating or defecating indoors.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs Myth #2: You NEED to crate your dog and put your crate training to work to control your dog's behavior when left alone.
The facts: Crates are not the solution and can often increase most dogs' underlying anxiety and distress.
Many dogs with separation anxiety also have confinement anxiety. Crates often exacerbate separation anxiety and instead of having a calming effect, making your dog feel safer, they often have the opposite effect and heighten the frantic, anxious feelings. In more severe separation anxiety cases, dogs may harm themselves in desperate escape attempts.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs Myth #3: Allowing your dog on furniture or in your bed will trigger separation anxiety when you're not there
The facts: Studies on allowing dogs on furniture and in beds have shown zero correlation between behavior problems and access to furniture.
Many dogs love to be near us and enjoy sharing comfortable, cozy personal space. If your dog feels safest and most relaxed close to you, letting him or her on the furniture or in your bed is not going to cause any behavior problems.
In fact, dogs who have a lot of freedom and independence (including access to furniture and beds) are actually less likely to suffer from separation anxiety. So, enjoy your snuggle time with your dog!
Separation Anxiety in Dogs Myth #4: Physical contact or acknowledgement of your dog when you come home will make your dog's separation anxiety worse.
The facts: Ignoring your dog when you come home will not have an impact on behavior and can be confusing and cruel.
Dogs with separation anxiety often become ecstatic when their guardians return home. They may run and jump, bark and whine, and appear overly happy. This is not attention-seeking behavior - they're genuinely relieved to see you!
In fact, dogs who are ignored or scolded by dog owners when they show signs of excitement upon reuniting are often more prone to developing separation anxiety. So, go ahead and let your dog know you're happy to be home!
Separation Anxiety in Dogs Myth #5: You need to be the "leader," or "alpha," in your dog's mind because your dog is trying to be in charge.
The facts: Dominance and alpha theory have been debunked for more than 25 years.
Research and science-based behavioral studies have disproved this old theory for decades. Beware and stay miles away from any "trainer" who wants you to "show your dog who's boss" or some other excuse for using punishment and aversive techniques with your dog in a misplaced kind of "obedience training."
Positive training with an emphasis on building a strong, trusting relationship with your dog is key in successfully addressing your dog's anxiety!
Why you shouldn't listen to these myths
Whether you're trying to manage dog separation anxiety or puppy separation anxiety, these myths range from silly to dangerous and have no basis in science-based dog behavior knowledge.
Putting these myths into practice could put your relationship with your dog at risk and increase his or her fear and panic about being alone.
Make sure you're working with a qualified, force-free, science-based professional if your dog continues to show signs of separation anxiety.
Finding support for your dog & you
Now that we've busted some of the myths surrounding separation anxiety, what next?
If you're seeing anxious behaviors when you leave your dog alone, like...
- distress behaviors
- destructive behaviors
- house soiling (although completely house-trained)
- excessive salivation
- if your dog starts to get anxious at the first sign of potential triggers like departure cues such as car keys... there is hope!
Check in with your vet
First, check with your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. Other dogs have appeared on the surface to have separation anxiety, when in fact, GI issues were at the root of the problem.
Get help from a qualified separation anxiety professional
You'll also want to find a specially trained professional to guide and support your dog and you as soon as possible: a CSAT (certified separation anxiety trainer - like me), a CAAB (certified applied animal behaviorist), or a board certified veterinary behaviorist. All will understand your dog's underlying anxiety so that together you can address the underlying problem and reduce anxiety.
A dog sitter and/or a family member or friend can be part of your support system. Hint: most dogs with separation anxiety do well with any good human - doesn't have to be only you on hand.
Next up in the Anxiety Channel on Dogly
Now that you've learned the bad separation anxiety "advice" to not listen to, let's learn some good advice and teach your dog how to make the door a bore in the next Separation Anxiety guide here. Or jump to other step-by-step guides in the Anxiety Channel and learn how to help your dog stay calm outside of the house.
Hop over to the Anxiety Channel if you'd like to ask any of the Dogly Training Advocates who are all certified dog trainers a question in the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Environment Anxiety, Crate Anxiety, or Understanding Anxiety.
And if you ever need more personalized training help, please reach out to work with me one-on-one here on Dogly!