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How Dogs Can Overcome Anxiety Through Training and Love

How Dogs Can Overcome Anxiety Through Training and Love

“I’m Bella. I’m happy, boisterous, and full of energy. I love just about everything and everyone. But most of all, I live for my wonderful humans. Every day when I’m left alone I’m overcome with panic. My heart races, my body shakes, and my insides squeeze into a knot. I pant, drool, bark and howl, and sometimes even wet myself. I can’t control my fear, and I’ve even torn up the door in my desperation to get to my people.” Ahh, Bella, I feel your pain. As a dog lover and trainer, I’ve heard this heartbreaking story all too many times.

The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 17% of the 89.7 million dogs in the United States alone suffer from some degree of separation anxiety. That’s a staggering number of our canine companions who live in daily misery when their beloved owners step out the door. Milder cases often go unrecognized and untreated, creating a torturous routine for these dogs. And the severe cases? Well, they can often result in relinquishment to a shelter, where a dog’s options are re-homing or euthanasia. Tragic, isn’t it?

Separation Anxiety: The Hidden Torment

It’s a common misconception that dogs pee, defecate, bark incessantly, or tear things up because they are mad at their people for leaving them alone. I get it – it’s an understandable and tempting explanation. But the truth is, it just isn’t so. Dogs do not have the same cognitive machinery as we humans. Lucky for them, they’re not able to experience or express human emotions like resentment, guilt, or angry protest. No, your dog isn’t angry with you for leaving. He’s terrified of being left alone. This is not a voluntary state of being for him. It’s something he has no control over.

The Vicious Cycle of Separation Anxiety

You might think it makes sense to just wait it out – after all, you always come back, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. In fact, it’s most often the opposite: Most dogs with separation anxiety get worse over time, not better. An anxious dog’s body is flooded with stress-inducing chemicals each time he’s left alone. The experience of daily panic and fear begins to make him hyper-vigilant, constantly watching his owner for signs she may be leaving.

As Malena DeMartini, a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, explains, “You may have noticed over time that your dog has become very aware of what shoes you put on (watching whether you’re lacing up for a walk or slipping on your work heels), where you keep your car keys, even what day of the week it is (Sunday mornings are ‘safe,’ while Monday mornings are reason to fret).” This constant state of underlying stress, punctuated by the panic brought on by actual absences, contributes to a devastating cycle that makes it impossible for a dog to learn to feel safe while alone without training intervention.

Unlocking the Path to Canine Confidence

The good news? Through training and, in some cases, the additional aid of medication, dogs can learn to be much more comfortable when left on their own. Shoshi Parks, a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT), explains that the first step is to “make the right accommodations at first—services like a pet sitter, a specialized trainer, or a groomer who comes to your house.” But the real magic happens when you embark on a gradual process of desensitization and counter-conditioning.

It’s all about taking baby steps and moving at your dog’s pace. The team at District Dogs emphasizes that every dog has their own ‘anxiety threshold’ – a specific moment when being alone becomes too much to handle. Whether it’s the second you put on your jacket or the moment the door clicks shut, understanding this threshold is vital in formulating an effective training plan.

Laying the Foundation for a Calm, Confident Pup

The process involves gradually desensitizing your dog to all the little cues that signal your departure, like putting on your shoes or grabbing your keys. The ASPCA explains that by incorporating these pre-departure cues into your training sessions and slowly disassociating them from the anxiety of you leaving, you can help your dog feel more at ease.

And the training itself? It’s all about keeping it positive, consistent, and tailored to your individual pup. As Shoshi Parks advises, “We use positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior, creating a routine that reassures your dog that it’s okay to be alone sometimes.” The key is to start small, with just a few seconds of alone time, and slowly build up from there.

A Journey of Trust and Confidence

I know it can feel like an uphill battle, but with the right approach, you and your furry friend can conquer this challenge. Remember, every dog is unique, and their response to separation anxiety training won’t follow a one-size-fits-all pattern. Be patient, celebrate the small victories, and don’t hesitate to seek help from certified trainers or behaviorists if you need it.

Because at the end of the day, the goal is to transform those anxious goodbyes into peaceful departures, where your dog feels safe, secure, and confident – even when you’re not by their side. And that, my friends, is the true power of training and love.

Ready to embark on this journey with your pup? Head on over to to connect with dog care and adoption resources that can guide you every step of the way. Together, we’ll help your canine companion overcome their anxiety and discover the joy of being their own calm, confident self.

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