Dogs Separation Anxiety

We have adopted our Yorkshire Terrier “Mochi” from HK Dog Rescue 7 years ago. He was extremely friendly towards human in the kennel. Little did we know that he has separation anxiety when being left alone at home. He would bark non-stop for hours and make a mess. I like to share how we have dealt with this and how Mochi has learnt to calm down after 1 year.

He came to our home when he was 5 years old. He looked like a friendly and happy dog in the shelter. But soon after we left him home and locked our door, Mochi would start barking non-stop, keep walking back & forth, scratching behind the door, and peeing somewhere on the floor. We did not know of this until one night around dinner time, our building management called us saying that our neighbors were complaining about his barking noise. We were totally surprised and worried. So I have started to read on different articles about how to deal with separation anxiety.

Below were what we have done and it took a whole full year for Mochi to settle down completely in our home. Now he sometimes still walks back and forth behind the door when we are out (I used my phone to take time lapse photos of him). But he does not bark or make a mess anymore.

Mochi, the sleeping master. He can sleep for 20 hours a day if we are home. 😂😴😴😴

Step 1 – Prepare a secured environment

First of all, dogs feel more secure in a small space, they feel more stressful when “requiring to guard” the whole house. That’s why wild dogs tend to stay in their den, rather than some open space. So don’t feel bad to lock him up inside a room or even in a cage while you are out. I have cage trained my other poodle dog successfully (he loves to go inside his cage), but that’s another post later.

So we have decided to lock him up inside our corridor, i.e. close all room doors, except the washroom. There are nothing in the corridor except a handheld radio (without cord), his dog bed and a couple of dog toys. Inside the washroom we have placed the dog toilet and a bowl of clean water. That’s all on the floor where he can reach, therefore he cannot really mess up anything.

Before we go out, we would turn on the radio with some classical music to help comfort him.

Step 2 – The training begins

Before any training begins, remember “a tired dog is a good dog”, so make sure you give him plenty of exercise. Also, it’s better to do these trainings when he has a full stomach and an empty bladder so he has two less things to worry about. 😛

We trained Mochi starting from pretending to leave for a couple mins. Therefore doing all the usual “going out steps” : get changed, switch on the radio, take our keys and bags, and shut the corridor door. Do NOT say goodbye or give him any goodbye hugs/kisses as this would only increase his anxiety level.

Right outside the corridor door, we fold one of his towels into a long strand and line it on the floor to block the door gap, to help isolate some outside sound and smells.

When all these done, we would take our bags, put on our shoes, open and close our apartment main door. Pretending to be out. But actually we are staying silently in our living room, outside the corridor.

Minutes after that, Mochi started barking and whining. At that moment, we would walk right to the corridor, open the door and order him to stop in a firm and low voice. We would also order him to return to his bed and lie down (If your dog does not know your “go and stay in your bed” command, you will have to work on that first). This may take sometime depending on his anxiety level but eventually he will obey. When he is totally calm, we will give him a treat (do NOT ever give treat when he is still excited), then repeat the same exercise of pretending to leave the apartment again.

Then a couple minutes later when he started barking and whining, the whole cycle needed to be repeated. Repeat for a few rounds. And within a day, do these exercise every few hours or whenever you have time. For the first couple weeks, situation may remain exactly the same as if the problem is not improving a bit. But with a lot of patient, gradually your waiting time can increase from a few mins to 10 mins, then 15 mins, then 30 mins and so on. You may want to read a book or turn on silent TV while waiting in the living room.

Step 3 – Mind your emotions

Before Mochi was fully trained, we had to have someone stay home or go home early in the evening to prevent him from barking too much to disturb our neighbors. When doing the exercise, you don’t have to always wait till he barks, you can set a time goal for your dog and open the corridor door when time is up. But when you open door, do NOT give him any excited happy greeting voice or any hugs or kisses. The whole “going out” experience is like you have stepped in and out of a room inside your house. There should not be any feeling sorry or excitement involved. I know it might be hard to not feel bad on your side but think of this is for the future benefit of your loving dog and everyone involved. In fact if your don’t have a corridor with door, you can do these separation exercise with a room. Either you go inside the room or leave your dog in the room. Their anxiety would appear whenever no one is around. Again your time increase process may be extremely slow but it will happen so don’t give up.

Mochi lied down waiting for treats

Step 4 – Give treats

When our living room waiting time has increased to 30 mins or so. We have started to leave treats for Mochi before we shut the corridor door. We would order him to lie down in his beg while we break up his favorite dog biscuit into small pieces (or give his favorite toy/chew) and leave them in several corners inside the corridor and the washroom. As soon as he gets excited, stop what you are doing and order him to go back to his bed. He should be staying in his bed the whole time and only when we are closing the corridor door we would allow him to go get his treats.

Step 5 – On-going “maintenance”

Again it took us a whole year to fully train Mochi to be able to stay home for hours without issues. When we are home, he is usually calm and love to stay in his bed as he is a lazy dog 😂. During the first year and even after he is trained, once in a while his anxiety might hit him again. I can tell when Mochi is getting anxious as he would follow my footsteps very closely when I walk anywhere inside my house. Even if I am in the living room (we would move his dog bed from the corridor to the living room when we are home), he won’t stay in his bed for just a few mins. At first it seems cute for him to follow me everywhere but it’s not cute any more when we need to leave house later. Therefore, when I see these signs of anxiety, I would order him to stay in his bed in a firm and low voice, repeat if he gets up as soon as I turn around, until he is willing to stay there calmly. This is especially important in the morning when we need to hurry off to work.

Although accidents may still happen once in a while but Mochi can now stay home for a maximum of 8 hours without any issue (normally we would leave home for 5-6 hours before one family member goes home). In fact perhaps Mochi can stay even longer but we think 8 hours is a maximum period of time that we would want to leave him alone at home.

In my opinion if anyone needs to leave the dog home for more than 10 hours everyday, it’s not a suitable home for dogs as they are social animals. Perhaps can consider hiring a dog walker to help walk your dogs during the day.

I hope this article is helpful for all of you who have this problem. Wish you all the best in your training.

By the way, here is another article I have previously written on positive reinforcement dog training. Hope you will like it as well.

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