Working on Separation Anxiety the other way round

Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety? Train it the other way round!

Life Hacks for Dogs: Part 1 (Scotland)

They who go feel not the pain of parting; it is they who stay behind who suffer!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What is Separation Anxiety?

Many dogs have never really learned to stay alone and suffer from the separation from their guardian. To cope with the stress, they destroy things, eliminate indoors or cry and bark, much to the delight of the neighbors. It is important to understand that the dog does not show this behavior “out of spite”, but that it is an expression of his despair.

What to do against Separation Anxiety?

Most training protocols against separation anxiety based on positive reinforcement slowly build up the time that the dog has to stay alone by giving the dog a chew or a filled kong on his bed and then the guardian leaves the room for a short period of time. Slowly, the duration is increased.

There is just one problem: it is always the human who leaves the dog and the dog who is left behind.

Why can this be problematic?

A typical problem that may result from this is that the dog does not really learn to cope with the absence of his human. Once he receives his chews, he is distracted and does not really notice that his guardian is leaving. Once the chew has been eaten, the separation anxiety sets in.

Training Separation Anxiety the other way round!

Kanzi is 9 weeks old and one of the most important things she has to learn is to stay alone. Her guardian Tracey works as a dog trainer at Lothlorien Dog Services and is often away from home for several hours. In order for Kanzi to learn to stay home relaxed in the future, Tracey teaches her to stay alone the other way around: Not Tracey is the one to leave the room, but Kanzi. Kanzi makes the experience that it is no big deal to move away from Tracey, that it might even be an advantage not to always be glued to Tracey.

Tracey fills a Kong with yummy treats and places it on Kanzi’s bed. Then she sits down on a chair at the other end of the room, takes a book and begins to read. Kanzi now has the choice: either she stays with Tracey until she is bored stiff or she leaves Tracey and enjoys a delicious filled Kong. It does not take long and Kanzi chooses the Kong. She always has the opportunity to return to Tracey, in case she feels uneasy.

If this works well and Kanzi feels comfortable, Tracey takes her chair and moves it to another room. Again Kanzi has the choice between staying with Tracy and overwhelming boredom or a seductive Kong at a distance and out of sight of her guardian. Tracey further expands the distance and the time, that Kanzi actively and consciously moves away from her, by staying in more distant rooms of her apartment, on her terrace and finally even on another floor, while Kanzi decides to stay in the living room alone to enjoy her treat.

Meanwhile, Kanzi has already learned to be so confident and optimistic when staying alone that she remains in the living room, after her Kong is long empty and even takes a nap there alone.

  • Use only safe toys such as stuffable kongs, lickimats, or snuffle mats that are safe for your dog while out of sight.
  • Do not force your dog to move away from you. It should be his own choice.
  • If your dog does not voluntarily leave you at the beginning, use high quality treats and a delicious spread that your dog can lick, for example cheese spread, peanut butter or liver pate. Licking and chewing has a calming effect on all mammals.
  • Your dog should always have the opportunity to return to you when he feels uneasy.
  • If your dog suffers from severe separation anxiety, it may be enough for him to just move one meter away from you to enjoy his Kong. Gradually increase the distance.
  • Your dog takes his Kong and brings it to you? Draw a rope with a knot through the Kong and attach it to a heavy piece of furniture or use a Likimat or a snuffle mat.

What is important?

High quality, handmade snuffle mats can be bought from Fellherzchens Schnüffelspaß.
Thank you Tracey and Kanzi for a lovely sunny afternoon puppy visit.