At The Hipster Hound, I’ve been noticing a lot of humans feeling anxious when dropping their dogs off for daycare. In turn, their dogs begin to act scared and nervous. As THE Original, Hipster Hound, Rex, I know dogs only act this way because of their human’s behavior. So I wanted to talk to the dog training expert, Ben Hutchinson of At My Side Dog Training, to get the real deal behind this separation anxiety at daycare drop-off. He has some incredible insights, so all humans should read what he had to say below:
Quick History Lesson: The Human & Dog Connection
Humans have been co-evolving with dogs for over 14,000 years. In that time frame, we have selectively bred dogs who are more desirable to us – so much so that the average domesticated canine has an extra set of muscles in their eyebrows that wild dogs and wolves do not. These muscles are what enable our dogs the ability to give us those “puppy dog eyes.” We have literally bred dogs to manipulate our feelings and pull at our heartstrings!
This shows that our evolution with dogs is so intertwined. They are designed to be our companions, and just as with our human partners, we too must learn how to read what our dogs are thinking and feeling.
Defining Separation Anxiety
Dogs are very social creatures. They always want to be with their pack, and for domestic dogs, that pack includes their humans. However, when we adopt a new dog, we tend to not give them enough space to be independent and self-soothe. We are so excited to spend all of our time with our new pup and bond with them, but in reality, we’re creating dogs who are dependent on our presence for their happiness and security.
Then, when a parent leaves the dog, that dog will not only miss them, but they will actually experience a sense of doom and fear because their source of security is no longer present. Dogs need to have space, cry it out, and learn that being alone is not the end of the world.
Separation Anxiety at Doggy Daycare
Oftentimes at daycare drop-off, parents find themselves feeling uneasy about leaving their furry friend in an unfamiliar or new place. Since humans are their dog’s “security blanket,” they will look to their person for how to act. So if mom is feeling anxious, then her dog will act the same way. The saying, “Emotions run down the leash” finds its meaning in situations like these.
Two recent studies conducted at both Harvard and Yale Animal Behavior Centers found that when cortisol, the stress hormone, is elevated in a human, then cortisol will also be elevated in their dog, even if the dog was not present for the human’s stressor. Dogs are so cued up in their human’s body and verbal language that they mimic us – even internally!
Tips for Easing Drop-Off Anxiety
- Loosen up on the leash: A tight leash will engage the opposition reflex, the natural response that all living creatures have to pull back the other way. All the pulling and yanking on a tight leash will elevate the dogs’ anxiety.
- Shake it out: If you are tense about leaving your dog at daycare, your body will show it. Take a breath, shake out your shoulders, and calm down. A cool-headed human = a cool-headed dog.
- Make a quick hand-off: There is no need to linger at drop-off. Get inside, hand over the leash to the attendant, say good-bye, and leave. An emotional or tearful goodbye will only exasperate the separation anxiety. Keep it light and upbeat.
- Break the comforting habit: As parents, we want to comfort our dogs when they are anxious and tell them it's okay. However, dogs do not differentiate comforting vs. praise. While we coo to our dogs, they may understand that as praise, thus reinforcing the anxious behavior. So when the dog is anxious, we can speak to them calmly but not be overly affectionate.
Dog Training at The Hipster Hound
At the end of the day, it all depends on the dedication and time a parent wants to put into changing their and their dog’s behavior. It’s about figuring out your goal, then breaking it down into incremental pieces so the dog can understand step-by-step.
I have partnered with The Hipster Hound to develop the four-week Beginner Dog Training program that addresses behavioral problems like separation anxiety and more. Dog training school is fun for both dogs and their humans. The opportunity to talk to other dog parents and consult the trainer is invaluable and can help resolve difficulties in training. To learn more or to schedule your pup in the next class, call the Diamond Causeway store at (912) 349-7640 or sign up online. See you in class!