One of the wonderful things dogs provide us with is companionship. Who of us isn’t flattered when our dog follows us around from room to room, staring at us in adoration. But sometimes this behavior can become extreme. Some dogs may become clingy and obsessed about being near us, to the point where we may actually trip over our dogs as we’re moving from room to room.
This clinging behavior is a very common phenomenon with young puppies who are away from their littermates for the first time, older dogs who may be losing their vision or hearing and may therefore be a bit anxious, or dogs dealing with a significant life change such as a new home, new family member, child returning to school, or adults returning to work.
This need to be close only becomes problematic if your dog develops separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a serious emotional problem where the dog becomes stressed and panicked when his owner leaves. Signs of separation anxiety include:
It is very easy to confuse bad house manners with separation anxiety. Just because your dog chews your coach while you are gone, doesn’t mean he has separation anxiety. It may just mean that he did not get enough exercise before you left, that he has no toys to chew on or is just bored. Just because your dog soils in the house doesn’t mean he has separation anxiety. It could be that your dog is not truly housebroken, perhaps you didn’t give your dog enough time to potty before you left, maybe your dog ate something he shouldn’t have eaten, or perhaps your dog’s feeding schedule (and therefore his potty schedule) were just off that day.
If your dog has true separation anxiety, you may need to recruit help from a professional. Otherwise, the best thing you can do for your dog to prevent separation anxiety is to teach your dog to be confident and independent.
One way to make your dog feel more confident is by teaching him some basic obedience commands using positive training methods and lots of verbal praise. Start by teaching your dog to lie down and stay. Once your dog is able to stay in place for several minutes with you in the room, teach your dog to stay when you leave the room. Leave your dog for very short periods of time at first, and then build up to several minutes. Eventually, ask him to stay as you move around the house. Set your dog up for success by giving him a long lasting item to chew on while you are moving about.
Another confidence builder is implementing a Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) program. Before you do anything for your dog, ask your dog to do something you want first. Ask your dog to sit before you feed him. Ask your dog to lie down before you take him out the front door for his walk. Ask your dog to shake before petting him. The NILIF program teaches your dog that he has the means to make good things happen.
Provide your dog with plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation. Take your dog for a long walk right before you are getting ready to leave the house. This will encourage your dog to sleep while you are gone.
Do not make a big deal out of your exits and entrances. Make leaving the house and returning to the house very low key. If your dog acts crazy the minute you come home, ignore him until he settles down.
Give your dog something to do when you leave the house. Hide treats for him to find, give him a Kong toy stuffed with food, or give him a treat dispensing toy that requires your dog to work at getting the treats to fall out.
It’s no fun and not healthy for our dogs to experience extreme’s in stress. One of the best things we can do for our dogs is to teach them to be confident and independent.
If you are interested in reading more about separation anxiety, try I’ll Be Home Soon! How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety by Patricia B. McConnell, or Don't Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog's Separation Anxiety by Nicole Wilde.