This post is part of the series in response to Dunbar’s 2012 Australian seminars. See index.
To me, Dunbar’s approach to separation anxiety was a little simplistic, but I think this is because Dunbar believes most separation anxiety is actually “separation fun”. When dogs are left alone, they often find things that they enjoy doing. Or, if they are used to owners coming home and punishing them, dogs may also have anxiety regarding the reuniting with the owner, and not so much the separation itself.
Regardless, Dunbar believes separation anxiety can be fixed. His tool is, unsurprisingly, a Kong. He suggests getting a dog into a Kong routine, where Kongs are associated with good things (not the owner leaving!). The basic principle is to start a dog in a crate next to you with a Kong, and gradually move the crate further away from you, further away from the room you’re in, and slowly increase distance – all the while the dog having a Kong to enjoy.
For normal dogs, it’s okay to give a Kong as you leave the house. Upon return, Dunbar suggests you encourage play with the Kong. The idea that your dog, upon anticipation of your return, may pick up the Kong instead of choosing more destructive avenues for their enthusiasm! (This is one of the best bits of advice I got from Dunbar over the weekend.)
ThatMutt posted on owner-causes of Separation Anxiety and, if Dunbar’s approach seems workable to you, then you may enjoy the strategies put forward in their post.