Pet sitters – how to help a dog with separation anxiety
Understanding dog separation anxiety
Dog separation anxiety is a very stressful behavioral issue that effects a huge percentage of the dog population, possibly as high as 14%. Yet, it is one of the most misunderstood issues.
The problem with trying to help dogs with separation anxiety, is that people try to treat it by approaching it from a human point of view, and therefore fail to see the cause.
When you arrive at a house sit to discover the dog is displaying characteristics of anxiety, It can be very upsetting for both the pet owners and pet sitters. If it's the first time that the owners have used pet sitters, you may not discover that the dog has anxiety until the owners have left. But if this is a long term problem, you can prepare in advance by asking a few questions at the house sit interview:
- Are you aware of any anxiety issues?
- Has your dog ever displayed anxiety when left alone in the house (see below)?
- Has your dog been anxious when left with previous house sitters?
To ease the dog's anxiety and distress, we've put together some tips and suggestions for training, that might help, because the answer to stopping dog separation anxiety is simple in many cases. It's the same answer to most dog behavioral problems - you have to show the dog that you are the pack leader.
We asked dog training expert, "Doggy Dan" to explain more about solving problems of dog anxiety and establishing pack leader status.
What are the symptoms of dog anxiety?
There's a wide range of symptoms an anxious dog may display, all of which can be very distressing for the dog. However, treating the symptoms does not treat the cause of the problem.
As a pet owner (or as a house or pet sitter) you can easily address the root cause of these symptoms but first, asking yourself this question:
When you go out, leaving your dog at home, do the anxiety symptoms your dog displays stop when you get back?
If they do then I suggest it's highly probable that you being away is actually connected to the cause.
Let's take a look at a few of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety. Recognizing that the following behaviors could be symptoms of separation anxiety is a good start:
- Chewing: releases endorphins similar to those released when a human is chewing gum in an attempt to stay calm
- Barking or whining: this is a call for the owners to return to the pack, just as you might call your children when you can’t find them
- Escaping from a room, the home or garden: this can be destructive, extreme and sometimes dangerous. Quite simply your dog is looking for you. We're often told that with plenty of daily exercise we can prevent this problem, but while your dog may be more tired, it doesn't solve the root cause of the problem
- Digging, destruction: this is all connected to stressful and anxious behavior
- Self-mutilation: excessive licking and chewing of oneself. Excessive drooling is also a sign of stress. These signs are often mistaken for medical conditions, but are all stress related
- Toileting: if your dog is toilet trained but starts toileting inside the house, and you think it's behavioral, then it could well be. If it's only happening when you're away from your dog, then it's very likely to be connected to your dog's separation anxiety
Whilst there are lots of places where you can find advice on how to treat all these dog anxiety symptoms, there's only one way to treat the actual root cause of the issue. If you're serious about stopping separation anxiety then you must become the pack leader.
This applies equally, whether you are the dog's owner, or the temporary carer as a house or pet sitter.
Separation anxiety is a very straight forward problem that occurs when your dog believes they are the pack leader and you are their puppy or member of their pack.
How does a dog deal with separation in the wild?
In the wild, pack-member dogs do not wander off from the den on their own - they would usually go hunting as a group when the pack leader decides it's time to go.
If your dog thinks he (or she) is the pack leader, there is an inherent responsibility to look after you. If you leave, your dog's separation anxiety will kick in and continue until you return.
However, once you show your dog that you are the pack leader your dog will be fine with you coming and going as you please.
Where can I learn more about dog separation anxiety training?
Getting rid of the symptoms of dog separation anxiety will happen naturally as a result of learning how to become the pack leader.
One of the best places to understand more about establishing yourself as the pack leader is on my "TheOnlineDogTrainer" website.
You can watch a FREE 4-part video series which gives full details.
The 3rd video in the series details 5 key rules which will firmly establish you as pack leader in your dog's eyes.
I would suggest if you are really serious about dealing with you dog's separation anxiety immediately then learn how to establish yourself quickly as the pack leader. Understanding your dog's behaviours and learning where you fit into their lives, will make the experience of owning a dog better for everyone. It will certainly make you less worried about leaving you dogs with other people, such as house sitters, when you go away.
Remember, all your dog really needs is for you to be a strong pack leader and I can help you with that. Take a look at my FREE mini video course and see if it resonates with you.
Last updated on May 11th, 2023