Dealing with separation anxiety

Kongcompany.com

It’s Monday morning and after a lovely weekend together you are running late for work so you quickly give the dog a 10 minute jog around the block, feed him and tell him “mommy will be back soon” while giving him lots of hugs and kisses as he jumps up, spins in circles, and tries to squeeze through the door with you. Sound like your morning?

By far the most common issue among my clients is separation anxiety. This problem behaviour can develop at any time with dogs and can be tricky to fix. Issues like aggression can often be remedied faster than separation anxiety, which can be deep routed.

So why do some dogs develop this anxiety? There are several reasons but a main one is that it is unnatural for pack members to just up and leave on their own. Dogs in the wild migrate together and don’t just venture off independently. We typically worsen this already foreign behaviour by making a big production of leaving in the first place. We caudal and baby talk to our pets right before leaving not recognizing that the dog is already in a stressed state of mind. We rarely tire out our pups before leaving and almost never make sure they are relaxed once we go. Instead we blow kisses and pour affection onto our dogs when they are already anxious therefore rewarding the behaviour. What’s worse is we do the exact same when we return home. A dog who has not been properly exercised and is left in a stressed state will of course try to release some frustration by chewing baseboards or singing a song that never ends for your neighbours.

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Here are my 7 helpful tips on what you can do to help curb your dog’s separation anxiety.

  1. Make sure your dog sees you as the pack leader. A dog who thinks he is in charge will be stressed when pack members are out of sight because he feels out of control. He worries that he cannot protect and provide guidance which leads to him act out. You and everyone in your family need to be the pack leader. Kids actually make great pack leaders as they don’t over think things and act instinctually.
  2. Exercise your dog well before leaving. Guess what? A 10-15 minute walk around the block doesn’t work. Take your dog somewhere new and take 45 mintes to an hour to truly work them out. Imagine being locked up all day with nothing to do when you are programmed to work. You’d get pretty bored and anxious too. Give your dog something fulfilling and fun to then leave them tired afterwards. Save the 15 minute walk for when you return.
  3. Feed your dog before you step out. After dogs eat they need to rest in order to digest. This is a natural way to help them into a calm state before you go as they will tire and sleep while you are gone (assuming you already fulfilled their exercise requirements)
  4. Make sure your dog is calm when you go.  Putting your dog on his bed or better yet in a crate in a calm state will make leaving a breeze. They’ll be asleep and forgot you even left in no time. Do not rush this step, make sure the dog is fully calm and not just lying down.
  5. Desensitize your dog to things like grabbing your keys or putting on your shoes. Carry your keys around with you and jingle them and put shoes and a coat on 20 minutes before actually heading out.
  6. Do not make leaving and arriving home a dramatic occurrence. Remember Cesar Millan’s rules: No touch, no talk, no eye contact. Just act as if all is good and calmly leave. When you come home wait until your dog is calm and settled to show affection. If you build up emotions about coming and going your dog will always be stressed about it.
  7. Resist the urge to get another dog to keep yours company while you are gone. Chances are the new dog will develop the same separation anxiety and now you’ll just have 2 dogs destroying your house. Any time you have problem behaviours with a dog it is never ideal to add a new pack member until those issues have been resolved. Putting that stress on another dog is not fair and it is unlikely either dog will achieve balance.
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Walk this way

dog on leashHave you ever noticed that the sign for “dogs must be on leash” is an illustration showing a dog in front of the owner with tension on the leash? A woman I met at the Cesar Millan training workshop pointed this out to me and then handed me a stack of stickers with the illustration of a dog with a loose leash walking BEHIND the owner. Brilliant I thought! The idea is to change people’s perspective on how we walk dogs by placing a sticker over each sign you see. This novel idea will take a huge movement and mean a lot of reeducation for owners.

Every day I see people on walks with their dog pulling on a tight leash ahead. When walking like this the dog sees himself as pack leader and this is when problems arise. Not only that, a dog greeting another dog on a tight leash is when you see the most dog fights happen. It is unnatural for dogs to meet face to face, and when a leash has tension and the dog pulls, their body language suggests a challenge to the other dog which then leads to aggression.

How you and your dog walk together says a lot about your relationship.

Each morning while training at the Dog Psychology Center, we started with a pack walk. Cesar Millan’s first rule for a balanced dog is exercise, then discipline and then affection – and he stresses that it must be done in that order. While walking each day I learned that the walk is just as much for you as it is for your dog. It allows you to clear your mind, exert pent up energy and balance yourself and your dog. I have always loved walking with Carmen and she does so well on leash, but I have found a whole new appreciation for it. At the end of our walks it feels as if I spent an hour in a yoga class or getting a massage, I am that relaxed. If only we could all experience this. Unfortunately not all dog lovers enjoy walks the way I do, even more unfortunate, some people don’t walk their dogs everyday or even at all.

TCW DAY 1-118

I believe that how you and your dog walk together says a lot about your relationship. If your dog charges ahead, then you are not in control enough to be the leader. If your dog drags behind or refuses to walk, again your energy is off in order to lead the pack. If you think about it our dogs are here to show us how simple life can truly be in this regard. We are too hung up on rushing things, doing everything quickly, multitasking, and not enjoying the little gifts this world has to offer. Next time your on a walk take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and go slow. Make sure your dog is beside or behind you with no tension on the leash. You and your dog will enjoy the walk way more.

Never be complacent

I have a simple goal these days and that is to never be too comfortable in life. If we are complacent we loose sight of the things we want in life and stop growing as individuals. It is important to push ourselves. To achieve more than we ever thought possible. To work hard and grow a little every day. This is something I have learned from my dog. Every morning Carmen wakes up with her tail wagging, happy and ready to embrace any challenge that comes her way. I have embraced this very mentality in my own life thanks to her. I strive to never take a second for granted and I am so grateful to have learned this lesson at a young age.

Liz & Carmen June 1, 2010

Liz & Carmen June 1, 2010

When I was 24 years old I adopted (not rescued) a three legged dog from Mexico and this weekend marks our 4th year anniversary. June 1st of 2010, I met Carmen and my whole life changed for the better. I thought I was on the right track with going back to school for a second degree but realized quickly that I was unhappy and it wasn’t for me. Scared and a little unsure, I decided to follow my heart and made a very difficult but amazing decision. I dropped out of school, something I never thought I would do, moved to a new city and opened a dog daycare. This new challenge was fuelled by a passion for dogs and influenced by my very own Carmen. I had no idea how successful this endeavour would be, but I had a strong sense that deep down I was doing the right thing.

The Dog Haus June 2011

This crazy new experience taught me so much about myself and just how much I had to offer the world. It also reinforced the notion that when you really push yourself to do something great, two things happen, you become stronger and you influence others around you. By me opening a daycare I have motivated others to change their owns lives. Quitting school and doing something for myself made me and those around me, realize that we are in control of own destinies. If I am unhappy, I have the power to make change for the better.

Perfectly timed to help us celebrate our anniversary together, this week Carmen and I are taking a fantastic, once in a life-time opportunity to invest in ourselves by endeavouring to learn new things and strengthening our bond even further. We are fortunate enough to get to work with the best of the best in the dog biz, Cesar Millan. We will be travelling all the way to California to participate in a five day course at the Cesar Millan Dog Psychology Centre in Santa Clarita. This course, taught by Cesar Milan himself, focuses on the fundamentals of building a balanced relationship between dog and owner, addressing problem behaviours and achieving a calm submissive state. Carmen and I have never been so ready to take on this new challenge and begin the next chapter in our life together.

I would love for you all to join us on this adventure! I will be blogging about it here on http://www.mydogphilosophy.com as I go to keep you all in the loop of what we are learning and how things are going. Be sure to stay tuned!

I know I will learn so much more about dog behaviour on this journey but also more about myself and Carmen, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. I am excited to once again push myself to a new level and accept the new challenge in front of me. This an opportunity that not many get, so I will be sure to take full advantage just like Carmen has taught me. Thanks so much for following me so far and check back for new information from The Dog Psychology Center soon.

Be the person your dog NEEDS you to be

Cesar Millan's Short Guide To A Happy DogAlways hungry to learn more about dog behaviour, I read everything I can get my hands on from training to nutrition, from grooming to breed histories, from psychology to animal anatomy. When you are passionate about something, your thirst for knowledge never runs out. Even with everything that I have read, I have never learnt so much in only 205 pages.

If I could recommend one book to dog owners everywhere it would be Cesar Millan’s Short Guide to a Happy Dog. It simply and beautifully sums up what everyone needs to know in order to live harmoniously with their furry companion and so much more. Even if you do not have a dog, this book can help you. Cesar outlines more than just what it means to have a happy animal in your life, but how you too can live a life that is fulfilled.

Cesar stresses throughout the book that in order to be a successful dog owner one must be a true pack leader and the recipe for that is as simple as 3 basic things: 1) exercise 2) discipline 3) affection – given in that exact order. If you have ever watched Cesar’s shows you are familiar with these 3 golden rules. This is something my staff and I practice and work on every day with the dogs in our pack at The Dog Haus. We work with the dogs to meet their physical and mental needs and reward them with affection. This helps them to know their place within the pack, to behave in accordance to that, and most important enables them to relax and simply be a dog! When dogs do not have to worry about where their owner is or have pent up energy from not getting enough exercise, they are more balanced and know how to get along with others and have fun! What we all need to remember is that dog’s require strong leadership, they need an outlet for excess energy, they crave direction, and they strive to please to earn affection.

Not being a strong leader puts unnecessary stress on our dogs creating an anxious, unhappy pet. What many people don’t realize is a dog’s confidence is a reflection of its owners.  A nervous dog is anxious because it picks up nervous energy from it’s owner. If we wear our stress, then so do our dogs. Being calm and confident may not be easy for everyone, but if you work at it, your dog will help you to be the confident person you want to be. How, might you ask? By applying the same 3 golden rules to ourselves, 1) exercise 2) discipline 3) affection. Exercise helps to relive stress, discipline gives us purpose and drive, and giving and accepting love provides us with fulfillment in life. When all three are combined our mood and our lives are dramatically improved and a more confident individual is born.

Not many people know, but I have suffered from ongoing depression and anxiety since the age of 16. It became so overwhelming that in my early 20’s there were times I could not leave the house. Then came along Carmen and everything got better. She gave me structure and purpose in my life. She also provided me with daily exercise through our walks, discipline through training her and affection with her companionship. Every morning, I got out of bed to do something for someone else. To fulfill an essential need for her and that gave me hope each day. We went new places together and met new people. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone which built up my confidence. Through it all our bond grew stronger. Fast forward to now where I have pursued my dream and am the successful owner of my very own dog daycare. That shy, insecure little girl is just a distant memory. I have also witnessed my staff evolve into more confident people because of the affect of working with animals. Being around 30 dogs in a pack you definitely have to be comfortable with who you are and how you project yourself to the world. Energy is everything in the dog world and I have so many dogs to thank for my personal growth over the years.

The moral of this story is that your dog needs to you be a role model. To be strong, confident each and everyday. So tell yourself when you wake up, before you head out for your morning walk, that you are going to be the person your dog needs you to be; a strong, confident pack leader who fulfills her every need. And remember, have fun too! Now go read this book, you and your dog will be better because of it!