It’s not just people who suffer from separation anxiety.
Dogs can also experience what is referred to as “Canine Separation Anxiety”. And there are some classic symptoms to watch for.
What Causes Canine Separation Anxiety?
Your poodle may be exhibiting some – if not all – of the traits mentioned above while you’re away from the house.
If so, you’re naturally concerned because your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. And if he’s destroying stuff, it’s a very expensive problem!
He’s NOT Being a Bad Dog
Stay with me here. Your dog is living in a world he does not understand.
And he has picked up on the idea that he is responsible for you, not the other way around.
Sometimes, inadvertently, we send signals to our dog telling him that he is the pack leader without even realizing it!
In his mind, he is responsible for the well-being of his pack. And that’s YOU.
He’s Worried About You
Your dog is not trying to get even with you for leaving him alone. He’s genuinely worried about you, maybe even frantic.
Imagine how a parent feels when his preschooler has strayed from the yard or is lost in a crowd.
And imagine how much worse it would be if you were trapped and could not even get to your missing child!
If your dog is suffering from canine separation anxiety, it’s because he believes he is alpha dog. He thinks he’s in charge of you. And that responsibility is too much for him to cope with in a world he doesn’t understand.
3 Ways We Make the Problem Worse
1. We make a big fuss of our dog before leaving. We know our dog is going to stress out, so we try to reassure him it’ll be alright.
This elevates the status of the dog. More on that later…
2. We stress out. We’re concerned about the dog barking or tearing up the house while we’re gone. Dogs pick up on our anxiety about leaving them alone. This makes the dog worry more.
Except he’s worried because we’re leaving and he can’t protect us and now he thinks we’re worried about that too.
3. We make a big fuss over him when we return. Because we feel guilty about leaving our dog alone.
Again, this elevates his status above ours in the dog’s mind.
Help For Dogs with Canine Separation Anxiety
As you know, dogs have their own way of communicating, which is different from ours. We think we are communicating clearly with our dog, but he may be receiving an entirely different message!
The problem comes in when he gets the wrong message regarding his status in the pack. Without realizing it, we may be sending him signals that he is the decision maker, and consequently the leader.
Watch as Tony demonstrates one way that we can help to turn that around.
Who is the Decision Maker?
There are 4 main areas where your dog is asking the question “Who is the decision maker”?
- Separation & Reuniting with the Pack (when you come home) – who is the leader now? This is reestablished every single time you return home. Your dog needs to respect your personal space.
- Food – when the pack eats, who eats first? The alpha dog always eats first. When he walks away, that signals to the other dogs that they can eat.
- Danger – who is going to protect us? When he’s barking at something, he’s trying to alert us to perceived danger. Our calm response reassures him that we’ve got the problem covered.
Yelling at him will only make him think that you have no control over the danger either and are just as stressed as he is!
- The Hunt (or in our case, taking a walk) – who is going to lead us? Pulling on the lead tells us that our dog is trying to lead the pack. “Stop, start, change direction” helps him to understand that we make that decision.
Even though our poodles have been domesticated, they are still wild at heart. And their status in the pack is established based on the 4 areas listed above.
We want our dog to look to us for leadership in all of these areas. They need to receive the same answer every time they ask the question “Where do I fit in the pack?”
There is much more that can be said about communicating with your dog in a language he understands. I HIGHLY recommend the book “Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell for a thorough understanding of this subject. Another great resource is Tony Knight’s ebook “Think Like a Dog”.
Once you have established yourself as pack leader, your dog’s canine separation anxiety will disappear and you’ll enjoy a relaxed and rewarding relationship with your dog.
Best wishes to you and your four-legged BFF!