Is your dog predisposed to separation anxiety?

Posted on May 19, 2018 in Barking, Dog Training, Pets, Separation Anxiety | 0 comments

Will your dog likely develop Anxiety when home alone?

If you suspect your dog is suffering from a form of Separation Anxiety, contact your vet, as many of the symptoms can also be medical in nature. Your vet may include a complete blood cell count, biochemistry, thyroid test, and urinalysis to gather more information on what may be causing some of your dogs behavior changes.

So, what are the signs you should look for?

This girl is worried, noted by the compressed body, tucked tail, scanning and stiff body.


Is your dog slightly environmentally insecure or worried in new places? Does your dog hesitate when walking down some streets or new parks? Do her eyes become enlarged as she scans the area often?  Maybe her body looks compressed, or she moves slower then normal with stiff leg movement. Maybe she sits and refuses to move forward, yet if you turn around, she quickly moves in the direction of home.





Is your dog somewhat sound sensitive? Observed by your dogs startle reflex when a truck rumbles in the distance,  you drop something, or you raise your voice.  These dogs may run to another room or cower. They may also become tense or lower their body and head, show the whites of their eyes and push their ears way back. Maybe you need to medicate your dog during fireworks. These dogs often go into flight mode and try to hide somewhere safe. They may stay in a state of anxiety for 30 minutes for more.


Lucy is clearly insecure with this greeting, noted by her compressed, stiff, body, tucked tail, ears back, closed mouth. She is side stepping away to the right.


Is your dog shy or worried about strangers? Shown by your dogs hesitation to enter guests space. Maybe your insecure dog shows his anxiety by greeting visitors in an over the top excited, jumpy wiggly or mouthy manner. Moderately fearful dogs may rush the door, barking rapidly.  Or maybe your dog has become increasingly territorial of your home or car when people approach or are visible. If you dog is unable to calm quickly after being stressed or aroused, they are showing you that they struggle to rebound from a stressor.




If your dog exhibits any of the above character traits then your dog is more likely to develop a form of Separation Anxiety, than a dog who is:

  1. Environmentally confident
  2. Demonstrates no Sound sensitivity
  3. Is Social with all people
  4. Can Rebound quickly after being stressed
  5. Is Patient by nature


Distinguishing between SA and Isolation Stress:

Separation Anxiety: Is described as a dog who is unable to cope when their human is away. Not just anyone is able to comfort these dogs as they have bonded with one or two individuals.  These dogs often have low environmental confidence, low sociability with new people, and are persistent in nature.  Their inability to rebound keeps them in a state of anxiety longer. If the dog is vocal in nature, his anxiety may manifest with barking, if he is high energy, chewing may manifest. They often become extremely excited and aroused when familiar people enter the home and are often labeled velcro dogs.

Isolation Stress: Is described as a dog who is fearful of being alone.  Their fear of other stimuli is heightened when no one is there to make them feel safe. These dogs often have low environmental confidence, and may exhibit some form of sound sensitivity. These dogs are often persistent in nature and therefore whine or pace longer then a patient dog. Vocal dogs may bark and high energy dogs may begin to chew on items nearby. 

Here are a few examples to give you a better picture of what may occur.

Example: Max is fearful of most men and will bark or growl at them when they come too close. He is also very protective of his house and car. When alone in the home and he hears a man’s voice outside, he begins to slowly and stiffly pace about the rooms, he often drools, and will occasionally urinate in the home. This isolation stress will subside when the voices stops as his rebound time is fairly good.

Example: Lucy is a shy pup who takes a few minutes to warm up to strangers. On walks, she often hesitates, scans her environment and only wants to sniff the ground near her. If she hears a siren or any medium/high pitched noise she pulls towards home. Lucy’s family has recently moved into a new home.  She begins to whine when left alone for the first time, which leads to her barking, pacing and scratching at the door. When her familiar humans come home she greets them with such jumpy enthusiasm they scold her and then see the door damage and scold her even more. Lucy’s low environmental confidence and sound sensitivity have contributed to her stress and anxiety of being alone.

Example: Mika is a high energy German Shepherd mix who will play fetch for an hour and will persist to find the ball when it goes into the tall grass.  Mika is also verbal and barks when aroused or frustrated. When left alone, she runs and barks in the home after her owners leave for nearly 10 minutes, then chews her toys or an occasional pillow or article of clothing for 10-15 minutes and then climbs in her bed for a three hour nap. Mika is not exhibiting anxiety when alone, yet her high energy, verbal temperament and her enjoyment of chewing can mimic that of anxiety. 

To determine these dogs anxiety levels, we set up a camera to determine what the triggers were, how their behavior changed and if they were able to recover.


A successful Behavior Modification Program will use counter conditioning and desensitization to slowly help these dogs become comfortable in their environment and cope with being alone.  

Counter conditioning is about changing the associations that the dog already has to something.  When we desensitize our dogs, we make them less sensitive to what they fear. Conditioning for this training purpose is about building their confidence and giving them the tools to feel safe when alone.

Basic Plan:  Disassociate each of your routine habits before you leave so your dog stays calmer. Example:  If putting on your shoes is a reliable predictor for you leaving, put them on many different times a day.  Pick up your keys, walk around and sit them down, without looking at your dog. You get the idea. Stop to breathe several times to help lower your dogs anxiety and aid in his resiliency.

Condition: Help your dog become more confident in your home by having many short positive training sessions each day to a particular bed/mat or place.  

  • Condition your dog to go to this bed/place, using a positive approach. This is never forced or it will have a negative association and impede your goal.  
  • Build some duration on the mat/place by rewarding your dog often for staying on his mat while you go across the room.   I never say “stay” I just let the dog learn that when he is on his mat, good things happen. Sometimes when I return I drop 10 treats on his mat to increase association.
  • Condition your dog to his favorite interactive food toys using high value food items. This conditioning must be done for several days before offering it to them and walking out. If your dogs association is not strongly compelling and positive, this toy or treat may

                 Four pups enjoying daily kong time

    become a predictor of you leaving, and increase your dogs anxiety.
  • Increase your dogs daily physical and mental exercise.
  • Teach your dog a cue, “Be good” or I’ll be back”. This gives your dog feedback, that you will be gone but will return. You can begin to teach this in small pieces while you leave your dog from one room and go to another and return, reward with calm praise. Over time you gradually increase the time you are gone and always return with calm praise. 
  • Generalizing this behavior to different rooms, the car, deck, yard, vets office and more will aid in your dogs coping skills.
  • Add white noise to drown out noise for sensitive dogs.
  • Talk to your vet about medication as it is often helpful for dogs who are environmentally worried, or sound sensitive.

Summary: I hope you now have a better idea of why some dogs are predisposed to and suffer from Separation Anxiety Issues.  What to look for in your dogs temperament, and some positive intervention techniques to support your dog. Always be mindful that an underlying medical condition may also be a factor. Inform your vet of your concerns, and seek a professional Dog Behavior Consultant to aid in your dogs training plan.

Dogs who engage in chewing when alone will benefit from a variety of toys options.  Interactive toys that encourage dogs to work for their food keeps their mind engaged.  Chew toys should be safe, appealing, and virtually indestructible. Many chew toys can be stuffed with dog food or healthy treats to increase their appeal. 

Below are a few toy options for you to consider, listed by the Toy Name Description Manufacturer/Website

Bustercube Hard plastic cubes with inner maze.  Slowly dispense kibble when rolled Kruuse

Chewber Durable rubber frisbees  designed for chewing, tossing and tugging     Chewber

Classic Kong / Treat Ball Rubber toys with various hollow areas that can be stuffed with food Kong Company

Nylabone Synthetic and edible bone shaped chew toys Nylabone

Orka Ball / Orka Jack Pliable synthetic hollow toys that can be stuffed with treats   Petstages

TireBiter nylon tire-shaped toy can be tossed, tugged, and stuffed with spreadable food Mammoth Pet Products


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What Does Stress Look Like?

Posted on Jun 28, 2013 in Aggression, Barking, Leash Frustration, Puppy, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Separation Anxiety, Training | 0 comments

This dog is worried.

This dog is worried.

When I think of unwanted behavior, I think of stress as the two are often related.

My goal here is to help you identify your dogs stress signals so you can get them help before this stress causes unwanted behavior. Science clearly states that stress leads to health problems, negatively affect relationships with others and can also make us grumpy, irritable, less tolerant and even aggressive.

Is it true if we humans are stressed our dogs can sense it?  Yes, when we feel worried, anxious or angry, our dogs will certainly be effected in some way.  Different dogs will react differently to mental and physical pressures in their environment.

Go Away!

Go Away!

How many of us often turn to physical exercise to relieve stress or tension felt from our environment.  Is your dog able to go for a daily jog to relieve the stress he carries around or is he confined to run the fence line and bark in frustration becoming more and more aroused.  Does he destructively chew your furniture, pace wildly and mouth your arms and hands when you enter?  You may perceive this mouthy greeting as excitement, but it is stress.

An unfamiliar dog has approached to the right, this mix is looking away to avoid conflict.

An unfamiliar dog has approached to the
right, this mix is looking away to avoid conflict.

Signs of Stress come in many different forms:

    • Does your dog ever bark rapidly, scan the environment for a threat, pace back and forth, tremble, chew in a ripping or destructive manner, pant when not tired, flatten his ears back, lower his head when approached (guilty appearance), cower or urinate when you or anyone else approaches, hide between your feet, growl, lick his lips when not eating,  yawn when not tired, turn his nose away from his favorite treat when in an unfamiliar environment.  Urinate or defecate when arriving at a new home, or training center.  
    • Young adolescent pups may playfully mount dogs or humans or do this as a sign of stress as is biting the leash and excessive mouthing of human hands. Exaggerated self grooming which can cause hair loss, sudden outbreak of dander can also be stress related. 
  • Does your dog often begin to sniff the ground when meeting new dogs, stop to scratch just as a greeting is about to occur, avoids the new dog completely?  We know stress can effect health, stress that continues over a period of time can cause a dogs immune system to become fragile due to increased cortisol in the system.  Have you ever considered that a dogs unpleasant body odor or bad breath can be the result of high stress. 
    White dog is fearful and sniffs to avoid greeting

    White dog is fearful and sniffs to avoid greeting

Environmental triggers are everywhere,  who is present, how many stimuli, if they are approaching slowly or quickly, how your dog feels at that moment, what smells are near, what he sees and hears are all triggers that can cause your dog stress and they are constantly effecting your dogs behavior.

Where is this dogs weight shifted?

Where is this dogs
weight shifted?

Knowing the signs of stress in your dog is essential to keep him safe, happy and healthy.

For more information consider reading Stress in Dogs by Marina Scholz and Clarissa Von Reinhardt, well worth the time to read.

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Posted on Dec 15, 2011 in Barking, Crate Training, Separation Anxiety | 0 comments

I frequently get asked about barking problems or why do dogs bark?  Our dogs bark for a variety of reasons:

  • Dogs will bark if they feel threatened. 
  • They may bark when they play and get excited.
  • Some dogs will bark for attention from us or another dog. 
  • Some will bark if they are in pain and they’ll even bark when they’re lonely, bored or stressed. 
  • Certain breeds or breed types are also genetically inclined to bark more than others.
Desensitizing these shelties to moving stimuli

How you’ll prevent or resolve your issue with barking will partially depend on what is triggering your dog to bark. For example if your dog is barking or vocalizing because he’s in pain, treating the source of his pain would be the obvious solution. If your dog is barking through the front window as dogs pass by your house, blocking off access to that window is a simple way to help prevent his barking.

Keep in mind that the more your dog practices barking the better he’ll get at it. So identifying what is triggering your dog to bark and if possible, removing the trigger or changing the emotions that cause your dog to bark are best.  For Example, if your dog barks each day he hears the mail truck, take your dog out side and reward you dog with a yummy treat for looking at the truck, after a few days of this classical conditioning, take your dog out and reward him for looking at you or any other behavior they offer before they bark.  Eventually, your dog will learn to simply look at the mail truck and watch it go by with no worries at all.

In my opinion, antibark collars which use shock are inhumane and are inappropriate for all kinds of barking problems (and often make the problem worse). Many dogs that have been shocked for barking at a mail man or garbage truck have ended up trying to bite this stimuli which causes them pain each time it is near.  With the right kind of behavior modification and a strong desire to stop the problem, most pet parents can successfully resolve barking issues using classical conditioning methods.

The Alert Barker does so to alert you to someone or something outside, the answer is quite simple. Remove the source of what triggers his barking. For instance if your dog barks at people as they walk past your home, prevent his access to the window using furniture, closing blinds, blocking off the area with a baby gate.  Remember, if your dog barks and the person or dog moves away, this is very rewarding for the dog and will certainly be repeated.

The Lonely Barker is often more simple to modify, try changing your dog’s environment a bit. Remember that your dog probably wants to be with people. Dogs who are left outside for long periods of time are often the worst offenders of barking. Your dog needs to play with you and feel like he is a part of the family. Dogs typically don’t do well when left alone for long periods of time. Make sure you set aside time for regular walks, playtime – even some training sessions. You’ll want to be sure that you give him the social contact that he needs to keep his body and mind occupied. Barking when left alone may also indicate separation anxiety. If you think that anxiety is the source of your dog’s barking, contact a certified dog trainer.

Attention Barking  may be a dog that barked and you tossed him a toy, you have just taught your dog, “When I bark you play!” Even if you look at him or verbally scold your dog when he barks, you will still be teaching him that his barking is a successful way to get your attention. What can you do?  You need to ignore his demands. His barking may initially increase and so don’t give in or he will learn that persistence pays off. However, if he barks and you really ignore him or even better if you ignore him and walk away until he is quiet, he will eventually learn that barking doesn’t work and it will decrease. 

Our dogs are not trying to dominate us, they simply do a behavior and if something follows that they like then they will repeat the behavior.  Dogs are smarter than we think, so be carful and watch what you are rewarding!
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Posted on Oct 26, 2011 in Crate Training, Fun, Positive Association, Puppy, Separation Anxiety | 0 comments

Many of you have asked me about interactive toys to help keep your dog busy when left alone.

Below are some of the toys I use to create positive associations for many dogs in many different ways.  For example, when I leave I often say “Kong Time” and leave each dog with a stuffed toy. The sound of a delivery truck is often another “kong time” as I want my dogs to be excited not fearful when this sound occurs.

If I am training a foster dog to use a crate, I only feed them using these toys, and, again, happily say “crate,” and toss a yummy toy or two in the crate so the dog associates it with something good!

These are simply a few ideas to help enrich your dogs life.

Premier Tumble Ball, assorted Kongs, Everlasting Toys, Squirrel Dude, Planet Dog, Rip and Tug.

To get started be sure to make the toy easy for your dog to receive a reward, otherwise they will lose interest.  The balls are great for beginners using dry kibble mixed with a few treats.
For the experienced dog, pack the Kong with a variety of goodies!  For example, begin with a bit of peanut Butter, next add some raw meat or pieces of hotdog or cheese, followed by some kibble, dry treats, and repeat the process!  It is like a party every time as your dog works hard to get to his favorite goodie!  Be sure to use a cue like “kong time”, your dog will begin to salivate rather than pant when you are leaving!

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Conference Day 2 – Reactivity in Dogs

Posted on Oct 13, 2011 in Aggression, Fun, Separation Anxiety, Training | 0 comments

Impulse control, hyperactivity, reactivity and arousal are all topics discussed in today’s symposium on “Living on the edge.” If you have attended any of my reactive dog classes you would have heard me use these terms and how they effect your dogs emotional state.

Today’s topics included many practical methods of incorporating daily routines and opportunities to help your dog practice desirable behaviors. We know that good training is always started at home! Daily practice at home with feeding, training, and play can improve a dogs impulse control and arousal habits. New behaviors and techniques for keeping your dogs arousal under threshold will be incorporated into our up coming classes.

Today’s conference ended with an informational panel discussion including dog behavior specialists: Suzanne Clothier, Ian Dunbar, Trish King, Dr. Petra Mertens, Dr. Pamela Reid, and Pia Silvani. What a great source of caine knowledge here to discuss arousal and how it effects reactivity.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions on K9.

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Separation Anxiety or Distress….which is it?

Posted on Jul 20, 2011 in Separation Anxiety, Training | 0 comments

Because not all dogs that are left alone experience anxiety, animal behaviorists are beginning to use other terms including separation behaviors.

Separation Distress
Distress is simply an animal’s inability to adapt to stress (or the  conditions that are causing stress). In humans or animals, the result  of distress is often demonstrated by poor coping skills that include inappropriate  
urinating or defecating (toilet-trained children who are experiencing  distress might wet the bed or wet their pants), making noise (dogs bark and whine while distressed children might cry), and destruction  or aggression.

In many situations, separation distress is a more accurate term than  
separation anxiety.  Some owners have even called their pups behavior Separation Fun. They can learn that when their owner is gone, they can counter surf, sleep on their owners bed, lounge on the couch, dig in the trash, relieve their bladder without anyone yelling at them.

Separation Behaviors
Some owners return home to discover toilet paper has been dragged from the bathroom all through the house and underwear is now strewn about the living room. A tornado went through the house? No, the dog was at it again. 

The idea that some dogs get bored and start a party when their owners are gone is controversial. What we do know is that something happens, as   toilet paper is all around the house, shoes are chewed, and perhaps the dog urinated on the bed. These occurrences can all be accurately referred to as separation behaviors.

So before you implement a major training program, perhaps you should determine if your dog is truly anxious or simply bored.  What we do know is that
punishment often creates more bad behaviors.

Helping dogs cope while being left alone is a process, but one that will save your furniture and earn you freedom for the life of your dog!

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