No matter how much love and affection Moxie (a Maltese-Shih Tzu mix) received from his owner Kathy, he still struggled with separation anxiety. He would tear up the house, escape from the back window, and fight anyone who tried to leave him alone, even if he was scheduled for daily walks. Kathy felt stuck in a vicious cycle of giving Moxie too much attention to keep the destructive behaviors under control. Moxie would sit rigidly on the floor in the center of the room, allow no one in or out of his sight, and scream at any movement.
How To Train a Dog With Separation Anxiety?
Kathy was at her wit’s end and even considered giving Moxie back to his breeder. But she didn’t quit, and now Moxie is a happy, well-behaved dog. In this article, I will explain how Kathy’s persistence, patience, and practical behavior modification techniques helped her overcome separation anxiety in Moxie.
Kathy was taking Moxie on long walks at the dog park, but she realized that her dog wasn’t getting enough exercise when she was home alone. “I decided to take him out for a run or a hike every day when I left for work,” says Kathy. “It helped me get in shape, too! He felt better with more energy and less pent-up anxiety when I left him alone during the day.” And even though Moxie was tired, he still had enough energy and enthusiasm to allow everyone at the dog park to pet and play with him.
Kathy read that counterconditioning could help to make sure dogs learn not to do something when it is not rewarded. This is when she started rewarding Moxie’s behavior while he was calm. Kathy would give him treats when she came home, but only if he was calm. She also stopped reinforcing Moxie for how he behaved when she was away by leaving treats on the coffee table instead of putting them inside his crate every time she left him home alone. “I decided to stop rewarding stress behaviors, like mouthing people or jumping up on them,” says Kathy.
Comfort dogs like Moxie need to be exposed to whatever cue they are anxious about before they become habituated. So instead of taking Moxie for walks at the dog park, Kathy took him to the same place every day. “I needed him to get used to cars, people, other dogs, etc.,” says Kathy. “I also needed him to get used to the sound of me opening the door because after I closed it, he would be really upset. So I would open the front door and give Moxie a treat every time he went inside” says Kathy.
4. Changes in Routines
In order to, get Moxie used to the sound of the front door opening, Kathy changed some things about her daily routine. She kept her habit of opening the door quickly to make sure Moxie didn’t get startled by the sudden noise, but she also found other ways to make it more gradual. Kathy also changed the way she left and returned to her house.
First, she opened the side door and then exited the house to get Moxie treats. “I’d let him out of his crate when he was calm when I came home but not when I was in a bad mood,” says Kathy. “This created a calm-excitement cycle that helped me break my dog of his anxieties.” Next, Kathy would open the dog door, enter with Moxie in tow, and get indoors before he got excited about the change. He would look for her with anticipation when she entered.
Kathy would wait a few days before responding to Moxie’s barking by going back into the house. If Moxie was barking at the door while she appeared to be gone for a while, she would stretch out on the couch and pretend to be asleep. Once he quit barking, she would return and give him treats for being good.
She did this until he was calm in her absence after 10-15 minutes without any reinforcement from her presence. “I just kept doing this over and over again until I noticed that I could go longer than 30 seconds without giving him any treats or attention,” says Kathy.
6. Environmental Changes
Kathy also made some changes to her home so that Moxie would feel more comfortable when she was away. She bought a West Paw Design Zogoflex for traveling to the dog park with another friend. This is because when she left him home alone, he would chew up the regular dog toys that she left in her living room. “This helped him the most because it gave him something to do when I was gone,” says Kathy.
Moxie would also go through his toys in an orderly fashion, instead of making a mess with them in his crate all over the floor. “He still gets excited in my absence, but not nearly as much as before I did these things,” says Kathy.
Kathy read that many dogs are food-motivated, so she tried to use that to her advantage. Instead of giving Moxie treats for being calm when they were home alone together, she gave him treats for allowing her to come and go. “I rewarded Moxie with a treat every time I left the house for work, but only if he was calm when I left,” says Kathy.
The last thing that Kathy did to help Moxie is to teach him that he shouldn’t eat the food he shouldn’t be eating. “I stopped giving him treats for how he behaved, but I would still give him his normal food,” says Kathy. “I’d do this until I noticed that if I didn’t give him his regular food, he would totally lose it. So this is one more way to train your dog!”
8. The right amount of alone time
“I started leaving Moxie alone every day for a little longer. At first, I’d give him a treat and leave the house for 10 minutes, then I’d go back inside and give him a treat. Then I’d go out for an hour, maybe come back and check on him, and then go out for a few hours after that,” says Kathy. She now leaves Moxie home alone from 10 am to 1 pm every day while she takes her lunch break at work. And Moxie is allowed to roam freely through the house, but he is not allowed to jump on guests or chew up much furniture.
9. The Perfect Crate
Kathy started having Moxie spend the night in a crate when she was doing night shifts. She kept the crate in her bedroom, so it was right next to her bed when she returned home. “I had made sure that I gave him enough exercise while I was gone, so he wasn’t anxious in his crate when I got home,” says Kathy. “But he was still marking up his crate because he was anxious, so I made sure to put a lot of treats inside it during the day.”
Kathy also started crate training Moxie while he was home alone. She put about 8-10 treats in his crate while she was away and left it open so he could get to the treats whenever he needed them.
In order to ensure that Moxie was no longer anxious when Kathy returned from work, she started playing with him right when she walked in the door. “I would let him out of his crate and we would go for a walk,” says Kathy. “Then I would play with him because I knew he was there for me and not to be left alone. He was really happy to see me and wanted to know what we were going to do.
Kathy has learned that although training your dog can sometimes be difficult, it is worth it when you are able to live with your dog in peace. “This training has really helped me because if I didn’t do this, our relationship would be a huge conflict right now,” says Kathy. “I actually enjoy giving him treats now instead of getting mad and leaving my house.”
While training a dog to overcome his separation anxiety can be an exhausting process, it’s worth it when you can leave your house without a care in the world knowing that your dog is comfortable and safe while you are away. Make sure to remain consistent and patient with your dog as you tackle their anxiety. You can train your dog on your own (using the techniques from this article) or find a trainer to help you with the problem. Just remember to praise and treat your pup for a job well done whenever they try their best to keep calm when you’re away.
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To explore more, check out our other articles on separation anxiety in dogs.
Have you ever tried training your dog for specific situations or events? Did it work? Did you find yourself frustrated or unwilling to use the training methods that are mentioned here? If you have any stories or recommendations on dog training, please share them below in the comments!
Best of luck to you!