In the previous episode, we explored the question: My dog is afraid of being touched in sensitive areas of her body – should I be concerned? And Mike really took us very deep into this topic.
Yes, he said – with great emphasis – you should be concerned. And then, he began to unpack it.
Separation Anxiety – Just How Big A Deal Is It?
So, the question for today is: My dog has issues with separation anxiety – what should I do?
Mike: Well, separation anxiety is a very big topic, and there’s an awful lot to say about it.
I’m going to touch on a few points today, but the first thing I would say is, if you go to my website – not gooddoghappybaby, but my other website, which is doggonegood.org – there’s an extensive section on separation anxiety in there. And it’s free, you can just look at it – there’s a lot of information.
My book Good Dog, Happy Baby also has a fairly in-depth section on separation anxiety. So, I’ll touch on some points, but there are more details in those two places, and I’d encourage people to follow up with this topic there.
That said, first of all: separation anxiety is something to take very seriously. Because dogs that are prone to separation anxiety are also going to be more prone to issues of jealousy.
They’re so connected – over-connected – to their owners, and just afraid of not being with their owner. So, it’s very easy for a dog like that to experience issues with jealousy. So, take this seriously.
The First Steps
Mike: So obviously, the first thing to do is to start to get the dog used to spending little bits of time by themselves.
Now, issues of separation anxiety run anywhere from mild to extreme. And different dogs are on different parts of that spectrum.
But the first part is to just slowly start getting the dog used to less connection, less time with the owner. Even around the house, during times when you’re there – if the dog’s always up on the sofa, or up in bed with you, or just always right at your feet, start teaching the dog to tolerate some distance.
If they’re up on the furniture with you, cuddled up with you all the time, maybe put them down at your feet, for starters. Then, maybe, you can tether them – and you can put a little doggie bed down.
The first step is getting them off the sofa and onto the floor. Then tether them to a coffee table, put a little doggie bed down there, two feet away from you. So they’re right there, but they’ve got to be on their own.
And then, you always want to try to connect being apart with something good. So, let’s say the dog is two or three feet away from you on his little tether, in his little bed – give him a really juicy bone to chew on.
And then, once he’s settled there, every day, move them a few inches further back, until he’s on the opposite side of the room. And then, maybe, just around the corner in another room. Just like that.
Work Iteratively With Your Dog
And always, connect really nice things to it, and do it in short bursts that the dog can handle. But then, push the edge by trying to increase the increments of time that the dog is alone, and so forth.
The same thing applies when leaving the room or leaving the house. One of my favorite exercises to help with separation anxiety is this: you’re in one room with the dog, by a door. Step out, close the door, wait one second – come right back in, and ignore the dog.
Turn around; go back out for three seconds. Come right back in and ignore the dog. Go back out for ten seconds – come right back in, ignore the dog. Like that.
Comings and goings, but increasing the increments of time with each iteration. Again, to begin to get the dog a little bit used to your increasing absences, just a little bit.
Controlling The ‘I Want To Be With You’ Impulse
Morgan: Right. And what purpose does it serve to ignore the dog in that situation? What is that conditioning the dog to expect?
Mike: Well, any time you reconnect with him, it retriggers all the “I want to be with you” impulses. But by being emotionally cool with the dog, you want to try to avoid emotional spikes.
Morgan: Because if the dog has separation anxiety, when he sees you, he experiences a very positive emotional spike. And we want to tone those down.
Mike: So, when you get home, for example, and the dog is bouncing around, happy to see you – just ignore him. Don’t make a big thing of it – you want to try to dampen down emotional spikes whenever possible, so the dog can have a more levelled-out emotional experience around issues of being with you or being without you.
Morgan: Got it. Less oxytocin.
Mike: Yes, exactly. Well, we also want to make the felt difference between being with you and not being with you less. Obviously, there’s always going to be a difference – but we want to make it less. There’s a lot to say about that.
Other Options: Tight T-Shirts And Cannabis For Dogs
One other thing, is that there are a number of products you can purchase, these days, that just help with anxiety in general. For example, CBD treats.
I don’t know where people are, in various states. I live in California. I’m sure the whole country knows they just legalized marijuana, out here – which is good for some laughs, or whatever.
But one of the side products of medical marijuana is: in marijuana, there’s THC, which is what gets people high. But there’s also CBD, cannabinoids, and they calm people down.
It’s the part of the marihuana plant that helps cancer patients, for example, digest food better, or have a bigger appetite. But it helps with anxiety – it has a calming effect.
So, they have dog treat products, now, that have cannabinoids in them. And if you live in a state where there are medical dispensaries, you can actually just get CBD oils. And they can help with anxiety, a lot.
Mike: I’ve got a number of clients with various anxiety issues that get the cannabinoid treats, or just the oil directly. Or not the oil – it’s like a tincture. And that can be very helpful.
If you don’t live in a place where you have access to that, you can try other things. There’s a product called a ThunderShirt, which is just a very tight-fitting little T-shirt that can help dogs with anxiety.
I could go into all the reasons why that’s effective. I was very skeptical at first, when I saw them come out – but after a fair amount of experience with a number of clients, I’ve seen them really help a lot of dogs.
And certainly, they fall into the category of “no harm done” – it’s pretty cheap.
Also, there’s a product called Rescue Remedy, which is a homeopathic tincture that can also help some dogs.
And the last one I can think of is: there’s a product called Adaptil, and it’s a synthetic hormone made from lactating mother’s milk – or made to resemble lactating mother’s milk – that has a very powerful calming effect on a lot of dogs. And they have diffusers, little collars that you can buy.
And you know, you can do all of those things together, because they all fall into the category of: worst case scenario, nothing happens. But there’s no harm done.
Mike: So, that’s one thing. And then, for dogs that have very extreme issues of separation anxiety, sometimes, believe it or not, you can consider a pharmaceutical drug like Prozac, and Xanax, and things like that.
And again, people laugh when they hear: “Oh yeah, Prozac for my dog.” But, you know, it’s kind of serious business – because anxiety disorders are often biologically rooted.
And that’s when pharmaceuticals can come in and be very helpful. So, anyway, I just wanted to throw that in there.There’s a lot more information about all that stuff in the two places I mentioned at the outset.
Let Them Down Gently
Mike: I was going to say one other thing. And oftentimes, people will sleep with their dog in the bed at night – I do. But in a situation with a baby coming, that’s another thing.
I always tell people: “Think of a boyfriend or a girlfriend – and you like them, but you don’t want to be with them anymore.” So, you don’t want to do a hard breakup – you want to ease them out [laughter].
Morgan: Right, yes.
Mike: So it’s like that – you want to ease the dog out, a little bit. So, if he’s sleeping in bed with you every night, just like the situation with the sofa, have him sleep on the side of the bed for a week.
And then, maybe, on the far end of the room. And then maybe outside in the hallway.
Like that – slowly just start to create more and more situations, both when you’re there and, obviously, when you’re not there, where the dog has to start to tolerate some time on their own.
And, you know, always connect it with something positive – with a bully stick or a frozen beef bone, just something so that the aloneness is associated with something good.
So, in a perfect world, it would be like telling a 15-year-old: “Go to your room” – but then you give them a PlayStation and four video games. And, you know, he’ll be OK with going to his room [laughter].
Why You Need To Start Seeking Solutions Right Now
Morgan: I have a question, Mike, related to all this: when you’re noticing that your dog’s got anxiety and separation anxiety, when is the right time to start deploying these tactics? To start looking for solutions, to start dealing with it?
Mike: As with any of this stuff, yesterday is the time to start. With separation anxiety, the urgency is double.
There are a lot of trainers that actually won’t work with separation anxiety – not because they don’t know how, but because it’s just such a difficult, drawn-out, tedious process that they don’t want to do it.
Consequently, there are people who specialize in it – there’s a market. “A lot of trainers don’t want to do it, so I’ll specialize in it and get all that business.” There’s a few people like that, out here.
Mike: So, the urgency cannot be overstated.
Morgan: Got it.
Mike: This is even if you’re six months out, and you feel like you’ve got plenty of time.
Unlike what we’ve said in previous podcasts about having 10, or 12, or 15 months before the baby starts crawling, in this particular situation, it’s more like you have until the birth day.
Because that’s when your life is going to become very different, and the dog just will not be the center any more. So, the timeline is shrunk, and the difficulty level is higher.
Morgan: Yes. Well, I think that’s pretty clear. Do you have any final points you want to make on this, Mike, before we wrap it up?
Mike: Yes, just to reemphasize: do not underestimate the problems that separation anxiety can cause.
Even if it’s only mild to moderate in your dog, and you think it will be OK – don’t presume it. Because, when the baby comes, if the dog is triggered with jealousy, it can make whatever separation anxiety there is worse.
So, I just say: take it seriously, and just get going.
Morgan: The problem being: you’re going to have a very neurotic dog on your hands. Is that right? Or even worse..?
Mike: Yes, neurotic and more clingy – now he feels threatened, because his connection to mommy is being endangered. So then, they get more neurotic, more clingy, and then of course later, that can translate into jealous behaviors of other sorts.
Morgan: Right, right.
Mike: So, separation anxiety is a big deal – don’t take it lightly.
Where To Get More Information
Morgan: Got it. Alright, everybody – you got it from the source, there.
And if you’re interested in following up on any of this, I encourage you to do two things: one, check out Mike’s book, Good Dog, Happy Baby.
As he said, he’s got a whole chapter in there – or he’s got a whole section, rather – devoted to this topic. But more broadly, this is the definitive book on preparing your dog for the arrival of your child.
And, also, check out the e-course that Mike has recently put together and published – if you sign up for his newsletter, you will get a really great discount on the course.
You can head over to gooddoghappybaby.com and check that out. It really deals with a lot of core issues related to preparing your dog for the arrival of your baby.
So, if this is important to you, if you’re expecting and you have any doubt that your dog is going to have any sort of issues with the arrival of your child, then please do check out these resources as soon as possible.
>> You can listen to the previous episode here: 07: Your dog is sensitive to touch. What should you do?