Do Shih Tzu Suffer From Separation Anxiety?

Do Shih Tzu suffer from separation anxiety? Shih Tzu can suffer from anxiety and there are three simple steps you can take to alleviate the problem. First make sure they get some exercise before you leave for work. Second don’t make a fuss before you leave, and finally give him a special toy to play with during the day.

To ensure your dog is happy when you leave him alone follow these top five tips to stop Separation anxiety.

Top Tip #1

You are guilty, I know I’m guilty I’ve done this before. When you’re leaving your house make a big deal out of something that doesn’t need to be a big deal. So when you leave there shouldn’t be any of that googoo gaga I love you, I miss you, you’re creeping out the door and then slam the door.

What happens is you’re marking to the dog and you’re basically telling the dog “hey I’m about to leave for a long period of time” and of course your dog hates that.

Your dog loves you, you love your dog, it’s a terrible thing but if you make that a process and you telling the dog “hey this is about to happen, you know, that thing that you really hate that I do every day Monday through Friday, I’m about to do it again”.

And if you’re marking that behavior and you’re telling the dog, it’s about to happen, that creates anxiety, the dog goes “oh boy this is the time that I don’t like”.

There could be positive anxiety too through positive things, like going for a walk, coming home, these things are positive so you’re adding something to the mix to make things are potentially better but you’re creating negative impact on the dog’s behavior and mental stimulation.

And so what happens is the dog gets overstimulated and they go “I don’t know what we’re gonna do” and gets over excited so what you don’t want to do is, you don’t want to talk to your dog before you leave.

It’s very simple, if you’ve already started to create anxiety and your dogs getting a little nervous when you are about to leave and he starts whining and pacing and barking ,just walk out, that’s the best thing to do.

I know it’s not that easy, you just want to say goodbye to fluffy one more time before you go to work, but you have to give the dog the benefit of the doubt and understand that that creates stress. They’re trying to figure out what the heck you’re saying and they know that you’re leaving, which sucks.

In conclusion, if you’re having these conversations before you leave and you’re making this big drawn-out process getting the dog basically amped up to leave the dog for four to six hours, it’s not a good idea. You’re gonna create stress and anxiety because the dog knows you’re about to leave and they can’t go with you.

If you have anxiety and you have stress in the dog already, one of the big things that you can do on your day off is you can go out with your dog. Taking your dog out can help to desensitize this whole process of you leaving for four to six hours, because that’s actually why the stress is there.

It’s because when you leave they know you’re gonna be gone for that big extended period of time and they don’t like that. So going out and coming back in and going out and coming back in and going out and coming back in, this helps them get used to you being there for shorter periods.

Change out the duration, go out for two minutes, go out for 30 seconds come back in, the mental state of the dog will be like “oh so you’re not leaving for four hours like you normally do” and you break it down and then that way when you’re ready to actually go to work on Monday, you just walk out.

The dogs gonna go “huh, okay, I’ll wait for you to get back like you normally do” and so breaking down that whole process through increments on your days off, or just waking up a little bit earlier before you go to work to break down that process.

Okay now this is a big one. For all across the board for all sorts of behaviors exercise is dogs they have four legs, we have two. they like to eat cat poop and roll around and dead mice we don’t. They’re animals, we have to remember that what we’re dealing with and what we’re living with at home has to go out and get mental and physical exercise and outlets.

So if this means waking up a little bit earlier before you go to work, so be it. But you have to understand that if you’re not exercising your dog properly or even at all, it’s gonna be even harder for your dog as they’re sitting home just waiting for you to come back.

It’s gonna make that stress and anxiety even more because they have so much built-up and they can’t let it out on anything. I know how it is guys, you come home, you want to crack a beer and sit in the couch or drink tea or whatever you do the last thing. The last thing you want to do after a long day is go for a really long walk, especially if you live in climates that’s super cold or super hot.

I get it, but we have to remember that we can’t complain about the stress and anxiety we create due to the lack of due diligence of us actually exercising the animal we have at home.

Number two on a recap is just exercise, wake up a little bit earlier, throw a ball but also one thing that you probably haven’t been thinking about is mental stimulation.

Mental exercise

Doing something with your dog, even if it’s basic obedience sit down, stay, heel whatever it is you can do to get the dog’s mind unwound a little bit.

Dogs can run 4 depending on the breed 5 to 10 miles straight. Some dogs can’t do a mile but you have to understand that dogs are so active and so primitive and so primal that they can run for a long period of time, and it’s not gonna bother them like it bothers us.

Number Three

Last but not least on this list for the top three things I would suggest to eliminate anxiety is getting them something to do while you’re gone.

Give you guys one thing to walk away with it would be to type in Google “dog walker in my area”. Look them up, look at their ratings, look at the reviews, see what you like, what you don’t like, look at the pricing etc.

It’s super easy, you can get somebody to do it for like 20 bucks, 30 bucks on the higher end, depending on where you live and they’ll come as many times as you want throughout the day Monday through Friday, sometimes weekends to let your dog out while your work.

I know it’s financially a burden, it could be but you gotta understand that we invited our dogs into our houses, they didn’t let themselves in and say “hey can I live with you”, it’s something that we have to take responsibility for.

It’s super important because you’ll create stress and anxiety especially in younger active dogs who are just sitting around doing nothing, which leads me to my second tip on rule number three or tip number three leads me to daycare.

Same strategies as what we’re talking about with the dog walker. Go on Google, find doggy daycare near me and look at their reviews. Go in there and do a consultation, see what you like, what you don’t like just make sure that there’s people in the back making sure that they’re with the dogs, that’s important.

Do your research on that and you’ll find the right fit for you and your dog. You can spend twenty to thirty dollars a day for your dog to go and run around with a bunch of dog friends which is fantastic versus sitting home doing nothing.

So those things will really really help your dog exert that mental and physical exercise that they so desperately need to do.

The other easy thing you can do when you’re gone, if you haven’t already, is give them something to chew on like a Kong. I use marrow bones stuffed with peanut butter and freeze them, you can find things like bully sticks, you can do all sorts of different stuff to really make sure that your dog is ok when you’re gone.

The other thing that you can do while you’re gone is leave something on to cut the white noise out, so leaving a radio on or the TV on to cut that white noise is also really important as well .

To recap guys number one don’t make a big deal when you leave the house, if it doesn’t have to be. Number two exercise is so important so give your dog mental and physical exercise before and after you come home from work. It’ll release and decompress all that built-up stress and anxiety that sits there while you’re out at work.

Number three. Give them something to do so hiring a dog walker, getting a daycare, coming home from work on a lunch break to walk them around. A big backyard is better than sitting at home but it’s still not enough giving them something to do like Kong or frozen bone.

Leaving the radio on, leaving the TV on, having your neighbor pop over giving them something to do while you’re at work.

I’ve gotten a huge number of requests on facebook and through email asking to do an article on separation anxiety, so here we go.

So right away I want to say that a short article here is woefully inadequate to cover everything to do with separation anxiety. There are so many factors and moving parts to it, and every single case is unique.

This article is not going to give you quick fixes, I will, however, help you better understand the issue and point you in the right direction to find good resources.

Let’s start off by clearing up the terminology. The term “separation anxiety” has been bandied about so much that it’s lost a lot of its meaning.

Everybody thinks that when they’re dog chews up a shoe while they’re gone, or pees on the rug, or looks sad when they leave, or acts silly when they come home they must have separation anxiety.

Generally this is not the case. In fact some of these are just simple training issues that haven’t been resolved through practice and consistency. In other cases it’s more accurate to call it distress, and there is a difference. 

Also we need to see if it’s a case of separation or just isolation; there’s a difference there too. So let’s look at these.

Separation problems

Separation problems stem from a dog’s attachment to one person or a group of people. In these instances, no other person or animal can alleviate the stress. The only thing presently that will help is the return of the specific person or persons.

Isolation problems

Isolation problems are more about not wanting to be alone. Dogs are extremely social animals, that is to say they seek out company and companionship and they form close social groups. In these cases another person or even another animal can help alleviate the problem. 

Each of these types of stressors— separation and isolation—then exist on a sliding scale with distress being at the low end and true anxiety being at the high end. True separation or isolation anxiety is serious stuff.

These are the dogs that bloody themselves escaping from crates, that jump out of third story windows, and have worked themselves into frothy states of wide-eyed panic. 

These are clinical cases that require professional intervention. Distress is what most of you out there are experiencing, not anxiety. Whining or barking when you leave is not anxiety.

Chewing up tissues and pillows while you’re gone is not anxiety. At best they’re symptoms of boredom and at worst they’re symptoms of distress, which is easily addressed in many cases. 

So for example a dog with mild isolation distress will get itchy about being alone and get bored and then start doing things to occupy himself like chewing or barking.

In these cases sometimes just giving them things to do that they enjoy will help. Sometimes they just need company—another person or even another pet. Here’s where a pet sitter or dog walker in the middle of the day might help. 

In order to start helping your dog you’ll need to determine whether your dog has a problem with separation or isolation, and then objectively measure how severe things are.

Don’t buy into the notion that it’s automatically anxiety or even that it’s automatically separation. Our egos would love us to believe it’s always about us but realistically it might not be. 

It’s useful to make these distinctions because it changes how you may approach the situation. Separation problems are generally harder to fix than isolation problems, depending on how severe things are. 

We all do a disservice when we just start labeling everything “separation anxiety” when there are dogs out there that truly needs serious help and we lump them in with dogs that just need a chew toy and some training. 

This whole problem gets even more complicated when dogs have pent up energy throughout the day without reasonable outlets. It also becomes more pronounced when dogs are never taught how to be alone. 

Now there are gadgets and bits of gear out there that are designed to keep your dog busy throughout the day. Things like D.A.P. and relaxing flower essences, thundershirts, music and tone therapy, and interactive toys like the Manners Minder, Wobbler, and even just basic Kong toys. 

But please understand that these are not the solutions; they’re only part of the solution. And they’re not plug-and-play kinds of things, or set it and forget it. You must train your dog how to interact with them and train your dog to love them.

Yes even Thundershirts. As I’ve said many times before it’s not what it is it’s what you’ve trained it to be. If you just buy something and leave it with them the chances it will change anything are almost zero. 

Which brings me to an important point: there are no cookie cutters for anxiety or distress. There are no magic bullets. There are no 123 fixes you might have found on a separation anxiety board and Pinterest that are going to do the job.

Think about people you know—maybe yourself—that suffer from anxiety. There isn’t just a thing you buy or a pin you read that fixes it, is there? 

So what can we do? 

Well for starters like almost every other problem out there it’s predictable and preventable. So if you’re reading this and you have a new puppy or even a newly adopted adolescent dog, teach them how to be alone for periods of time. 

A dog needs to be content with spending time alone. If you’ve watched my toy training article or my Kong article you know that one of the main points is training chew toys to be outlets for exactly the kind of stress being alone creates. 

Take a look at your dog’s diet 

Do your homework and get the best you can reasonably afford. A crappy diet will most definitely exacerbate anxiety and distress problems just like a does in humans.

Get your dog some exercise and some mental stimulation. Activities like flyball, rally, agility, nosework, and K9 games are ones that not only get the blood moving but help the brain grow. 

Manage your dog’s space. Use gates to limit access to parts of the house you don’t want them in. 

Crate train them. These are just the tip of the iceberg. To help you wrap your head around this process there are a couple of really good books on the subject I recommend. 

The first one is I’ll Be Home Soon: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety by Patricia B. McConnell, PhD. She’s a stalwart figure in the behavior community and her work forms the basis for most of it out there. 

The second book is Don’t Leave Me: Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety by Nicole Wilde, CPDT-KA.

Nicole is a nationally recognized consultant; her books and articles are always gold very—easy to read and accessible for everyone.

Pick one or both of these up and see if they can give you the guidance you need to solve your problem. At the very least they’ll help you build a foundation to work with while you seek additional help.

Hire A Behaviorist 

And you probably should seek additional help. Some anxiety or distress issues stem from genetics or past experiences which we have no control over. My best piece of advice is to hire a behaviorist. A behaviorist is different than a trainer. 

Your local dog trainer will usually not have the experience or knowledge to adequately address anything more than simple distress.

A good behaviorist will help you design a plan that fits your dog and your lifestyle. A behaviorist will know how to problem-solve and offer multiple solutions. 

These can include plans for management, nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, and training.

In a robust approach these will all be supported by adjudicative strategies like drug therapy, desensitization, and conditioning. And your behaviorist will help you train those gadgets and gear we mentioned earlier so they actually work for you.

To find a qualified behaviorist, start with a search on the APDT’s website. the APDT, or the Association of Professional Dog Trainers has a registry that you can search through.

Most professional organizations such as the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals also have similar registries.

Membership in one or more professional organization is a good start. It indicates standards met, communication with colleagues, and a means to keep current on new info. But it’s not a guarantee of quality. 

Once you find a person, ask about their professional training and their experience. Always ask about their experience level. A seasoned practitioner with no professional credentials is preferable to someone with credentials but with limited or no experience. 

Also contact the local shelters and rescues for their recommendations. These organizations see a thousand times the amount of dogs you’ve ever even owned and they have a roster of professionals that they rely on. 

Look for someone who recognizes the importance of you working through the problem rather than sending the dog somewhere to get “fixed.”

Anxiety and distress are completely inappropriate for any kind of board and train services. Work needs to be done at home. 

Look for knowledge of positive reinforcement methods, classical conditioning, progressive desensitization, and making food, toys, and play integral parts of building good behavior.

This is a must. Any kind of adversive techniques that are painful, scary, or stern will be absolutely counterproductive. 

Now, there are trainers out there that have experience with behavior consulting and vice versa. You may find that rare someone who is versed in both training and behavioral methodology.

Please do not ask your vet for behavior advice unless you are inquiring about drug therapy suggested by your behaviorist. 

Vets are not trained in behavior. They are trained in anatomy, procedures, diagnosis, treatment, and medicine. They will be the medicinal and drug expert, but your behaviorist will know better what to do in conjunction with it. 

Look: I respect the veterinary community greatly and I always learned tons from them. But I have seen vets prescribe drugs to dogs that didn’t need it, and I’ve seen dogs put through ridiculous exercises when they needed drugs and management. 

I know it is tempting to ask the pet professionals in your life for help but seek the best sources. You don’t ask your plumber for electrical advice, right? Also do not ask or take advice from pet store employees.

These people are there to tell you what’s on sale. That’s like asking someone who works at Rite Aid to give you medical advice. 

Always seek advice from the best sources. If you need training advice you call a trainer. If your pet is hurt or sick call your vet. If you have a grooming question call your groomer. If your dog’s diet needs tweaking contact a nutritionist. And if you have behavior problems call a behaviorist. 

Well good luck to you if you’re struggling, whether it be easily solved isolation distress or you’re in for the long haul with real separation anxiety. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and make sure to explore the resources around you.

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