What is separation anxiety in dogs (and how can I fix it)?



By Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA and CEO of FetchFind

I hear this all the time: “My dog has separation anxiety, and I don’t know what to do.” A lot of the time these cases are mild. The dog is new to the home, or something has changed in its world (e.g, the kids have started school, someone has started a job with longer hours, or a construction crew has taken up permanent residence on your block). They might not do well in a crate, or with too much freedom. Genetics can also play a role in the appearance and degree of anxiety. Every dog is different, and while this behavior can take a long time to fix, it can have a happy ending if the owner is willing and able to put in the work.

What is separation anxiety?

What the average person thinks of when they hear “separation anxiety” usually means that a dog presents with certain anxious behaviors when left alone. Anxious behaviors can include things like:

  • Panting and drooling
  • Incessant barking, whining, or howling
  • Extreme self-soothing behaviors (licking or chewing themselves nonstop)
  • Chewing baseboards
  • Hurting themselves trying to get out of the crate

If your dog is unable to take a nap and be calm when you leave for the day, separation anxiety might be the issue.

For extremely severe cases, such as if your dog is hurting himself or destroying the house, you will need to call a skilled trainer for help, or even a veterinary behaviorist (who will do a detailed medical/behavioral assessment and possibly prescribe medication).

For less severe cases of separation anxiety, I recommend two things:

Change your routine when leaving the house. If you always put on your shoes and then grab your keys, try putting your shoes on last or grabbing your keys when you’re watching TV.  Also, start giving your dog something to do while you are gone, like a peanut butter Kong. Your dog focuses on that while you’re leaving and has a positive association instead of a negative one. It can also help to block your dog’s view of the door, so they can’t actually see you leave. 

Ignore your dog when you get home. I know a lot of us have dogs because we want someone to be excited when we come home, so this doesn’t have to be a forever change. When you come in, put your bag down, take off your coat, go to the bathroom, etc., before engaging with your dog. Try not to speak or touch him for about 10 minutes. If your dog needs to go outside as soon as you come in, try to do as little interacting as possible. What you’re doing is making the dog realize that you coming home isn’t such a big deal, so being alone isn’t all that bad.

This can be a pretty slow process, so be patient with the dog and yourself.

The Dog Trainer’s Dilemma: What to Do When People Ask You for Free Advice

dog collars

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

A professional in any field soon realizes that complete strangers often have no compunction whatsoever about soliciting advice well beyond what you should be expected to give in a casual social setting.

Don’t get me wrong – I am always happy to find teaching moments that can help both pets and their people, but at a certain point being asked for advice starts to feel less like a sharing opportunity and more like a shakedown.

Certainly I have had conversations with acquaintances who are doctors and lawyers and accountants during which I have asked them for referrals and resources, but it’s generally acknowledged that asking them for a full-blown, off the cuff consultation is very bad form. At best, it’s wildly inconsiderate to put people in a position where you’re expecting them to give you possibly life-altering advice without access to the proper diagnostic tools.

However, if you’re a dog trainer, this happens All. The. Time.  Random people routinely ask us to come up with an entire training plan based solely on their puppy’s age and breed. I think that a large part of the problem is that many people don’t see “dog trainer” as a real career. It’s true that we don’t go through years of medical or law school; it’s also true that plenty of trainers hang out their shingles without knowing very much about canine behavior or scientifically-based training methods. What most people don’t know is how many hours (years!) that responsible trainers put into both their formal and hands-on training.

But times, they are a-changin’, and the pet industry as a whole is making a concerted move toward more meaningful standards and certifications. The entire focus of the FetchFind online learning platform is to make high-quality training and education available to all pet professionals. I hope that as the industry becomes (and is perceived as) more professional, the number of people who expect you to work for free (or “for the exposure”) will begin to drop.

In the meantime – what is a “best practices” response when you’re asked for training advice for a dog you’ve never met that belongs to a person you barely know? You empower them, firmly-compassionately-professionally, to find the resources that can help them with their particular issues:

Puppies – Direct them to Ian Dunbar’s free puppy books, send links to Sophia Yin’s Perfect Puppy in 7 Days and Paul Owens’ The Puppy Whisperer, and give them the name of a reputable dog walking company that offers puppy packages to keep housetraining on track.

Rescue dogs – Send a link to Patricia McConnell’s Love Has No Age Limits (also good for senior dogs), tell them about the excellent A Sound Beginning program, and remind them that many dog training companies and shelters have reduced rates for rescue dogs.

Senior dogs – Steer them to the Grey Muzzle Organization website, and direct them to any of Lisa Rodier’s blog posts or articles dealing with special considerations for older dogs. For a good omnibus volume on senior dog issues and treatments, Your Dog’s Golden Years by Jennifer Kachnic is a great resource.

Behavioral issues – Send a link to DogStarDaily.com and the ASPCA, and offer the name of a good veterinary behaviorist. If you live in Chicago, refer them to Kristin Buller’s workshops for people who love pets with behavioral problems.

My short list for the best all-around websites for canine training and behavior information:

And last but not least – keep your business cards ready to hand out whenever someone needs a good trainer.