SEPARATION ANXIETY – ENCOURAGING INDEPENDENCE

As discussed is a previous article, dogs with a secure attachment to at least one person are less likely to suffer from separation anxiety, as long as the dog isn’t isolated too early.  The longer you spend with your dog whilst he’s young, the more secure he’ll feel and the more likely to feel comfortable with some independence.

There are some easy ways in which your dog can be rewarded for choosing to spend time away from you.

Take a Kong and put a piece of rope or strong string through the middle.  Tie a large knot in the bottom end of the rope.  You now have a Kong that can be tied to something static, such as a radiator or the inside of the dog’s crate.

Fill the Kong with something that dog really, really enjoys.  I wouldn’t worry too much at this point whether the food is healthy or not, just make sure that your dog loves it, and that ideally it’s very smelly!

Tie the Kong to something that the dog can’t move that’s in a different room to the one that you’re going to spend time in, and make sure he has something comfortable to lie on.

Ideally the dog will leave you to investigate the smell of food in the other room.  He won’t be able to bring the Kong back to you as it’s tied to something, so if he choses to stay and eat what’s in the Kong, the content of the Kong is his reward for choosing to spend time away from you.  If after about 5 minutes the dog hasn’t left you to investigate, casually walk into the other room without saying anything, and see if your dog notices the Kong and starts to eat.  If he does, quietly leave the room.

It’s important at this stage that if he wants to, he’s able to come back to you, so make sure that you do not lock him in a room.  We want this to be voluntary.   He won’t develop the confidence to explore if when he plucks up the courage to leave you, you then lock him in the room.

Leave some great treats like smelly sprats in different rooms, initially in plain sight, again rewarding him for exploration.  When you see him becoming more confident about spending time away from the members of your family, you can start hiding the treats so that he has to sniff them out.  Sniffing releases serotonin which promotes happiness, and dopamine which promotes optimism and motivation, further rewarding the pup for increased independence.