German Shepherds are prone to separation anxiety just as many other breeds. The reason for that is their close association with their owners or the people around them. They may show signs such as urination, vocalization, chewing or destroying furniture, trying to escape the house, and so on.
The close association can be explained by their origin story.
German Shepherds were bred to assist us in a number of different jobs but their primary goal was to herd.
Even now, when you see a GSD barking at cattle or trying to bring them together, you know which genes have been activated.
My time with these dogs has been marred by separation anxiety training mostly.
Related: Are German Shepherds good for first time owners?
Do German Shepherds Have Separation Anxiety?
German Shepherd separation anxiety is a real thing.
The dogs form a close association with their owners. I give them a solid 5/5 for exhibiting unwavering family love. They are also quite good with the kids, as you may have noticed.
Because of this close association, courtesy of their nature, they get panicked when their favorite person or family isn’t around. If you’ve searched for German Shepherd Separation Anxiety, you know what you’re dealing with.
Worry not, however, because I’m here to take you through all the steps and information needed to take you and your dog through it. Being a mom to a labradoodle and having plenty of time spent correcting dog anxieties, I hope to help you.
Symptoms Of GSDs Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety has clear symptoms of urination, vocalization, mouthiness, escaping, pacing, and coprophagia. However, as you’ll read ahead, these symptoms may also indicate other behavioral problems.
- Urination and defecation are out of nowhere when the owner isn’t present.
- Barking and excessive howling. Your neighbors may complain about it.
- Chewing and destroying furniture. The chewed sofa has stories to tell.
- Escaping from the house. See a broken window? Now you know why.
- Running excessively along a single path. You may want to install a camera to see if this is happening.
- Eating their poop. Also called coprophagia, your dog may find its excrement juicy.
Is Anxiety Common in German Shepherds?
I wouldn’t say it’s common but it’s a normal reaction to being left alone. From an evolutionary point of view, the dog’s behavior makes great sense.
They were bred to be working dogs, and as I said, because of this, they form unbreakable bonds with their owners.
Bonds aside, the very nature of the dogs demands that you don’t leave them alone.
They are highly sensitive, prone to barking and howling, easily eager to chew on things beyond control, and super attached to their families.
At the same time, however, they are easy to train. You could help them cope with separation anxiety by incorporating a few training sessions into their routine. I’ll talk about it later in the article.
Let’s explore the causes of this behavior first.
What Causes Separation Anxiety In German Shepherds?
Not all german shepherds could be deemed prone to separation anxiety.
This condition develops in dogs that have experienced trauma such as losing a previous guardian, abuse, or ill-treatment from anyone they thought was their close companion.
If you’ve adopted your dog from a shelter, then these could be the reasons.
Still, there are other reasons you should look into before ruling them out.
1. Abandoned By Family
Abandonment is one of the gravest crimes of human beings against such adorable pets.
Over the decades, we have conditioned and reconditioned dogs through breeding to make them super loyal, friendly, loving, and useful. Then, it is we who abandon them for meager reasons.
A dog abandoned by owners and then readopted may show signs of separation anxiety. The moment it’s left alone, it may remember earlier trauma and fall into the trap once again.
2. Severe Changes In Your Timing
A dog has a safe period until it starts feeling alone. GSDs have 4 hours before they know that you’re gone and they are alone.
So, when you change your schedule, come home after 8 hours, or change the time you leave your home without prior notice or training, the dog will surely lose its mind.
3. Moving A Lot
Have you moved out of your previous apartment lately? If yes, then your dog’s separation anxiety may be caused by that.
It’s a new place. Your pet isn’t familiar with the nooks and crannies. Thus, it’s natural for you to feel insecure the moment you leave
4. The Sudden Death Of A Family Member
Dogs know who their family members are. Hell, they even know how many are there. My labradoodle cheers up when my fiance or I come home. It’s not that he warms up only to me.
He has an equal affection for both of us. Whenever one of our new friends shows up at our home, I can see his ears wiggle in either excitement or trepidation.
But later in the day, everything’s okay when he realizes that the stranger is friends with us.
The point of this is to tell you that your dog can tell who’s their mommy, daddy, or stranger.
The absence of either of them because of hospitalization or death may cause mayhem in the mind and heart of the dog.
5. Certain Medications
While the reasons I mentioned above are still valid, some medications may be interrupting the normal brain functions of your pooch.
But that’s only if it’s been fed any meds. If yes, you may want to visit the vet and possibly rule out this reason first.
How long should german shepherds be left alone?
They should be left alone for a maximum of 4 hours. An hour or two beyond this may trigger separation anxiety in your dog. There are two major ways in which you could relieve the anxiety altogether:
- By following certain practices that do not startle the dog out of its comfort with your schedule. This one’s best for low to mild anxiety.
- By following desensitization or counterconditioning training sessions if the anxiety is moderate to severe.
How Do I Stop My German Shepherd From Having Separation Anxiety?
Now that you know the symptoms and possible causes, here are the remedies.
1. Follow Your Schedule Strictly
As I said above, sudden changes in your routine could instill in the dog’s mind that you may never be returning.
So, follow your schedule strictly. If you’re going out at 8 and coming back at, let’s say, 5, maintain it for a longer period of time.
On weekends, you could take your leave anytime you want. But make sure that you don’t make a show of it or have your friend who’s been warmed up with the dog, dog-sit for you.
2. Work On Your Puppy Right From The Start
If you own a pup like me, you’re the luckiest. They are like blank slates and you write code on them. As they ascend toward adulthood, all that you’ve taught them remains engraved in their minds and souls.
That’s why I’m a big fan of early socialization. I make sure that my dog has plenty of exposure to other dogs and humans.
However, not at the cost of its health, of course. I’m only doing it after its vaccination has been completed.
You should, too, socialize your GSD to keep future separation anxiety at bay.
On the contrary, if you’re owning an adult GSD, worry not. It’s still very much trainable because of its nature.
These dogs are highly trainable. Seeing them in the military or police service, as guide dogs, drug detectors, and other jobs isn’t surprising solely because of this.
Training them to enjoy themselves alone won’t be a problem either. I’ll mention a few training sessions you could follow to help the dog cope with loneliness.
3. Crate-Train The Dog
This fix or solution should be followed with a grain of salt. This means that it works for some and not for others. So, you’ve got to be a little careful here.
I’m saying this because I’ve tried crate-training my dog. It was a horrible experience. The poor thing would start whining after a few minutes. That’s when I knew that this wasn’t for him.
You should, too, look for visible signs of distress when leaving a dog in its crate. That’ll be possible when you’re present. The signs you should look for include:
- Trying to escape,
- Salvation, and
You’ll just know when the dog’s not happy in the crate.
4. Tire It Out
You may have heard that a tired pet is a quiet pet. It’s not just an adage but a reality as bright as the day.
Given your dog is exhibiting separation anxiety, there are some ways you could help it release that negative energy.
When it’s tired out, it won’t have any energy left to spend on making a big scene of being left alone.
- 30-Minutes Exercise Daily
Aerobic exercises play a greater part in keeping dogs fit. They may include running, abrupt or brisk walking, or swimming.
So, at least an hour or 30 minutes before, take your dog out for one of these activities. You’ll see how it relaxes in the face of looming loneliness.
Related: How much exercise does a German Shepherd need?
- Play Plenty Of Games
German Shepherds have high physical and mental stimulation needs. They score a generous 5/5 in this category.
So, before leaving, you may want to add a few games to the exercise regime. Tug-of-war is my dog’s favorite. You could use it, too.
- Set Walking Routines
Dogs and humans form routines quite easily and they are comfortable following them. If you want your companion to feel safe and less agitated, you may want to set definite walking routines for it.
- Let It Play With Other Dogs
You could also opt to let it play with other dogs under your supervision at least 30 to 40 minutes before you’re leaving. However, make sure that the playtime isn’t escalating into a full-blown war.
- Use Feeding Toys
I love these. They tire out dogs quite well. I use Kong, every dog owner’s favorite classic toy. I use peanut butter to fill the hollow space inside and let the dog do away with it when I’m gone.
It takes some good minutes before he’s finished it all.
Now that’s a distraction we should be talking about. There are other toys as well, such as Pickle Pocket, Tricky Treat Ball, The Waggle, and so on.
- Make A Hunting Puzzle
Hiding treats around the house is another activity you could try. Before doing this, however, make sure that you don’t have rodents around that would nibble on the treats or anything that could be a risk to the dog’s health.
After taking care of that, spread kibble around the house in the dog’s favorite hiding places. My dog’s favorite nooks are sofa crevices, the corner behind every door, the kitchen counter, and the surface under the table.
My Milo loves dancing with me. Before leaving, I try to play his favorite Shark Do Do and we dance like there’s no tomorrow. But I also make sure that I don’t get too worked out myself because I’ve to go to work.
You should, too, get along with it. I’ve just laid out 7 ways of tiring your dog. You could get creative and add yours to the routine. Or, you could follow these over a week to keep the dog’s imagination working out.
How Do I Train My German Shepherds To Stay Home Alone?
I know the two best methods to desensitize your dog to your departure. You see, our pets know what we do before leaving.
So, we’ve to train the dog that what we do before leaving doesn’t have to be associated as such. Doing all those things could be precursors to other activities as well.
Here’s how to help a German Shepherd with separation anxiety through training:
1. Make Less Drama Of Your Departure
The cues that make your departure notable are the ones you need to work on.
You may put on some makeup before going out, grab the car keys, and don your coat, hat, shoes, or anything that the dog has associated with your leaving.
You’ve to train the dog that doing all that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to leave it alone.
- Wear makeup and stroll around the house with your dog on the watch.
- Wear shoes, a coat, a hat, or other things and simply sit down and read a book.
- Go straight to your kitchen and mimic making something while having your car keys with you.
The idea is to reduce the anxiety of your dog associated with your departure. It’s going to take time if I am honest with you.
So, don’t break the cycle and work on it until you see some improvement.
2. Increase The Time Span Of Your Departure
Another way to desensitize the dog is to start with small departures to bigger ones. In the course of doing that, you should hope to increase the tolerance of your German Shepherd in your absence.
You don’t need to follow any timeline or anything. While training my German Shepherd, I’ll first vanish from his sight for a minute and then return with treats. Then, the minute would increase to two, three, four, and so on.
It took me some time before the pup was ready to accept the loneliness for a long time in hopes that I always return with treats.
When To Seek Professional Help?
In mild to severe separation anxiety, you may need intervention from a vet. They may suggest some medications to ease the symptoms.
At this point in your relationship with the dog, you should take due care to not aggravate the symptoms further.
When on medication, you may need to do the following because I know that you can’t leave work.
1. Take The Dog To Work
If possible, this could solve most of your problems.
2. Try Calling Your Friend Or Family For Help
You could even pay a dog sitter if none of your friends or family members are free.
3. Enroll In A Pet Class
Certified training instructors come in handy in designing individual training sessions for dogs.
Why Punishing Your Dog Is Counter-Productive?
When a dog shows anxiety symptoms, it’s in distress. It needs you to take care of whatever is causing it pain and discomfort. That’s loneliness, of course.
So, do me a favor and do not punish it for something that it has no control over. Instead, follow the methods I shared and only sparingly show love to the dog while you’re training it to stay alone.
Related: Dog breeds with separation anxiety
German Shepherd Separation Anxiety – Conclusion
GSDs are prone to separation anxiety especially if they are adopted from a shelter. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adopt one because you’ll land in hot waters.
Spending quality time before departure, desensitizing the dog to pre-departure cues, and training it well enough could help your dog stay lonely without any problem.
I also suggest you should own another dog to help it overcome loneliness. But never, ever try to punish the poor thing.
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