Lot's of pet owners understand that separation anxiety (SA) is a very prevalent problem but there is a lot of information out there about how to treat and even prevent it. So let's start there.
Myth 1. Separation anxiety is preventable.
You may have been advised by a well meaning individual that you shouldn't let your puppy sleep with you. Or maybe that you MUST create train in order to teach your dog how to be alone. It is a common misconception that people think they can prevent SA by raising their puppy in a specific way - through nurture. There is no evidence that we know, that points to any training protocols or puppy rearing tips will ward off SA.
More research is being done but what we know at this time is that SA is not exactly preventable. Good news though is it is treatable!
Myth 2. Food puzzles elevate anxiety.
Food puzzles are wonderful and in many ways can benefit a dogs welfare. However, when it comes to separation anxiety leaving your dog with food puzzles does not help. It simply distracts them for a little bit but makes no difference in elevating they panic when they realize that you are gone. This goes for chews or other games that distract the dog while you are gone. Distraction is not a solution and has pitfalls.
Myth 3. Desensitize leaving cues.
Another common solution given to pet parents with separation anxiety dogs is to rehearse leaving routines frequently. I admit I was under the impression that if one desensitized the dog to the triggers that told them they would be left alone they would be calmer when you actually left. Myself along with others were miss-guided. However, upon further research there is an element of this process used for treating SA but it's not about faking the dog out. Turns out when you try to fake the dog out and practice leaving routines but don't leave you run the risk of making the anxiety worse, not better.
Myth 4. Sneak out and don't make a fuss when you return.
This is similar to the food puzzle idea of distraction combined with leaving cues. Sneaking out the door is not going to change how your dog feels when they notice you leave. The thing you need to know about separation anxiety is that it is anxiety. It might be helpful to think of it like a panic attack.
Returning and ignoring your dog has no impact on SA but it can trigger other problems. In my experience ignoring your dog when you return after an absence (of any length) can trigger excess jumping and attention seeking behaviors as the dog frantically tries to return to homeostasis. It's usually far easier and avoids excess stress if you were give them attention right away and console their worries.
Myth 5. You must use a crate for a dog with separation anxiety.
I find this (putting SA suffering dogs in crates) to be the saddest advice out there. Do you know anyone who suffers from anxiety attacks? Maybe you do... When in the middle of an attack would confining them to a small enclosed space without an option to leave calm their attack? Definitely not. It's not uncommon for a SA dog to also be claustrophobic.
Crates should be used wisely and only if absolutely necessary. They are defiantly not a necessity and can create more distressed to an already suffering dog. Their place in training should be reserved for dogs who are already crate trained and love their crate.
Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety? Kind Animal Services offers real solutions for families with dogs suffering form this all to common disorder. Reach out if you are interested in learning more about how we can help you and your dog find relaxation when left home alone.