Leaving and returning: how not to create seperation anxiety

Separation anxiety (a dog being stressed out when you leave) is something that a lot of people deal with. In puppies, I would go so far to say it’s normal, and important that they learn that just because you leave doesn’t mean you aren’t coming back. (That’s true with adults dogs, too, but most puppies go through it.)

So here we go: when you leave and return is when you have the best shot of creating, or not creating, separation anxiety.

When you leave the house, give your dog something good. This could be breakfast, some treats, a bone. I’ve handed my dogs toys that are laying around. (They look at me like I’ve gypped them.) It doesn’t need to be fabulous, just okay. Then, leave the house. At most you can say something like, “I’ll be back later!” but don’t make a fuss over it. If you’re upset at leaving, your dogs will pick up only that you’re upset but not why, and they’ll be upset as well. If you act like it’s a non-event, they’ll believe it’s a non-event.

The harder part is returning home. Everyone wants to greet their dogs and get kisses, but it’s important to remember what’s best for your dog. If you act like coming home was a big deal, and you reward their hyper behavior, they’ll start to believe that hyper behavior will bring you home. Hyper behavior turns into anxious behavior rapidly.

So when you come home, stay calm. Put down your purse or your wallet, take off your jacket, get yourself a glass of water. Wait until your dog is wiggly but not manic and then, calmly, say hello. My dogs get pets, ear rubs, and they give me happy wiggles and kisses. They don’t need to be totally calm, but they need to be on the calm end of happy.

Now what your dog is learning is that you’re happy to see them, but returning is still a non-event and, more importantly, what will get rewarded is happy, calm behavior.

If your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety, congratulations! I’d still do this, just to make sure it never develops. If they do, start with this (and the other tips under the anxiety tag), and it will begin to help.

Jenna

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