Training Spotlight: Helping to Ease Separation Anxiety

AKC Gazette breed column, Flat-Coated Retrievers: Keeping your departures and returns calm and controlled can help ease your dog’s separation anxiety.

Some dogs are very prone to separation anxiety. Whining, barking, and/or destructiveness in the absence of the owner are signs of a distressed and frustrated dog, which can lead to an unhappy owner.

The key to controlling separation anxiety is to always leave the dog calmly, ideally leaving him with a biscuit and a toy or something to do, and always return with calm control.

If your dog was in his crate while you were away, upon your return enter the room the crate is in alone, with no people or other pets accompanying you, and close the door behind you. Say nothing to the dog, and quietly busy yourself around the room for a minute or two at first, gradually longer, to get him used to waiting. Then go to the crate with a collar and lead. Say nothing to him and unlatch the crate door, but don’t open it.

Boundary-line train your dog by opening and closing the crate door an inch or two, quickly, repeatedly, 10 or 20 times or until the dog is calmly watching. Then gradually open and close the door wider and more slowly. If the dog begins to come out, gently but quickly close the door and start over. When he understands that he is to wait while the door is fully open, put his collar and lead on as you call him out, then have him stop and sit (or stand if he is a show dog). Control him with stops and turns every few steps, both inside the room and out, until he is under control.

Speak to him pleasantly in a low, calm voice, but be careful to not allow him to touch you. Touching you will excite him as much as being played with will. If you have trouble keeping him from touching you, practice left turns and circles left during training sessions and use them when he is excited about you.

Don’t allow any greetings with any other pets or people or affection or play from you until he has been calm for 15 to 20 minutes. This will be time-consuming at first, but it will take less time in a few days and will save you a lot of time in the long run.

If while you were away you left your dog loose in the house or a room, yard, or dog run, rejoin him by going into this area when you return, rather than opening a door or gate and letting him explode out. Walk into his area and walk past him, speaking to him pleasantly in a low voice. Have him sit for a biscuit while you put on his collar and lead, and treat him as you would coming out of a crate. Or tease him with a biscuit or toy and throw it to distract him. You could also look into a crate that’s suited for helping with separation anxiety.

The Flat-Coat is a dependent, excitable breed that is prone to separation anxiety. Prevent explosive or bolting behavior when you return, and you will have a happier, healthier, less anxious dog. —Sally Terroux,

Sally Terroux is a longtime obedience trainer and behavior specialist and Flat-Coated Retriever owner. 

Further information about Flat-Coated Retrievers can be found here and here and on the website of the breed’s national parent club, the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America.

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