Dear TCC,

Maggie is a very “Excited Dog” and I think she has separation anxiety. It starts when:

1. We leave the house and leave her home. She will bark & bark & bark, with some pacing in the backyard. But our neighbor says once I leave she stops barking.

2. When I  leave her at a friend’s house for the day for a “Doggie Play Date.” I see her pacing again in the back yard. When I pick her up at the end of the day she does this “Excited barking scream.”

3. If my husband or I leave the car and she stays with one of us in the car. She will do the “Barking scream” like we are killing her.

I try to be calm when I leave. I offer her treats when I leave. I suggested to my husband that we take a day and just practice leaving and coming home. She gets walked every day, sometimes twice daily. Every night we play keep away with tennis balls for 30-45 min. So she has a lot of opportunities to get her energy out. What am I missing?

Nerissa B.

Crestline, CA

Hi Nerissa,

It’s a natural thing for anyone – human or dog – to freak out at first when they are left alone. It’s what we do before, during, and after these times that determines whether or not their  anxiety will heighten over time. So with dogs who have separation anxiety, there was probably a time in their lives when their human had to leave them alone for whatever reason. Before the human left, she would probably smother her dog with lots of hugs, kisses, pets, and “I love you, puppy! We’ll be back!” In other words, there was a lot of commotion surrounding the event of human leaving.

The dog’s subconscious mind at the time was probably thinking, “Hmmm. I didn’t realize this was such a big deal. But if mommy’s acting like it’s a big deal, it must be a big deal! Oh my God, it’s a big deal!! OMG!” And then, of course, when human returns, “big deal” happens again when she first sees her dog again. So what we’ve just taught our dogs is that it’s a big deal when I leave and a big deal when I get home. Anticipating “big deals” is cause for anxiety. So while our dogs are at home building anxiety as they anticipate the next “big deal” of us coming home, what’s the first thing we do when we do get home? We usually greet them, talk to them, tell them how much we missed them, give them lots of hugs and kisses, and the list goes on. In other words, we just rewarded them for being anxious. Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding. Now there is a pattern of anxiety.

Let’s break that pattern. Leaving and returning home are no longer a big deal. When you leave for the day, just walk right out the door without saying “bye” to or looking at Maggie. Do the same thing when you come back home. Ignore her until she’s calm, and then reward her with the attention she wants. Practice this on days when you aren’t working, too. Vary the times you are gone from her (sometimes only stay out for 1 minute, next time 4, and the next time 2) so that you keep her guessing and she doesn’t fall back into another pattern. There are many mentally stimulating toys out there to keep Maggie occupied (instead of anxious) while you’re away. Visit our webpage for some ideas. Set the toys out the night before so that she doesn’t make the association of toy = human leaving. I hope you’ll check back in with us in a week and let us know of your progress!

Happy Training!

The Canine Clique

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