Separation Anxiety – A training problem, or an emotional problem?

Separation – a behaviour problem or an emotional problem?

I’ve talked a lot about separation anxiety (SA) in dogs in my blogs, most recently in the video blogs on pain and social attachment.
Here’s an interesting report on the different approaches to the management of SA of dogs in Australia.


The researchers compared 2 different approaches to behavioural modification – reward-based training vs. balanced training.

Reward-based trainers were categorised as those that identified themselves with terms such as “reward based”, “positive reinforcement”, “force-free” or “least invasive, minimally aversive” use predominantly positive reinforcement to teach new behaviours”, “may use some negative reinforcement and negative punishment but avoid use of positive punishment”.

Balanced trainers were categorised as those that identified themselves with terms such as “use positive and negative reinforcement”, use positive and negative punishment”.

The data was collected via an online questionnaire and the collated results suggested that –

  • Reward-based trainers considered separation anxiety in dogs as an emotional problem.
  • Balanced trainers viewed it as a training problem.
  • This difference in classification led to the difference in approaches to managing SA in dogs.
  • So for balanced trainers, dogs could be trained not to be anxious when left at home on their own, in the same way that dogs can be trained not to bark when someone knocks on the front door.
  • On the other hand, for reward-based trainers, the SA behaviour itself was not the problem.
  • Rather, SA was the result of a complex interaction between a dog’s emotional development, previous training experience and current medical history, especially in the context of ongoing conditions causing chronic pain.
  • Ultimately, because of the perceived complexity of SA in dogs, reward-based trainers were more likely to involve other professionals in their treatment plan, specifically veterinarians for the prescription of medication to help dogs with severe SA cope emotionally.




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© copyright Robert Falconer-Taylor, 2020

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Mental Health Disease or Preventable Problem? Australian Dog Trainers’ Opinions about Canine Separation Anxiety Differ with Training Style
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