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Dogs/Dog anxiety - "velcro" behavior


Thank you for your expertise, time and attention to my dog's issue- we have had our mix breed male dog for 5 yrs and he has presented with clinging behavior where he follows me from room to room and shows signs of anxiety when we have to leave for work or go out. What can we do to lessen this seperation anxiety?

Hi again, Neven,

Just an update to let you know that a donation was made to Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City, N.J. in the amount of $20 following your rating.  Thank you!  

Hi Neven,

Thank you for your question.

Dogs are not dissimilar from humans in that they live in social groups (called packs).  In the wild, as wolves, dogs' closest ancestor, a wolf left alone without a pack would perish, so it's hard-wired into wolves, and dogs, to have a pack.  Dogs and humans comprise a social group and function in similar ways to the pack socially.

This being said, dogs need to learn to be alone.  If not taught at a young age, or in a fashion which traumatizes them, separation issues can develop and can sometimes be severe, with escape behaviors on the part of the dogs when his human contingent leaves.  Crating a dog may not help, as some dogs will injure themselves trying to escape from the crate.

What I suggest you do, with the assistance of a trainer if needed, is first teach your dog a good, solid "stay."  This is a necessary part of teaching your dog to be alone, especially since you have a "velcro" dog who follows you from room to room.

When you have a solid "stay" from your dog, you can start, very gradually, as in seconds and not minutes, to build in some duration and distance.  When you're able to do that, highly reward the dog for "staying."  Most owners know what their dogs find highly rewarding, and these can be a favorite food, an activity such as going for a walk or playing, affection, or a joust in a backyard.  Whatever it is, make "staying" a highly rewarding activity for your dog.

Once you've built in duration and distance in the "stay," start going out of sight, such as behind a wall, for just a moment.  At first, don't give your dog time to get upset or break the stay.  Do so for a second, and highly reward your dog when you "come back" into view.  Try to stay under the threshold that it will take for your dog to become upset as you gradually build in seconds to your disappearing time.  Listen for movement - this is often the first sign, when a dog shifts position, that the dog is becoming upset, before the dog starts to vocalize, and you can often hear a shift in the dog's position.  

If your dog "stays," again, highly reward.  If he isn't able, even for a second, then go partially out of view and not fully, and build up to going fully out of view.

Another aspect to address is the classical conditioning component.  That is, it's usually the leaving routine to which dogs respond and during which anxiety builds - getting showered, getting into clothes, coffee, grabbing the keys and the pocketbook (the last of which is usually the most anxiety-provoking for dogs).  Over a week-end or at other times when you're home and don't actually need to leave, run through the routine with all the cues that might be relevant to your dog that you're leaving - and don't leave.  Doing so will help to reduce the anxiety-provoking aspect of this classical conditioning.

What may help, too, is leaving a television or radio on when you leave to keep your dog company.  Other dogs can funtion as company for an anxious dog, but in many cases don't fully alleviate the anxiety of their human leaving.

Although I sometimes recommend leaving a stuffed Kong or other goodie with an anxious dog, I would NOT recommend leaving the dog with any food or toy item if in the company of other dogs, as a fight over the resource could ensue between the dogs, unless you can separate the anxious dog from the others.

Keep your comings and goings low-key.  Many owners feed their dogs' anxiety with long leaving rituals, followed by a "reunion" when they return replete with exclamations, hugs, and kisses for the dog.  Refrain from doing this, as it only reinforces anxiety in a dog.  When you return, treat your return as if you just left, ignoring the dog for several minutes until you see that your dog is calm.  Then, when you greet, do so in a low-key manner.  When you leave, it's not necessary to pet your dog or even to say "good-bye."  Simply leave.  Your dog won't love you any less for it, I promise; and, doing so may go a long way in lessening the anxiety.

Here are a couple of books that may help, too.  One is called "Dogs Home Alone," by Roger Abrantes.  Although the wording is a little awkward in the book, probably due to the fact that English is not Abrantes's first language, the advice in it is sound.  Another is "I'll Be Home Soon," by Dr. Patricia McConnell, and it's a short book which will also give you great advice.

Last, but not least, especially for dogs who may become ill or harm themselves as a result of severe anxiety, you may want to explore a pharmacological intervention.  Consult your vet, who will probably prescribe "Clomicalm" (Clomipramine HCl).  This medication is used to reduce or eliminate many of the separation anxiety behaviors that plague dogs.  However, it is not a Magic Pill, and even if you use it, you will need to do the training and behavior modification as outlined above if you hope for it to have the full effect, and if you hope to wean your dog off the medication at some point, which I would recommend.

If you have any other questions about this, feel free to follow-up.  Please remember to rate my response here at Allexperts.

Thanks again for your question!

Best regards,
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Volunteer at AllExperts


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Madeline Friedman


I respond to public questions only. I'm not a veterinarian & do not respond to medical questions.Suggestions: Submit a question in one area of priority, as what I am able to address in this venue is limited. Provide as much detail re: the behavior & issue as you can. Tell me how & if behavior is a change from previous behavior & when the changes occurred. Let me know what you think may have triggered such changes & what you have tried so far to resolve it, & what the results were. Let me know what you want help with & what are your concerns & questions about the behavior. I have set up a payment/donation to myself for responding to questions. I donate most of it to animal shelters & rescues. I keep a small portion for my time. The minimum donation is $25.00 on PayPal. When I see that a donation has been made, I will respond to your question. You will be prompted to make the donation before submitting your question. When you have read & rated my response fairly, which must be at the time you read it, I will refund $5.00 back to you IF YOU REQUEST that I do so in your rating comments. If I ask for more details, please respond as a "follow-up" & not as a new question. If I don't respond to your question, I will refund your donation less $5.00. DO rate me fairly at the end of our exchange. I will be pleased if you DO nominate me for volunteer of the month - why not, if I was generous in my response? I may suggest something you were not necessarily ready to hear, but I am honest in the interest of helping your dog, & that is my goal. Please keep that in mind. Please do NOT contact me privately about Allexperts questions through my e-mail or website unless I have invited you to do so. That is an invasion of my privacy - thank you for respecting it. If you would like to contact me for actual dog training & behavior consulting, you may contact me through my website.


Professional dog trainer and behavior consultant full-time since 2002, and hands-on owner and operator of my dog training business; professional dog portrait artist and professional painter for over 20 years. Professional State Certified Educator since 1992. AKC Certified Canine Good Citizen Trainer and Evaluator and AKC S.T.A.R. Trainer and Evaluator. Service and Therapy Dog Trainer (I do not, however, certify dogs for service or therapy work). Experience working with many people on the autism spectrum, including Asperger's Syndrome, both children and adults. Former college and public school instructor. Majored in: Counseling Psychology; Animal Science; Studio Art and Illustration. Professional Teacher since 1992. Degrees: B.F.A.; Master's Degree.

Founding Member of The Behavior Education Network (B.E.N.) of Animal Behavior Associates. Five year professional member of APDT. Two year member of ABMA. Was Animal Science Major, Rutgers University and Psych Major, Caldwell College. Permanently Certified NJ State Instructor Since 1992 and dog trainer/behavior consultant since 2002; AKC Certified Canine Good Citizen Trainer & Evaluator, same for AKC S.T.A.R. training and evaluating; multi-species experience with cats, horses, swine, agamids, birds, rodents, with primary focus on domestic dog. Please keep questions related to dogs only in this forum.

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Master's Degree, State Teaching Certification, plus additional undergrad college credits in psychology, and accredited college study in Animal Science.

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Published author on dog training and dog behaviour, and business aspects of dog training. F.I.T. "Commitment to Illustration and Excellence as an Illustrator" award. Second place internationally in Society of Illustrators international art competition. Jellybean Photographics Award (for illustration). Rondout Valley Instructor's Training Course (I.T.C.) best dog training coach award (which I consider the highest award they gave out for that five day workshop!). I am a true believer that the best is usually saved for last.

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