How to Train a Small Dog with Separation Anxiety

Hard
3-5 Months
Behavior

Introduction

It may seem comical to watch videos of dogs who have seemingly destroyed a favorite pillow or chewed up the furniture while the owner was away. There might be a dog sitting in the corner looking slightly guilty while he is humorously grilled to figure out “whodunnit?” But the reality of these situations may be more than just bad manners when left alone. In fact, it may be something much more serious that can affect dogs of any shape, size, or breed.

Small dogs, in particular, may struggle with what is known as “separation anxiety”. This is a condition where a dog may become stressed when left alone or when he sees signs of his owners preparing to leave the house. Symptoms of separation anxiety can manifest as general destructiveness, using the bathroom inside the house, or even dangerous attempts at escaping the home entirely. A small dog with this type of anxiety may bark incessantly, tear at the molding along doors or walls, or use the bathroom in inappropriate places. It’s important to understand that this type of anxiety is not bad behavior, but it is a genuine mental condition that needs to be addressed.

Defining Tasks

Dealing with separation anxiety in small dogs requires tons of work and patience, especially in the early stages. Nobody wants a stressed out pup! You’ll need to take steps to properly diagnose separation anxiety by doing research and writing down your dog’s symptoms. Consider setting up a camera or webcam when you’re away to really get a good idea of what your dog does when you leave the house. Depending on the severity of his anxiety, there are several pathways to recovery that can be explored, but any dog with this type of disorder can use these techniques together for added benefit and effectiveness.

Plan on spending about three to four months working through this issue with your small dog, especially if he is particularly attached to you! It takes time to recondition your dog’s thinking in order to trust that you’ll come back when you leave. Don’t hesitate to use these techniques even with a puppy, as it can help to establish a comfortable foundation later on if he ever needs to be left alone for some time.

Getting Started

Have your dog assessed by a veterinarian before engaging in any of these training methods, as you’ll want to be able to rule out a medical condition that may be causing similar symptoms. If he is properly diagnosed, then you can continue to prepare for your training.

Have a discussion with anyone else who shares your home as to what type of training method you’ll be using, then get any supplies together to place in an easily accessible area. Treats and toys can be good distractions and reinforcement tools, while a crate may provide a safe area to house your pup when you’re away. Get everyone on the same page and focus heavily on consistency throughout your training. Coping with separation anxiety very often takes the effort of multiple people in order to provide adequate support to the dog who needs it.

The Counterconditioning Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Determine the severity
This method works best with dogs who have mild anxiety. If he is only displaying small amounts of distress signals, then consider utilizing counterconditioning, otherwise, use this in tandem with other methods for more effective training.
Step
2
Change the expectation
Your dog may relate the act of you leaving with being alone, which is obviously not a good feeling. Change it up by providing a reward when you leave instead!
Step
3
Provide good associations
Use things like puzzle toys, treat dispensing toys, or other tasty snacks in order to provide an adequate distraction and reward during the time you are away.
Step
4
Use high value rewards only when away
Use treats that are very high in value like real bits of chicken, cheese, or other dog-safe meats. Peanut butter is also a very good treat, though be sure that it is free of xylitol. The higher value the reward is, the more likely it will provide a much better association when you are gone. Avoid offering these rewards when you are home, as you want the association to be only with your absence.
Step
5
Be consistent
Never leave the home without providing some type of reward for your dog. The one time you forget might be the one time he needs it most!
Recommend training method?

The Desensitize Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Change your routine
Your dog may be familiar with your routine for getting ready to leave. Switch it up on her by grabbing your keys and then sitting down and watching TV for a while, or put your shoes on, but take her outside to play instead. By creating an inconsistent expectation for when it’s time to go, you will give your dog less time to be anxious.
Step
2
Start from scratch
For dogs with severe separation anxiety, any length of time away from her may be too much! Start with only a few seconds away from her before returning.
Step
3
Keep it slow
Over time, progress to a few minutes away from your dog before returning back to her. Never be away for so long that it causes panic.
Step
4
Increase the duration
When she is reliably calm for longer periods of time, gradually increase the length of your time away from your dog. This process may take several weeks or even months before you can expect much more.
Step
5
Avoid confrontation
Never force your dog to withstand a length of time alone that she is not prepared for. Any full blown panic may move your progress back one or several steps and will increase the time it takes for her to be comfortable again.
Step
6
Plan ahead
Use dog walkers or sitters, doggy day cares, or friends and family to stay with your dog if you’re unable to be there for any reason. Consider asking if you can bring your dog to work, if your job allows for it and your dog has good manners in public.
Recommend training method?

The Low Energy Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Burn off the nerves
Engage in daily exercise, depending on your dog’s typical energy level. A tired dog may be less prone to be anxious and destructive. Your small dog will likely need less exercise to get him sufficiently tired out.
Step
2
Provide comfort
Use items that smell like you, such as a blanket or a t-shirt to set in your dog’s bed when you’re away to offer some comfortable scents. This may help keep him calmer in your absence.
Step
3
Try a crate
Crates can be helpful or they can exacerbate anxiety. Determine if a crate may be a helpful place for your dog to rest when you’re away.
Step
4
Phone a friend
Call friends over to keep your dog company when you’re out for the day. Try to pick people he is familiar with and enjoys spending time with.
Step
5
Use distractions
Puzzle toys or other types of doggy entertainment can provide an outlet for frustration or anxiety by offering treats and mental stimulation. Keep one available for your dog when you’re away.
Step
6
Call a professional
When all else fails, consider calling a behaviorist or trainer to assess your dog and recommend other training options.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd