Friday, November 27, 2009


In my opinion, there are different degrees of separation anxiety and different ways that owners can cope with it. The German Shepherd is a people (or his master’s) dog. Because he is a pack animal his need to be with you is even stronger than let’s say the average household cat. He is the happiest when he’s with his owner. Nothing pleases him more than being with you. When he needs to be away from you due to hospitalization, showing, breeding, or even when you go out to the store and leave him behind, he suffers some sort of separation anxiety. Depending upon the nature of the dog (easy going, hyper, etc.) will determine how well he handles being away from you.

I must say that I never dealt with this condition myself with any of my dogs EXCEPT a couple of times that they got into the garbage can in the kitchen and turned it upside down! I have talked to other people who have dealt with this problem and its not any fun. Dogs that have this condition can become very destructive. Furniture, rugs, drapes, etc. have been destroyed by some dogs who suffer separation anxiety. I had to laugh when researching this topic. Someone suggested getting this type of dog another dog to help calm his fragile nerves. Yeah, right so the second dog can follow what dog number one is doing and they can tear up your house together! You open up the door to your house and surprise; nothing is still standing except the now two destructive dogs happily wagging their tails because “mommy” is home!

What causes this type of dog to suffer separation anxiety? There are a few theories. Some said it can be heredity. Others say many times it’s the alpha dog that may do this because he doesn’t like seeing part of his pack leaving without him. He has no one to be the boss over any longer. And then others say it is a lack of socialization and training on the owner’s part. Whatever the reason, the result is still the same and unless you have lots of excess money to spend replacing your belongings, the smartest solution is to train the destructive dog. A suggestion was made to try to use another door that you normally leave the house from and return to. The reason being is that a dog is a creature of habit. This might confuse him……..for awhile!

Some suggest leaving a radio on similar to what some of us breeders do for puppies to keep them company. Others sedate their dog and still others leave the dog in the crate while they are out. Leaving a dog in the crate that has separation anxiety can make him even more nervous to deal with. He is now totally confined and even more confused. Leaving him toys that have food in it to help distract him while you’re gone also was suggested.

The dog that is a kennel dog when left alone will usually pace up and down his kennel run barking and making a lot of commotion. Hopefully you live in a rural area where his annoying barking won’t bother anyone. Take a look at a dog in a kennel. If you open your door or look out your window and the dog sees you, what does he do? The majority of the time he becomes excited and starts to pace up and down or jumps up on the fence in hopes that you’ll see him and bring him in the house with you.

Look at a dog that is normally good in the house that doesn’t destroy anything when you leave. Even these dogs when you return act like you’ve been away for a hundred years. You are greeted with a very happy dog who welcomes your return with a tail that never stops wagging with an anxious, happy expression on his face.

Separation anxiety has caused so much aggravation to the owner of the dog that it is not unheard of that he takes the animal to the vet to be put down. If the owner hasn’t taken the time to train her dog, than in my opinion this is the lazy way to deal with the dog. I believe you owe it to your dog to properly train him before you resort to such drastic measures.

I also want to mention here my feelings about dogs that are sent away to be trained and conditioned for dog shows. Again this is my opinion and you may say I’m wrong and that’s alright because I’m going to say it anyway. I feel SOME dogs may be more suited for this than others. It is my feeling that ANY dog no matter what his temperament is like will still be a bit anxious in new surroundings perhaps with strange dogs barking in the runs next to him. He’s not in the house with you, but somewhere where nothing is familiar to him. Oh his temperament is good and he’ll adjust, but no one can make me believe that even this good natured dog doesn’t feel a little bit homesick for his owner and the environment that he is used to living in. No trainer or handler has the time to put into your dog the special things that you do with him. The dog is there for one purpose……training or conditioning. The trainer or handler has many other clients’ dogs to work with as well. He’ll put more time into training or conditioning your dog…..that’s why the dog is there, but he doesn’t have the time to give the dog the special love that only you give to him. I know that some dogs love their handlers, but he is still away from home and yes, “there is no place like home!”

Sometimes a dog needs to be boarded because you are on vacation. The dog’s feeding schedule may be different. Perhaps you feed your dog at 5 p.m. and the place that is taking care of your dog feeds him at 6 p.m. Well you and I know what it’s like around our houses when it’s our dogs supper time. In my house, my dog starts to whine and pace about an hour or so before her scheduled time of feeding. Imagine your dog in his new temporary place and they feed at a different time. He might be whining and pacing for a couple of hours.

I have heard some of the horror stories of dogs climbing fences, dogs escaping or dogs bloating that have lost their lives because they weren’t found in time. I feel if a dog bloats when he’s away, it’s because this dog was stressed. Again, you can disagree with me, but I feel that there is a connection between stress and a dog bloating. Naturally a dog can bloat for other reasons as well, but in some cases, I feel the dog was stressed.

German Shepherds who have good strong nervous systems should be able to cope with most anything. That’s why they are used in the military, the police department, search and rescue, etc. But these dogs are doing work with their masters so they have lots of one on one interaction with them. Many times these dogs live with their trainers to form a strong bond with them.

So dogs can and do have separation anxiety whether they are this way in their homes or they are away with someone else taking care of them. Some have this problem because of a poor nervous system but I believe that all dogs when separated from their owner have some sense of temporary loss not being with their master.

My rating: training and socialization of your dog: (4)


  1. This takes me back to a summer at Rockannand (Cedar Lake,QC), where we have a family home. My brother had come up with their Lab and when I met the dog, I was rather disappointed that he hadn't trained it and that his wife had been treating the dog like a baby. That evening we went over to our cousins cottage for supper and I asked my brother where the dog was. He said he couldn't bring it if he was going to have any time to relax and had put it in the old run. 30 min later, the howling began. I sat there quietly waiting for my brother to do something about it but instead he grew angrier at the situation. Finally, I said... "There is an easy way to get your dog to stop 'all the racket' and I will do it for you but you probably aren't going to like it. Just DO IT it he said... the howling is echoing all across the bay!!".

    I walked back to the main house where the dog was... and, without saying one word to him, took a pail of lake water and got the dog squarely in the face... then, left the pail sitting there in front of him by the gate. Never said a word, just left and went back to the party.

    It was over...He never made a sound again... My brother was all smiles ... and said, "that's my tough sister... Thanks Kate!"

    Dogs are not babies! They need parameters, direction and an Alpha leader or they will reluctantly take up the job themselves. And, don't be lazy like my brother...Get up 2 hrs before you have to go to work and get out there exercising and training your dog! Some of my closest friends I met in the dark and rain walking their dogs... You'd be amazed at how many others are meeting up each morning before breakfast with flashlights and dogs. It was a great start to each day no matter the weather.... The benefits are amazing. **Just DO IT**.

  2. This all starts from the very beginning with your pup. Yes, you can throw in some "bad" temperament, but with all the dogs I have had, you can't tell me that not one of these dogs would have been as destructive as you describe in another's hands.

    As this isn't my column, I'll try to be quick. It's difficult to explain in type, but pups have to be raised with finesse, shall we say. Here's some of what has worked for me for years.

    In the morning, I softly but meaningfully say good morning to pup in crate. I never take a pup outside in the morning until coffee is brewing, and they know it. There's no big to-do when they finally do come out.

    I suppose I gradually ease my way into the day.

    Throughout the day, they are spoken to. Full sentences. Conversations. If I can't think of something to say, I tell a joke. Whatever it takes to get the dog to know that we are a team, I care enough to include you in my life and not just bark one-word commands. Throw in some eye contact.

    When I return from being away, pup knows I'm not busting in the door, popping open the crate, "setting him free." Again, like coffee, he has to wait.

    Sometimes he comes with me. When he doesn't, I say, "No, you stay here and watch the house. I'll be back." No petting. When I return, it's "Hey, I'm back."

    This is all somewhat easy to say, but it's really all about demeanor, attitude, attitude that comes from deep inside not a surface, robotic or staccato type of interaction with a dog. I think that has to come naturally.

    So, get your dogs to respect you, give them a sense of responsibility and worthiness, FROM DAY ONE, and when you leave, it's "I'll be back, watch the house."