Teaching a Pup to Stay Calm to Stop His Separation Anxiety

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 1, 2015

Clark

Clark is a seven-month-old Boxer Pitbull mix who has a case of Separation Anxiety. His owner said that when they leave for work, he drools in his kennel to such an extent that at first they thought it was urine.

When I arrived for the session, one of his owners was holding him back while he barked and jumped around excitedly. While her intent was to keep him from jumping up on me, holding him back physically was actually intensifying his reaction.

I asked her to let him go, then stepped forward once he rushed towards me so I could claim my personal space. This confused him, but only for a moment. He circled around me while barking in an excited but not aggressive manner.

I used some hand signals to define my personal space and gave him an opportunity to calm down on his own. When he continued to bark and jump up, I put him on a leash. As soon as I did, his barking stopped, but he continued to pull so I stepped on the leash about two feet from his head. He pulled and tried to get away for a moment, then sat down with a thud to my right. By taking away his ability to jump around and get all worked up, Clark’s energy level dropped right away.

I suggested that his owners apply this technique any time he got so excited he couldn’t control himself, then went over some new non verbal communication methods. Bully breeds such as Boxers and Pitbulls like to play in a physical way. When you are physical when correcting them, it often sends the wrong message. By putting the dog in a time-out with the leash this way, we put him in a position to control himself. This ability will go a long ways toward stopping Clark’s Separation Anxiety.

I also recommended that they get him a minimum of 30 minutes of constructing exercise every day. Pent up energy can be a contributing factor when dealing with a young dog with Separation Anxiety. His owners had been taking him to a dog park a few times a week, but that should never be a dogs sole energy release. Often it can cause issues at the dog park with other dogs who may not be completely balanced. Thats why I only take dogs to a dog park AFTER a good walk or run.

Next I tossed a high value treat into his kennel to gauge his perception of it. When he trotted right in without any hesitation, I knew that it wasn’t a sever case of Separation Anxiety. As I discussed this with his owner, she mentioned that he followed her everywhere she went. While this behavior isn’t horrible by itself, it usually represents a dog who has strongly imprinted on a human. When the human is out of sight, the dog feels incomplete and panics.

Before you can ask a dog to stay calm when his owner is out of sight, the dog needs to have the ability to stay on its own. I suggested that they teach Clark the “stay” command and then gradually increase the amount of time once he understands the concept. Once Clark can stay consistently, his owner will need to practice asking him to stay while she goes into another room out of his sight.

The ability to “stay” this way will help Clark’s confidence and ability to deal with the situation when his owner is not around.  If your dog follows you everywhere you go in your home, Id recommend you master the “stay” as well.

I tossed in a few additional meat treats one at a time, then tossed one in and followed quietly behind him until I was standing in the door of the kennel blocking his exit. For many dogs, closing the kennel door turns it into ab obstacle, i.e. “the kennel is keeping me from my owner.”

By leaving the door open, we eliminate that perception and put the dog in a position to practice staying inside the kennel on his own. This changes the thought process to “staying inside this kennel makes my owner happy.”

But before Clark can make that connection, I needed to help him learn to stay calm inside the kennel. Once he turned around and discovered that I was blocking his exit, he paused. As soon as he did, I took a deliberate step backwards. Clark stayed motionless for a moment, then started to come out so I quickly rushed forward so that I was blocking the exit with my legs again.

i waited a moment, then took a deliberate step backwards again. This time Clark stayed in place so I took another step backward. I kept repeating these steps backward and rushed forward any time he started to come out. After a few backs and forth, Clark sat down in the back of the kennel. As soon as he did I took a large step backward to communicate that was something I wanted.

Sitting down in that fashion, without my telling him to sit, signified that he understood I wanted him to stay inside the kennel and was complying. I waited a moment, then took another step back. At this point I was across the room and Clark was staying in the kennel on his own. He was calm, wasn’t protesting, drooling or showing any signs of stress.

A few moments later he laid down in the kennel on his own. Clark was totally relaxed and his owners were like, “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?”

I called Clark out of the kennel and rewarded him richly for his progress. I wanted him to know I appreciated his laying down in the kennel as that was his way of saying he understood what I wanted. This was almost like developing a new dialogue between dog and human. To bring this dialogue into his home, I coached his owner through the exercise with Clark.

This time Clark took considerably longer before he sat down. But his owner stayed with it. While Clark took much longer to sit and lay down the second time, his energy level stayed low and he remained completely calm. Any time that Clark’s owners can practice having him remain inside the kennel in a calm frame of mind, they are helping him get over the insecurity that feeds his Separation Anxiety.

By the one of the session, Clark was much calmer and was responding to his owners corrections and commands. I gave them some instructions on increasing the levels of difficulty of the exercises we went over. Combined, they will give Clark the structure and practice at staying calm in his kennel. That combined with some positive reinforcement actions should put an end to the stress Clark was experiencing when his owners leave their home.

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