Updated: Jan 31
I am a Dog Listener trained by Jan Fennell herself. Her methods of working with dogs are highly effective and every time I work with a client this is confirmed. Dog Listening is a holistic approach and separation anxiety is just one of the many issues that can be resolved by using the method as a whole.
What is Separation Anxiety?
There is no question that, being separated from its owner can be terribly upsetting for a dog. The sense of anguish the dog can feel causes them to display some extreme behaviours when you go out and leave them. This can be howling, crying, constantly following you around, barking, excessive chewing, destructive behaviours or toileting in the house. These behaviours can start even as you start to get ready to leave the house.
Why does this happen?
Many owners humanise their dogs and therefore see this behaviour as the dog pinning for their owner like a child that has been abandoned. However, it is in fact the other way around, the dog sees its self as the parent and is distressed because its child is out of sight. Can you imagine seeing your two-year-old child walk out of the front door and not be able to go and get them back and keep them away from any dangers they may face? This is how a dog with separation anxiety feels and it is frantically trying to get to you not knowing where you have gone and when or if you will return. They feel a strong sense of responsibly for you. Then when you return to find the mess or complaints from the neighbours your mood is understandably less than happy. As far as your dog is concerned, this must be the cause of something you had encountered while you were out and thereby adds to the dog’s anxiety.
Can this be resolved?
The good news is yes this can be resolved. The simple answer is you need to rebalance the relationship by reversing the roles so your dog sees you as the parent/leader and relieve the dog of the responsibly that is causing it so much stress. We use the holistic approach of Dog Listening looking at four areas: Status, Food, Danger and Hunt in order to achieve this. I will explain in this blog how to deal with the immediate issue of separation anxiety as a starting point, however the Dog Listening method works best when all four areas are addressed together to elevate the stressful role of ‘leader’ from your dog. When you do this your dog will lead a stress- free life, follow you of its own free will and feel happy and safe.
You can overcome this in three simple steps but firstly you need to change our mindset. Instead of humanising your dog’s behaviour, learn the language of your dog.
Step 1 – Gesture leaving
Get ready to leave the house as you normally would, so putting on your coat and shoes etc in full view of your dog. However, do not look or talk to your dog. Take the drama out of leaving, parents/leaders can come and go as they please, they don’t need to ask permission to leave the house. Looking at your dog now will cause them to think something is required of them and add anxiety. Leave on the radio or TV if it was already on so the dog isn’t left in silence and simply walk out of your door again not making eye contact of speaking to your dog. (If your dog’s anxiety is all based around the front door. For now, leave from another door if possible and walk in through the front door.) walk away from the house and walk back again so the dog is left on its own for a matter of seconds.
Step 2 – Reuniting
So many people think that a dog jumping up, barking, licking you or running around is excited to see you when you come home, in reality they are showing these behaviours as they are really relieved that you are home. Just how you would be if you had lost your two-year-old child and they returned.
Reuniting with your dog after any separation, even if you have quickly gone to the bathroom is very important as dogs are always intelligently asking questions: What’s changed? Who is in charge now? These questions are paramount for their survival. This is why we need to give them the very clear message that nothing has changed and we are in charge so they don’t need to worry about us. We do this by timing the greeting for the benefit of the dog. So when you walk in to the house after being outside, do not make eye contact or speak to your dog, if they jump up at you gently push them down again not speaking or making eye contact, if they bring you a toy again just ignore this, maybe put the kettle on or do some washing up to ensure you ignore them. Eventually, your dog will settle and lie down and will clearly relax. Give them 5 mins to enjoy this stress-free relaxation and then call them to you for lots of cuddles and fuss. This may take some time at first, however each time you reunite in this way you will gradually see the time it takes for them to settle lessen until it is a matter of minutes, By doing this you have greeted them on your terms and shown them in their dog language that you are in charge and don’t need looking after.
Step 3 – Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repeat this process, but this time increase the amount of time you are out of the house to a couple of minutes and then add an extra 5 minutes each time you go out. You will see a noticeably more relaxed dog and, instead of a frantic stressful greeting when you return, you will see a calm joyful wag of your dog’s tail.
I offer 1:1 dog listening consultations where together we will create an action plan that will give simple clear guidelines to follow every day. I teach you what you dog already knows , what its doing and why. I will help you understand why your dog does what it does then offer solutions to resolve the breakdown of communication. Along with the consultation you will receive a life time of back up and access to my private Dog Listening group. #doglistening #seperationanxiety