When Your Dog is Only OK with You
Remember when we were talking about separation-related behaviors in general and trying to define some terms in this post? To recap, we said that true separation anxiety refers to dogs who have to be with a particular person or persons to be OK. This is commonly called hyper-attachment as well.
So what we would see with a hyper-attached dog is that they would panic when you leave- even if there was someone else with them. These dogs also tend to do a lot of following and can be vigilant of your every move. This is different than the more typical experience of dogs that struggle with separation because they are OK as long as anyone is with them.
True separation anxiety is a less common form of home-alone anxiety, but can be super difficult to manage as a caregiver. You simply cannot be there for your dog 100% of the time, yet we still do not want them to have negative experiences while home alone or while under someone else's care. You really are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
This 'stuck' feeling is the reason why pet parents who have hyper-attached dogs can feel like they are trapped.
While having a hyper-attached dog does make resolving separation anxiety tougher, here are some strategies that will help.
What do I mean by 'share the love'? Simply put, sharing the love is helping your dog develop relationships with other people. These people will be your 'village' by helping you manage absences while you do all the things in life that your dog can't do with you and giving you some time and space to practice self-care. Your village should include people who will become a consistent and reliable part of your dog's life.
Here is the strategy for sharing the love:
Because developing relationships with others can take time, it is important to utilize other strategies to help your dog be OK while you cannot be with them as well.
While it is clear that you are your dog's favorite person to be with and that being alone kicks off a panic response, there are options between the two extremes. That is where 'second best' comes in! Is there someone that your dog already knows that you can leave them with? Maybe your dog struggles when you first leave, but soon settle?
Often tweaking the way you leave them can help your dog over this initial anxiety. Have you noticed that it is easier for your dog to leave you than when you leave them? What if they are left in a super fun place like daycare? This is all really dog-dependent, so trying different options and discovering what works best for your dog is key!
Mat training and treats away from you (like a stuffed Kong or long lasting chew) can help increase independence. This is a not something I advocate working on in typical separation cases because:
independence and anxiety are not necessarily linked
many non-anxious dogs follow
if your dog is following because they are anxious that you'll leave, the best ways to help them to be less vigilant is to manage absences and help them feel OK about you leaving
I like to keep the process of helping your dog to be home alone and happy as streamlined as possible.
For a hyper-attached dog, though, it could be a valuable piece of the plan especially if you are struggling with how much your dog is following you. Again, how much independence training contributes in helping your dog with home alone training is dog-dependent.
As I have discussed in other blogs, it is always a good idea to speak to your vet about your dog's struggle with being home alone. Not only could they help you rule out other factors that may be contributing (pain is a big one), but they will also be able to advise you on prescription medication options for your dog.
I firmly believe that many dogs benefit from prescription medication to help smooth the way for home alone training. Here is a podcast where I discuss prescription meds with two other Separation Anxiety Pro Trainers. However, for dogs who are only OK with their special person, medications become much more important. Even if your dog is already on a daily medication, a situational medication in addition to that can be particularly beneficial.
Remember, in order for your dog to learn that it OK to be home alone- or even with another person- we need to keep them under-threshold to allow the training to work; prescription medication can help!
Having a dog who is hyper-attached does make home alone training more complex, but it can be done! Please reach out if you would like some guidance and support- you don't have to do this alone!