Dog anxiety is easy to fix

Over the past two months, I have had five dogs, each staying a week or two, at my house for our Immersion Program board & train.  The dogs are fully integrated into my home and interact with my dogs, my kids, and my husband.  Four out of the five dogs  had a similar issue I discovered, and it was not at all related to why the dogs were with me for training in the first place!  Some people might want to call it separation anxiety, but I think that is a term that is overused.  I’d call it anxiety stemming from insecurities, or a lack of confidence.

The problem was the dog wanted to be with me all the time.

Now you may not automatically think of that as a problem, per say.  I really like dogs to be fully integrated into someone’s life, to be with you and share your home and your heart.  You didn’t get a dog so they could hang out by themselves, right?  You got a dog so he could be with you.

It’s a problem if your dog gets stressed or has anxiety when he can’t be with you. 

anxious dogSometimes I needed to be away from the dog.  If I’m going upstairs to get something, I don’t want a dog to come with me.  At the beginning of their stay, it was stressful for the dog to be away from me.  Or if the dog is crated while I am out, and I come home, from the moment I came in the door until the moment I got him out of his crate was a period of anxiety for him, until I re-trained it.  In their own home they were used to being let out the moment someone came home, like many dogs are.  I always suggest you walk in the house, put your coat down, sort through the mail, maybe get yourself something to drink and then let your dog out.  These dogs got stressed if they didn’t get let out right away.

The worst behavior happened when I went into the bathroom and closed the door.  The dogs would sit outside the door and whine.  The worst of them would scratch on the door as well.  When I talked to the owners about it they kind of laughed and discredited it, thinking it was funny.  They didn’t realize it was a problem.  Maybe they don’t mind, or maybe they like it that the dog really, really, really wants to be with them.  But in my opinion, it’s just not fair to the dog.  It’s not a good mindset for the dog to have.  It’s not healthy for them to be stressed or have anxiety if they are away from you.

Your dog should be calm, cool, and collected whether they are with you by your side, in the next room, on a different floor of the house, or home alone.  

One of the owners reported back after she got her dog home, that for the first time ever, her dog wasn’t trying to climb into the shower with her!  Her dog was just lying calmly on her dog bed in the bedroom the whole time she took a shower.  My client mentioned that she couldn’t believe how relaxing that shower was compared to all the others!

The reason I really wanted to write about this is because each of the owners I dealt with didn’t realize it was a problem.  It didn’t occur to them to ask me to work on their dog whining outside the bathroom door every time they close it.  They are just used to it.  They don’t recognize it as a problem.  They simply thought, “well that’s just the way my dog is.”  I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t be that way for your dog to thrive.  I want to invite you to realize that your goal is a clam and confident  dog whether he is by your side or in the next room.   And you can train that.

How did I train this problem with these dogs?  I did a lot of pretending to go to the bathroom, for starters!  I would walk into the bathroom, close the door, and wait.  With each dog it was different, but I would wait for that moment in time where it was sort of like- ok, he’s going to start to whine now and this is as long as he can take.  With one dog it was about 5 seconds, with another dog it was about 30 seconds, and the others it was about a minute.  I started by creating a definition of exactly what I wanted, which is how I always begin training any behavior and you can read more about it on the blog post, what’s your mantra?.  My definition for this was simple.  When I walk into the bathroom and close the door, I don’t want to hear you.  I don’t want to hear whining, whimpering, barking, or scratching.  I just don’t want to hear you.  Chances are if I can’t hear him, he is in a calmer state of mind that he would be if he were making noises.   So if I closed the door and I could go 5 seconds without whining, I would reinforce him.  I would open up the door and give him a treat.  If he whined while the door was closed, I would correct him.  Very simple.  It shifted so quickly.

Simply giving the dogs some sort of definition, some structure, to live by made all the difference.  Laying down the law as to what the rules are made an impact quickly.  You have to determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable- and clearly communicate that to your dog.

It’s not separation anxiety that I was dealing with, it’s neediness coming from insecurities.  I need to be near you all the time.  That’s just not realistic.  You can’t be by someone’s side 24-7 so the problem for me is what about those times when you can’t be by my side?  What happens then?  It was an area of weakness for each of the dogs that have just been through my house.  It’s an area of weakness for many dogs.

 Some helpful tips:
  • Wait to greet your dog whether they are in their crate or out of it- just wait to greet them when you arrive home.  Start slow, but start when you first get home.  If they are used to you greeting them the moment you arrive home, begin by just waiting a few seconds before you greet them.  But you want to work up, over time, so you can just wait- whether it’s 5 min or 10- just wait.  It’s in your dog’s best interest to be okay without having your undivided attention.
  • Morning routine-  Several of the owners told me their dogs got up super early in the morning.  One dog was up at 4:45 in the morning and had breakfast by 5:30 every day.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to start my day that early if I don’t have to.  Another owner said the same thing- up by 5 or 5:30 every day and needing to go straight outside.  It really is all about what you reinforce.  The second day I took a picture of that dog sleeping calmly in his crate with a clock in the background showing 7:20.  He calmly waited for me to take him out of his crate each morning for whatever time worked for me.  Your dog will get used to the idea that you are not at his beck and call.  You are going to fit him into your life and your schedule with what works for you.  Take a dog who is accustomed to waiting for you to decide the schedule, and it’s easier to train him to be calm and confident.
  • Be in charge-  It’s your house and they are your rules.  Set them and then make sure your dog follows them.  He will love you for it!

You’r goal is to fully integrate this mind-set into your relationship with your dog so your dog can build his own independence and his own confidence.  Everything is fine and he will get his needs met.  There’s not a rush for taking care of him (unless you are house training a puppy- then you sometimes need to rush, but don’t ever act like you are rushing!)  Your life with your dog will be a lot more relaxed, more peaceful, with less stress for you.  And less stress for your dog, too.

Use these tips, integrate them into your lifestyle with your dog, and report back to me.  If you need some help to figure out how to shift that neediness with your dog, I am happy to help.  I really want to know what you think of when you read this. Can you see anything in your relationship with your dog that falls under this umbrella?  Post in the comments below where you see this neediness with your dog.

16 Comments on “Dog anxiety is easy to fix”

  1. Please help. My 12 year old Schitzu, Mickey has started acting up at my parents house when we visit on the weekends. He starts panting and then crawls into my parents bed and runs to the face of my mom and scratches and crawls behind her head scratching away. He doesnt want to leave. He will be just fine and then just snaps and starts the scratching and panting. Finally, we put up a dog gate blocking him in the living room with me at night and he seemed to be ok. He slept at the foot of the bed and we all slept. But, sunday, we took a small nap of 20 minutes, he got up and pawed at me but then panted and ran and woke my dad up by scratching at him and crawling around his head. I have searched for what is making him anxious but i can’t figure it out. Any suggestions? He just started doing this a month ago. He has never shown signs of this before. I need help!

    1. Alicia, I am so sorry to hear about this issue with Mickey. It’s hard to say what would have caused something like this, but I would definitely recommend more management. What I mean by that is giving Mickey less freedom at those times when he has been acting anxious. Can you crate him while you are sleeping? That may be the easiest solution for him. Poor guy!

  2. As a dog trainer, what you said here is so very very true. Having a routine is important but at the same time, teaching the dogs to adjust to changes is paramount as that is life. In the beginning it may be rough but stick with it and your dog will adjust accordingly.

  3. This is exactly what is going on with our corgi! My husband doesn’t think it’s a problem, but I find it SO frustrating. All the things in this article we currently do. Breakfast at our time, do things when we get home instead of letting them out right away, he doesn’t whine or scratch at the bathroom door. The problem we are having is when he goes outside to use the bathroom.

    We have a doggie door. Our dachshund is very independent and just lays in his spot and watches the corgi with a “there he goes again Mom” look. Our corgi waits until the last minute to go outside to go potty and when he does he runs outside as fast as he can does his business (most of the time missing the grass entirely and hitting the mat right outside the door or the cement right outside the door) and then he darts back inside and frantically looks for me if I am not in the same spot. He always needs to know where I am before he goes out and if I am not there when he comes in he freaks out as if he is missing something. I am constantly doing things in the house and moving. So sometimes he gets so much anxiety that he just goes in the house. This behavior didn’t start until we got the doggie door in our new place. The dachshund LOVES it and will hang outside for hours not even caring what I am doing. I’m pregnant and have been pregnant even before we moved to this new place and got the dog door. I can’t have him doing this anymore because it’s gotten to where he practically runs into me in his worriedness to find me and almost trips me.

    PLEASE HELP! What can I do to train him to stop?

    1. Mallory, the situation you describe here sounds stressful – for you and your dog! A lot of our training philosophy centers around teaching dogs to be calm and confident – something your dog would benefit from! Make sure you focus your attention on reinforcing your dog for being calm and be extra careful not to reinforce your dog for anxiety. Most people accidentally reinforce that kind of behavior so you’ll have to be extra careful! You may want to check out our online dog training program to help out! http://www.bit.ly/MannersMatter

  4. I have a lab mix rescue who I have had for two months. He is a little over a year old. My morning schedule varies so he goes out and eats when I get up. I wait at least a few minutes before acknowledging him when I get home, because he is always very over excited about my return. However, he is forever following me around, will walk around the house randomly wining sometimes if he isn’t getting attention, he wines when I first leave and while he does eventually stop wining, I am lucky enough to have tolerant neighbors! When he wines I ignore him but it seems like the issue is getting even worse. It’s hard for me to find a sitter for him because my friends and relatives don’t want to look after a dog who won’t leave them alone, and who is forever wining if he is isolated into an area alone or just left alone in general. It affects focus on my job and education and is overall exhausting. What else should I be doing here?

    1. Vanessa, Thanks so much for your comment. The most important thing to keep in mind is that most people end up accidentally reinforcing behavior like what you have described. Keep in mind that food, touch, talking, toys, and eye contact are ALL reinforcing for your dog! Try to avoid giving him any of those things when he is whining. There are some exercises we teach in our online program that help teach a dog to be calm. If you are interested you can find more information here: https://pawsandpossibilities.com/manners-matter/ You can also use a clicker and train your dog to be quiet! Reinforce him for being calm and quiet, so he’ll be more likely to be quiet! I work with dogs like this all the time and I know it can be frustrating. If you put the effort into training him to be more calm and confident, it will pay off in spades down the line! Let me know if you have more questions.

  5. This is very helpful to me and I just want to say thank you for sharing. I have a lab/boxer mix dog that my wife and I adopted from a shelter about three days ago. He is an excellent dog and is very sweet. He does very well as long as he has us around. He shadows my wife and I everywhere we go though. If I try and go to the restroom or to take a shower he gets anxious and starts whining and barking if I try and shut him out. He does this even if the door isn’t fully shut. I have been taking him to doggy day care before I go to work because I live in an apartment. I don’t want to get kicked out for him being too loud if we leave him during the work day. My wife and I decided we are going to do all we can to help him. He’s had a hard life to this point and he is a really good dog, we just have to help him with his separation anxiety. I haven’t been able to leave him long enough to see what he will do, but the shelter told us that some people that fostered him said he wasn’t destructive. Please help. I want to do all I can the right way to help him.

    1. Daniel, Thanks for your comment. I recommend reading our free download that is specifically for people who have a new rescued dog in their home. You can find it here: https://pawsandpossibilities.com/rescued/ You can train a dog to be calm and patient. And you can also train your dog to be more confident, even when away from you. Some of the exercises we teach in our online dog training program help with this, if you are interested. You can find more information here: https://pawsandpossibilities.com/manners-matter/ In the meantime, be really careful not to accidentally reinforce the “needy” and “insecure” behavior you are seeing by trying to coddle or sooth your dog. He’s a lucky guy to have found his forever home with you and your wife! Thanks for being such a great dog owner.

  6. Hi, I hope you’re still open to taking comments. About a year ago I adopted a dog who we presume is a small boxer mix. He was always a little clingy and followed me around but he didn’t act out. We brought him and my other dog to a 2 week training program for basic obedience. He completed the training 3 months ago. Ever since then he pees and poops every time he is left alone (even if it for just 10 minutes). It’s beginning to consume our lives and thoughts.

    Additionally since he has been in a higher level of stress he seems to have become very stressed when he comes into our bedroom, which is where he sleeps. It seems it might be associated with when either of us gets ready to shower. He shakes, pants and he pees on the bed or if that’s blocked he pees on the floor. I have been trying to bring him up at various points throughout the night after work and have him sit, down, stay and other behaviors to positively enforce with treats, but tonight he just peed when I went up to shower and I don’t even know for sure why he get so panicked. Help!!!

    1. I apologize for the delay in responding here- I somehow missed your comment! How are things now?? I hope things are much better. It sounds like your dog made an inappropriate association with a shower- who knows why or when. What is important is to recondition his response and anticipation of the shower. This is referred to as counter-condiditoning and it is a slow, systematic process. Your goal is to take tiny, baby steps and highly reinforce each step of the training. Your dog needs more reinforcement being in your bedroom without any shower work. Do not have him in the room when you or your husband plans to shower. You’ll need to work the issue around the shower after your dog can be more comfortable in the bedroom with no shower. Slow and steady wins this race.

  7. Hi I have a 9yr old Lhasa, she’s crate trained and she’s always been great. I went to military training and had to leave her with my parents for about a year. Now she’s back with me but she is no longer well behaved, she gets crate anxiety both at night before going to sleep and in the morning before I wake up, she cries, whines and scratches her crate so hard that it moves it across the room. I’m at a loss of what to do, I give her a treat before going to bed and a toy like I used to and nothing. I should probably add that I also got a new pup and he’s is no 1yr old. I can figure out if it’s neededness or insecurity….please help!

    1. Alexandra, First of all, thank you for your service. Spend some time making the crate more fun and less of a big deal. (Give treats, put her in the crate and take her out. Feed her meals in the crate. Give toys in the crate she doesn’t get anywhere else) At 9 yo, you may also be dealing with some medical issue so be sure to have your vet check her out. You may want to move the crate to a different location and maybe have her crate be in your room at night. The new pup may affect her in the crate- are they near each other? How do they get along when not crated? Have you seen any other behavioral changed in your Lhasa besides the whining and scratching in the crate at night? Is she crated any other time of day where you are NOT seeing this behavior? I’m happy to help… I just have more questions before I can support you more!

  8. Hi there. I came to this page looking for some answers to a recent change in my dog’s behavior. He’s a 2 year old border collie mix who is very well behaved, but in recent months has picked up whining and purposeful yawning/noise-making for attention. My husband and I married 8 months ago, and our dog–typically calm and collected–has always seemed “jealous” whenever we embraced, even if we just played with him for a long time. He whines instantly and paws at us for affection. He’s usually content lying down while we’re just going about the house with our daily activities, but then there are “random” times that he just throws himself down and whimpers, looking bored and lonely. We give him tons of attention all day, and he gets to work with my husband most days. What really perplexes me recently is that he pretends that he has to go outside as soon as we lay down in bed to go to sleep–pawing at the bed and whining–but if we call his bluff and ignore him, he lays down, whines on and off for a couple minutes, then falls asleep. How do we address his behavior? Is he overly attached to us? Thanks for your advice!

    1. Thanks Amber for reaching out. The only problem you have is that your dog is so smart!! We teach people to be sure they have very clear definitions as to what is and is not allowed and then be sure to reinforce when your dog follows the rules or correct when he breaks the rules. You’ll set up training sessions where your goal would be to reinforce your dog for calm behavior when you and your husband begin to embrace. Don’t wait too long until your dog gets it wrong – try to make it short enough so your dog gets it right. Be sure you know your dog is “empty” before you climb in bed so you feel confident calling his bluff. And then do not get back up out of bed. Border Collies are smart and very sensitive, typically. (I had one that also triggered on embracing). If you need more help our online dog training program would be a good match for this issue. http://www.bit.ly/MannersMatter

  9. My dog is wonderful and very independent at home. However, he goes into automatic stress mode in a car and especially when we leave him with a friend when we are on vacation he whines non stop and it’s heartbreaking for us and the caretaker. We’ve tried taking him camping and he’s fully stressed the entire time. Take him home and he’s perfect. We are leaving for a week in January and did a trial sitter yesterday. Again nonstop crying. What can we do? I’m ready to send my husband and son on vacation without me.

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