==> Separation Anxiety in German Shepherds??
Are you noticing any of these Dog Separation Anxiety Symptoms?
German Shepherd Dog Separation Anxiety Cure
Are you suffering from your dog's excessive barking, digging, scratching, chewing, or aggression?
When I come to assess such dog problems, in the majority of cases the dog is actually suffering from Separation Anxiety! But the owners typically deny this ("It can't be!").
Nonetheless, this is one of the topics where I slightly disagree with Dan, or Doggy Dan, the TOP dog trainer: If you have access to Doggy Dan's dog training course, you will know that Dan (like virtually all dog trainers) believes that "Separation Anxiety is all caused by your dog thinking it is the pack leader".
But no, this is not the case, in my experience. Not even the Pack is all of the cause, whether or not your dog is thinking (s)he is the pack leader. Such suggestion makes it all too easy. Not everything that happens with or because of your dog is caused by your dog thinking (s)he is the pack leader. And scientific observations too do support my view here.
But before we get into a discussion what causes Canine Separation Anxiety, let's briefly address why this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL is important to you as German Shepherd owner or handler - whether or not you believe you have a separation anxiety dog.
Separation Anxiety Consequences
- Separation Anxiety is an often unnoticed suffering of the dog
- The consequences of Separation Anxiety are always health issues and behavioral disorder
- The health consequences result in unnecessary vet bills, reduced quality of life, and shortened lifespan
- The behavioral consequences may result in anything from barking, digging, scratching, chewing, up to and including biting!
- And then of course high trainer bills! Only that those trainers like to call themselves "Behavior Consultant" as that allows to raise higher bills.
But, beware of acting anywhere remotely close to this GSD owner:
Uups! You came too late: This was such a hilarious video! But meanwhile it was taken down. Can happen with youtube videos all the time! Another reason why for site members we pay to host (and stream!) videos from our servers. For freebies we obviously can't do that.
Anyway: Make sure you study this Periodical regardless whether or not your GSD appears to have a problem with Separation Anxiety.
Now let's address each of the above points.
Separation Anxiety in German Shepherds??
Since Separation Anxiety is most noticeable when you are separated from your GSD, obviously most dog owners are unaware that their dog is facing Separation Anxiety issues.
More specifically, particularly German Shepherd owners regularly believe that GSDs normally don't have a Separation Anxiety problem, because GSD owners learned and experienced that this breed is so confident, self-reliant, and autonomous - and at times even "aloof". Why would such a dog breed suffer from Separation Anxiety??
However, if you've had enough experience with several different GSDs, you will know that German Shepherds in general are also very much a Pack animal. Indeed, considering large breeds only, GSDs are among the most Pack-fixated breeds! This is only natural, because GSDs are genetically Herding dogs. So they crave for being part of their Pack and close to their Pack!
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Therefore I would argue: The better the bonding between you and your GSD, the more likely that your GSD does experience Separation Anxiety when you are away, oh yes!
How to find out for your dog
The only way for you to find out if this is the case is to point a digital camera with unidirectional mic and movie function (set to lowest resolution for long footage) on a tripod, or a good webcam with autofocus pointed at your dog's favorite place:
- Broadly into the room where you believe the dog is most of the time (if guarding the whole house during your absence)
- Or at the crate (if kept in a crate during your absence). NO! You aren't serious, right? Given how far you got with our free Periodicals(!) you can't be one of those ^&%^%& who lock their dog in a crate when out of house! If you still do that, learn now how to fully House-Train your dog.
Don't be shocked by what you might get to see... - and don't even consider to scold your dog in case you get to see things you don't like. Negative reinforcement does not work with dogs (click the link if you find the term irritating too).
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Note that you normally cannot find out enough about your dog if you simply have someone else watching your dog while you are away - regardless whether that person is hiding or not - because GSDs typically sense when there's any human being around. And then of course they behave differently.
Dog Separation Anxiety Symptoms
The following is a list of typical Symptoms of Separation Anxiety, but note that these are neither all the possible anxiety symptoms nor are they necessarily caused by Separation Anxiety (obviously, they may be caused by other issues instead, or they may be exacerbated by other issues):
- Biting (a family member, neighbor, friend or stranger, or other animals)
- Panic attacks - already upon your leaving the house
- Rapid shaking or shivering
- Barking for what feels like hours
- Urinating or pooping around the place
- Wild, pointless running around, either between two places or wherever the dog can
- Chewing, and even eating(!), items in your household
- Escape attempts
- Trying to harm itself, etc
The first symptom listed above is obviously dangerous, but the last one in the list can be very serious too: We have seen footage where dogs that were left alone banged their head so hard against the door that they fell unconscious (and certainly carried internal injuries too).
Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
So, what actually causes this "greater problem than Obesity in dogs"?
Canine Separation Anxiety has 3 main causes (in no particular order since the order, or weighting, depends on the individual dog and the given situation):
Conditioning to your leaving and Reuniting, and
Being separated from its Pack
Obviously, when all these causes come together, they make your German Shepherd very vulnerable to anxiety attacks.
So, a GSD that's left alone is well on its way to an anxiety attack because it is separated from its entire Pack. - One of the reasons why we had three GSDs (but, sadly, at the moment only two). When all of your family is out of the house, which Pack members does your GSD have around? Hopefully at least another dog breed, or a cat?
Now that you are aware of the three causes, we are already well on our way to cure your GSD's Separation Anxiety - in case you do have a dog with Separation Anxiety (see above how to find out, instead of just guessing).
Cure German Shepherd Separation Anxiety
Armed with the above insight, you should now become confident about getting your German Shepherd back to the happy, calm state - whether or not you are around! A state of mind at least all GSDs desire to be in, and need to be in.
Easiest is to address each cause one by one:
You know that German Shepherds are normally very energetic, and this is generally good for them. However, before you leave the house, any excess energy needs a way out, or else it will build up in your GSD's body and mind, and make your dog restless and anxious.
So, help your dog release its excess energy, and in the most positive way:
- Make it a daily routine to take your GSD for at least one long and intense walk, with several legs of actual running. You could for example ride on a bicycle while your GSD is running next to you (but of course, then you must have applied comprehensive GSD Leash Training or Puppy Leash Training beforehand, and your dog or puppy must be fit for this type of exercise).
- Lots and lots of other varied exercise is also highly recommended when you have a German Shepherd dog. Varied exercise is one of the three main keys to make your GSD happy and healthy. You could for example take your GSD to regular swimming sessions if you have the opportunity.
- Running and swimming are among the best positive energy releasers. And if you lead your GSD or puppy gently towards these exercises, then most likely they will be great fun for your dog too! Your GSD should release enough energy that (s)he prefers to sleep afterwards, rather than making a chaos (or feeling wrecked) because you go away.
- Many, but not all, German Shepherds love to play on their own with the Varsity Ball, so you can give it a try and see how much autonomous exercise your GSD is going to get with it. The additional benefit is that apparently the Varsity Ball is the only dog exercise instrument and dog toy that is safe for dogs while left alone (because it is indestructible and indivisible). So, the Varsity Ball actually is perfect for the case to cure Separation Anxiety if your dog plays with it autonomously.
- In addition, get your GSD some of these terrific treat puzzles and games from Nina Ottosson, and set your dog to play at varying times before you leave. But TAKE AWAY all such toys at least 5 to 10 minutes before you leave the house, because these types of toys must only be used under your supervision! A dog suffering a separation anxiety attack is in particular danger of swallowing the smaller parts!
- Another great positive energy releaser is dog massage. As occasionally mentioned in earlier Periodicals, we found that our GSDs became much calmer overall, after we had introduced them to regular dog massage sessions. Also the bonding with the dog improves further. And we got the same feedback from many other GSD owners too. A great book to learn more about dog massage is the Canine Massage Reference Manual.
If you don't find learning from text and photos sufficient though, and you want to watch the movements, rhythm, different grades of applied strength etc, the Dog Massage Secrets Video Lessons may be just what you're looking for. With these you have the dog massage trainer "next to you", and you can rigth away copy how she's doing it.
Conditioning-to-your-Leaving and Reuniting Issue
You might not so much notice it but whenever you are leaving the house you follow a routine. Say, you slip in your shoes or pull on your boots, take your coat from the hanger, etc, and you pick up your keys, your phone, your handbag or wallet, or whatever. And then you say good-bye to your German Shepherd.
It is this routine that may act as an alarm for your dog and lead to compulsive behavior. (S)he notices, and can even hear from the other end of the house, what's going on. And s(he) reads your actions as signals that lead to your leaving the house. A member of his or her Pack is leaving!!! This alarms a domesticated dog as much as it would alarm a dog in the wild. As a consequence, your dog may panic and suffer from Separation Anxiety.
So, you need to break your routine, to de-sensitize your dog from what (s)he has become conditioned to:
- Make small variations, like leaving at slightly different times, having your keys etc in different places (I know, you may not like this idea ), and sometimes leaving just to come back within a minute or two (called mini leaves).
- Do not make a scene of leaving. Avoid long and/or affectionate goodbyes from your dog. And if you already know that your dog suffers from Separation Anxiety, then don't say goodbye to your dog at all! Just leave. Quietly, but not secretively. Point the digicam or webcam on your GSD, so that you can later see what was going on after your leaving, and you can then make targeted adaptations to your routine.
- Absolutely crucial is that you only leave the house when your GSD is calm. For this, of course, you first need to be calm yourself (why and how is comprehensively explained in the Dog Training Toolkit). Be neither stressed, nor upset or sad, or excited about leaving the house. Set a good example for your dog: Be totally calm yourself. This does affect your dog's state of mind too, oh yes, very much so!
- If your GSD whines or whimpers upon your leaving, just stay calm, do not react. If you now showed sympathy and say, patted your dog and talked to your dog, it would only increase your dog's anxiety.
- Well worth its price may also be the Thundershirt, not only for Anxiety issues but also for over-excited and hyperactive dogs, leash-pulling, excessive barking, whining, scratching, and many other problem situations. Extremely positive results with tens of thousands of dogs, including German Shepherds, should win over even the most notorious skeptics.
The counterpart of leaving is reuniting. This is a problem area in itself: What do you do when you come back and reunite with your GSD? How do you act?
Among most dog owners, the typical scene of reuniting with their dog is this: Excited greeting, on both parts; patting the dog; talking to the dog, looking at the dog. Absolutely normal behavior when you reunite with someone you like or love.
But there's the problem: This is not the right behavior towards a domesticated dog. A dog is not a person, a dog is ... an animal after all. A special one: A dog will routinely test its position in the Pack, each time you reunite!
Consciously observe any situation of reuniting with your dog, and you should be able to see exactly these patterns of testing the Pack position. When you see these patterns, you know (well, I know) that your dog thinks (s)he is the Pack leader! When you see these patterns, you are not the accepted Alpha for your GSD. Doh!
So, what you should be doing instead, whenever you reunite with your dog:
- Ignore your dog initially (yes, this may feel VERY hard indeed, or even cruel, but to a dog it's not)
- Don't look at your dog, don't speak to your dog, don't pat your dog
- Just do whatever else you want or need to do when you come home (undressing, using the bathroom, grabbing a bite to eat, reading the newspaper, ...)
- Then later, when your dog is calm and has 'forgotten' that you came back, call your dog to you and now 'greet' your dog: Look at, speak to, and pat your dog as much as (s)he likes
As already mentioned early on when you joined MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG and received the Adult GSD Training Essentials and the GSD Puppy Training Essentials from us, this ignoring your dog in specific situations is the hardest part of successful dog training - but essential in order to make your dog and yourself happy!
As a fact, German Shepherd dogs find themselves most comfortable in company or Packs. It is the same with your German Shepherd. What you need to accept is the fact that this is the reason why GSDs may easily become anxious when left alone, and thus being deprived of their Pack. Not so much that your dog misses you in particular, rather that (s)he is missing the Pack.
So, it's helpful if you learn of ways in which you can make your German Shepherd feel more comfortable and in company, even when you have left the house:
- Try Pack Walk. This can be easy if you have more than one dog, but you can suffice even without that. Get in contact with neighbors or friends who have dogs, or with members of your local dog club, and schedule a Dog Walk day. This will provide your dog a good healthy company, and lower its general anxiety to a great extent!
- Crucial also is the kind of Crate Training you have provided, or are providing, to your German Shepherd. As you know from the articles on the MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG website, the first step is that you know exactly why you want to conduct a crate training session - that you know your training goal. In this case, the crate training goal is to reduce or eliminate Separation Anxiety of your GSD. Therefore, one important aspect is that your dog learns to use its crate voluntarily, and regardless whether you are around or you left the house! Another important aspect here is that your dog learns to experience the crate as safe zone - where the dog rules, not you. This will relax your dog when you are away. The right Crate Training is of course extensively covered in The Complete House Training Guide.
- Great results have also been achieved with the book and CD 'Through a Dog's Ear' - a fantastic theoretical and practical introduction into using sound to improve the health and behavior of your dog.
- You can try (and watch in the footage) if your GSD is more relaxed when left alone when you leave the radio on.
- You can also test if there's any benefit when you leave your GSD with some clothes of yours. Having an item they can sniff at, that smells of you, does relax many dogs.
- You can get another dog as company, or - if they get on well - a cat maybe
- Finally, share quality time with your German Shepherd regularly. (S)he needs your company like nothing else (well, water, food, and exercise too, of course). Play, teach, walk, and act as your dog's Pack leader, not like a commander - a mistake millions(!) of dog owners are making! Let your dog enjoy the time while being around you. Aim to become your dog's accepted Pack leader - ie without force, fear, or food treats.
All these elements are excellent ways to cure Separation Anxiety completely. To help your GSD to stay calm when you are away.
Next edition: GSD Paw Care