Most often, over-attachment is an issue within the relationship of the dog and the person. It is a problem because it’s very stressful, physically and mentally on a dog. It’s also problematic for people, as the symptoms of the problem are bothersome. If you think your dog may be over-attached or have signs of separation anxiety, you must consider: are you behaving in a way has enabled an unhealthy over-attachment?
Have you noticed these signs of separation issues?
- Excessive stress barking when left alone, sometimes for hours
- Refusal to eat when left alone
- Breaking out of enclosures, sometimes causing self-injury
- Drooling, panting, whining; panicked and frantic behavior
- Any numerous other stress signs
- Insecure or nervous personality and/or behavior may predispose a dog to suffering from this
- Separation issues are a common reason dogs are given up to shelters (because of the destruction that ensues), so we see this issue a lot in rescue dogs particularly. It also has to do with how the dog is introduced to the new home and new owner. If you get a new dog, begin obedience training classes/lessons immediately.
How many of the following signs apply to you and your dog?
- Do you allow your dog to follow you around all the time?
- Have you neglected to crate-train or pen-train your dog?
- Have you considered getting another dog “to keep him company”? (Hint: don’t!)
- Do you tend to have very emotional greetings?
- Are you constantly acknowledging and touching the dog?
- Do you give the dog constant attention?
- Are you your dogs primary (or only) caretaker?
- Do you often re-arrange your schedule to satisfy your dog?
- Have you hand-fed the dog?
- Do you co-sleep with your dog?
- Are you often cuddling together?
- Do you have emotional goodbyes?
- Are you allowing your dog to get what they want on their own terms without earning anything?
- Can you handle your dog in basic obedience situations?
- Do you struggle to get your dog to obey commands the first time you say them?
- Can you have your dog lie down across the room and simply stay put and be quiet?
- How much will you struggle if tasked with an “out of sight” down-stay?
- Are you the type to “give up and give in” when your dog isn’t listening?
Some people do these sort of things all the time, and for most dogs it’s not going to be a big deal, but for a dog prone to over-dependence, it is. A lot of people who present with over-dependent dogs are (coincidentally?) also very in-tune to their dog. But in a way, their dog has trained them, rather than vice versa. So you have to think of all the things a particular dog wants, and how the person behaves in every interaction. Remember, there is no such thing as an “untrained” dog, there is only poorly trained or well trained. Dogs with bad habits have been poorly trained and have adapted to the behaviors they’ve been allowed to practice. All this sort of prior “training” has to be un-done. Imagine you had a brand new dog, and he was extremely standoffish. All he wanted to do was do his own thing, and had no use for you. What would you do to get him to bond to you? Maybe you’d tether him to you (aka “umbilical cording”), or maybe you’d hand feed him and sleep in bed together. Think of all those things, then reverse them for your over-attached dog.
Solutions: Your solutions will depend on your individual case, but here are some general tips.
- Have designated times where you ignore the dog and go about other activities, and I mean totally ignore. No touch, no talk, no eye contact.
- You will not allow the dog to jump on you when they return to an area, or when you come home. You will walk right through the dog and go about other activities until the dog is completely settled down, which could take 5 minutes, or an hour.
- A new person should immediately begin to care for the dog
- They will provide the food
- They will provide access to outside, toys, and attention for the dog
- Time to drop doggie off at a friends house or a trainers house for the weekend. This is a great time for board and train!
- You will iron-out much of these over-dependence issues in obedience training.
- Obedience builds a dogs confidence in their job
- Obedience is a healthier bond, a partnership between dog and human
- You will practice more control-based exercises, like down-stays, in a calm manner.
- You will work your dog 6 days a week, for 20-60 minutes a day
- At the end of basic obedience, you will demonstrate a 5-minute out of sight down-stay
- Your dog will learn crate manners
- You will begin by crating your dog randomly while you are home
- Begin by crating the dog for 30 minutes while you go do the dishes or some other task, just put him in there and close the door
- You will leave for longer and longer periods of time
- When you arrive home, you will not let the dog out of the crate first-thing. You will go about another activity for 15 minutes, until the dog is completely settled down.
- Exercise program will be instated
- This will include both cardio (like playing fetch), and exercise that uses mental capacity (like obstacles, scent work, games)
- His down-time will be calm and relaxing… and on his own.
- Dog will be off-leash trained so it can get proper exercise
- You will not get another dog “to keep him company”
- Your dog will earn things and learn a system of training where he works for rewards!
Once this issue is addressed, your dog will be calmer, more relaxed, and you will both be less stressed. Then you can focus on what’s really important: Experiencing the joy of having a good companion.