Teaching Your Dog to be Confident and Independent in Your Absence

Hyper-Attachment Disorder

The idea of our pet wanting to be near us doesn’t sound like such a terrible thing – in fact it seems rather comforting and reassuring. Unfortunately, the truth is that an overly attached pet is not a happy pet. A diagnosis of hyper-attachment disorder means the pet (usually a dog) is overly attached to someone, and cannot cope without them – in fact they can even go into a panic mode.

If you have the ability to be around your pet most of the time, hyper-attachment may not seem to an issue. But there are simply times when your pet can’t be with you. Over the last year (during the pandemic) many people found themselves working from home – and many of those working from home adopted rescue pets  or maybe brought home a new puppy. Now, as many of us return to the workplace, more than a few pets are struggling to adapt to their owner’s absence.

Hyper-attachment is a condition that leads to high stress levels in your pet. These high stress levels can have a negative affect on your pet’s mental, emotional and even physical wellbeing. The disorder caused from hyper-attachment is more commonly known as separation anxiety.  

Separation anxiety in pets can be caused by something as extreme as the death of an owner – or something as simple as a change in routine. Newly adopted pets often exhibit signs of separation anxiety instigated by insecurity in their new environment. Although many types of household pets may develop separation anxiety, the disorder is most commonly seen in dogs.

Signs Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

There is a significant difference between affectionate pets and pets that suffer from separation anxiety. With dogs, for example, it’s important to understand the nature of their breed type i- as well as the difference in behavior associated with the dog’s age. For example, certain dog breeds are more affectionate and have a higher likelihood of developing separation anxiety. Meanwhile, any dog owner who has raised a new puppy will attest the little ones tend to chew on just about everything in sight regardless of anxiety. However, if you think separation anxiety may be present in your own pet, you may keep an eye out for some of these warning signs:

  • Follows you from room to room
  • Excessive whining, howling or barking in your absence
  • Leaving “accidents” indoors even though housebroken
  • Obsessive pacing in a patter when you’re gone
  • Constantly trying to escape
  • Destructive tendencies in your absence such as: chewing furniture, obsessively digging holes, scratching at doors and windows
  • Unusual drooling or panting

If your pet shows some or all of the behaviors listed above, it would be wise to consult with your veterinarian to discuss these behavioral issues. If your dog has been to the vet and you’ve both concluded your pet suffers from hyper-attachment, there are some steps you can take to alleviate the situation.

Treating Dog Separation Anxiety

As a core theme, remember: It’s important for pets to develop healthy independence and confidence. Treating your dog’s separation anxiety will make her a happier, healthier pet. Treatment techniques will vary depending on the condition of your pet and the severity of the issue.

  1. If the hyper-attachment is relatively mild, one great idea is to have a special toy, puzzle or treat that you give your pet when you leave. Take this item away as soon as you return so they learn that the fun reward is only for when you’re away; soon your pooch will associate you leaving with treat time instead of worrying about being abandoned.
  2. Another smart move is to make your own coming and going less dramatic. Don’t make a production of petting and praising when you walk out or return. In fact, try not to draw attention to your absence at all. Dogs are smart! They catch on: When you pick up your keys – you’re on your way out. Normalize “leaving” cues by picking up your keys and going nowhere. Or put shoes on and go out in the backyard for a few minutes!
  3. For more advanced cases of separation anxiety, you can leave a few items of recently worn clothing out for your pup to smell and snuggle; they’ll know you’ll be back soon!
  4. If your dog is so affected by separation anxiety that he won’t be distracted by treats, try to slowly accustom him to your absence. He can learn and understand that your absence is only temporary. Try leaving out different doors for different amounts of time; if you have to, start by going outside without him and letting him watch through a glass door as you water the plants or perform another outdoor activity.
  5. Exercise – lots! One of the best ways to help your dog cope with separation anxiety is to get a good workout in with your dog before you leave. A tired dog is a sleepy dog, and a sleepy dog can take a nap while you’re gone – then she’ll forget you even left! If you take your dog for a good run or play session in the morning before you leave for work, it will be easier for her to settle down and rest while you’re gone. She’ll be refreshed and happy to see you when you get back!
  6. Crate training is a great way to establish healthy independence. At first your pup may cry and whine when she can’t be in the same room as you; don’t let her trick you into thinking you’re being cruel. A comfortable, size-appropriate crate is not dog abuse; in fact, it can be a safe den to ensure their security. Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer” gives a good overview of kennel training that you can read here! With good crate training, your fluffy companion can learn that you can be “alone” together in the house – he doesn’t have to be right next to you every second of the day.
  7. Whatever you do, act calm. Make sure your pet is the one suffering from separation anxiety – not you! And remember to only reward desired behavior; this means not giving your pet extra goodies from the fridge every time he whines.

Still have questions about choosing the right method to help your struggling pet? Talk to the pet lovers at Brookside Barkery and Bath, we have many great solutions for your pet’s wellbeing – including trining toys and anti-anxiety treats should the need arise.

Contact us online or drop by one of our stores today – we’re glad to help you keep your pet as healthy and as happy as can be!