How Justin Silver Would Treat Separation Anxiety

Justin Silver, the dog trainer from ‘Dogs In The City’ uses an excellent system to treat common dog behavior problems.

A good way to summarize his method is:

Reward The GoodRedirectBe In Charge

So now let’s apply it to treating Separation Anxiety:

Let’s Define The Problem
Separation anxiety is a problem of dogs unable to cope with the owner leaving them alone.

It often manifests in barking and destructive behavior when the owner is not with the dog (sometimes just in the next room).

If the behavior is manifesting when the owner is next to the dog as well – it is not separation anxiety.

Step 1:Reward The Good

Teach your dog how to be Good by letting him get used to you leaving for short periods – start by leaving just for a minute or two.

Once the dog is comfortable – leave the house for longer.

Don’t just step outside the door – put on your shoes and take the keys and handbag – make it look like you are leaving for real.

When you return – don’t make a big deal out of it: give the dog a food treat for good behavior and then carry on as normal.

The message is: you leaving the house is nothing special.

Step 2: Redirect

Bad behaviors wouldn’t just disappear unless they are replaced with good once. In this instance the key is to give your dog something to do while you are away:

Don’t just leave the dog food in the bowl – scatter it all around the backyard and have your dog spend hour finding it all.

Give him a big, juicy bone to distract him just before your leave.

Those distraction toys in pet shops (the ones you pot food into) are actually quite helpful. Get one for your dog.

Step 3: Be In Charge

Let me make it clear – you will not make progress unless you (and not your dog) are the leader of the pack.

The best way to make this lesson clear is by doing basic obedience with your dog. Ten minutes twice a day does wonders.

Obedience (sit/stay/heel/roll over etc.) is also a great tool to distract your dog while you are leaving the house for a few minutes at a time.

Serious cases of separation anxiety may need Veterinary attention and medication (I have seen dog demolish the house while the owner is away) but these basic tool will always help, however bad the problem is.

You might say that prevention is better then cure. Read about how to prevent problems from occurring in the first place in my article ‘How To Urban-Proof Your Dog’.

About Dr Vadim Chelom

Dr Vadim is a house call Veterinarian in Melbourne


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  3. MedEdGirl

    I happen to love the show and think that they do focus on certain section of dog owners, but in the end it always seems to come down to two things–giving the humans the tools they need and ensuring that they have willingness/ability to put in the time needed to practice what they’ve been taught. I have friends that are struggling right now with an adopted 4-year old pugle. They’ve been told he has separation anxiety and that is the cause of his frenzied, high-pitch barking when people come and go. But, he willeven do this when you stand on the other side of a baby gate across the hallway when he can see you. Also, he has never been destructive while they are out. If this isn’t “separation anxiety”, What is it then? What do you recommend they do? The so-called desensitization training that they paid a trainer to teach them didn’t work. In fact, I think it just reinforced all the same behaviors that were there before. I’m afraid they’re going to have to surrender the dog if they can’t fix this problem. Please help.

    • Dr Vadim Chelom

      Dear MedEdGirl,
      If the dog is still behaving in this way while you are in the same room it is clearly not ‘separation anxiety’. Therefore teaching that dog desensitization is completely useless. From your description it is hard for me to understand what exactly is going on. This may be basic attention-seeking behavior or maybe even an underlying physical illness. I suggest going to your Vet and getting an examination and a general blood test done to rule out physical illness. Then go to a behaviorist and get him(her) to observe the behavior.

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