Separation Anxiety is a common behavior problem in dogs. It takes many forms from mild to severe, but is typically characterized by the onset of sudden symptoms of stress and anxiety, like lip-licking & yawning, and often also includes many other accompanying behaviors like panting, pacing, whining, or barking that can continue uninterrupted for hours.
In the worst cases, dogs with separation anxiety can harm themselves or destroy objects around the house, and even with professional training, the behavior can be very difficult to change. This is because effectively training a dog to tolerate being away from you for periods of time takes many months of management and more speciazed training, known as “behavior modification.”
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, behavior modification describes a much more involved process of replacing an old behavior with a new one, using a combination of techniques such as positive reinforcement and extinction. Behavior modification differs from dog training primarily in the sense that it attempts to change the dogs underlying response to a situation with gradual changes overtime, whereas dog training may not address the underlying behavior at all, but simply teaches the dog a new command to follow.
Both have their place in helping a dog with separation anxiety. For example, you might train your dog to lay calmly in a “down-stay”, but you might give your dog a bone every time they are in their crate to change how they feel about the crate in the first place. The latter is behavior modification, and when combined with training, over a long enough period of time can give you the tools to communicate with your dog in a way that eases their anxiety altogether.
Separation Anxiety is a nuanced problem that often requires the help of an animal behaviorist and licensed veterinarian to solve completely.
This has been talked about in several of our articles here already, but the rise of online dog training after the 2019-2020 Pandemic has provided an innovative new way to help dogs with separation anxiety in the form of online dog training. Online training is not only cheaper and more accessible to most dog owners than traditional training, but they allow consultations with animal behavior experts all across the globe, including those not usually accessible locally.
Further, online dog training doesn't involve the same stress for certain dogs as training in person. As many dogs with separation anxiety can also be stressed around new people and situations, online training allows you to work with your dog without them getting worked up over a new person in the house, and gives you unparalleled flexibility in terms of scheduling.
For many dog owners, separation anxiety can seem like an incurable condition, but often this is because dog owners only address one half of the problem (the dogs obedience training) or, because of the costs associated with consistent training are too high. As online dog training becomes even cheaper and more accessible, solving the complex triggers that underpin separation anxiety and other common behavior problems (such as reactivity) become more and more possible!