Separation anxiety is a natural behaviour. The pack would never leave the pack. They remain together at all times. We are the pack, with our dogs. And we have to be able to come and go and unfortunately, our dogs can’t come with us and we can’t stay home with them at all times. When we haven’t established a leadership role. When we haven’t taught our dogs that we make the choices and decisions we are equals with them. So now leaving without them is confusing for them. Why do we get to go and not bring them or why don’t we just stay home? Dogs only understand leading or following and when we are not leading, we create confusion and therefore anxiety in dogs and in this case, separation anxiety. When we do need to leave our homes, we get protesting and alerting in the form of barking and whining. Our dogs are literally trying to communicate that we have forgotten them and left them behind and through their display of fear and anxiety, they are actually saying “come back now and remain here!”
It can escalate through various behaviours like digging and scratching down doors and windows, panting and pacing neurotically-all in the anxious effort to join us! They will often find something with our scent on it and lie with it or chew it as a way to comfort themselves or to release the tension and anxiety. And sadly, people often mistake this for revenge in that their dogs are trying to get back at them for not taking them. What they are simply doing is seeking to comfort themselves with a reminder of similar to how one would repeatedly look at a screenshot or video of our dogs when we are away from them and are missing them.
Since we are the pack leaders, it is our job to teach dogs to travel with us calmly and relaxed. What we are establishing is a leadership position as well as teaching restraint and rules and boundaries. The good news about this, is that with proper training, specifically targeted to deal with anxiety in dogs and some commitment from yourself, they can easily learn to observe and relax and settle with the idea that we, the leaders, are leaving. Because dogs sleep 80 percent of their lives and would have likely napped while we were home, they can learn to nap while we are gone. Instead of returning to an intense overexcited dog we return to a happy and calm dog. In discussing separation anxiety, it is also worth noting that an overly excited (think zoomies, jumping, barking) dog upon our return home is not a sign of love or missing us as many people would love to believe, it’s them being frantic and not being able to handle us leaving hence the separation anxiety. When we train our dogs to be less anxious, the benefits are just as wonderful for them as they are for us.