Separation anxiety is something that all dog owners are aware of and worry about when leaving their puppy alone. It can be a very traumatic experience for dogs and owners alike. If this is something that you and your Border Collie are experiencing and trying to tackle do not worry. Separation anxiety is a common issue, and with a little patience and perseverance, it is something that you can overcome and live happily ever after!
In this article we discuss separation anxiety, what it is, how it can manifest in Border Collies, and the solutions to treating it. But first, what is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a disorder your Border Collie may suffer from, where they experience great levels of distress whenever they are alone.
Why is this? There are many causes for separation anxiety in Border Collies. Such as:
- A new family member (a baby, a new pet etc)
- A change in daily structure
- And even spending too much time with them as a pup!
In fact, separation anxiety actually quite common among many working dog breeds! So no need to panic thinking you have done anything wrong, the biggest thing you may be guilty of is loving your dog too much!
Over the next few paragraphs, we are going to look in detail at how you can tell if your Border Collie is suffering from separation anxiety and some different ways you can help ease the distress your anxious pup may be experiencing.
How to tell if you Border Collie has Separation Anxiety
The first step in treating separation anxiety in your Border Collie is determining that they do have it. Many owners can mistake separation anxiety as general bad behaviour, but there are a few key differences.
A Border Collie suffering from separation anxiety may exhibit destructive behaviours. But these will usually extend beyond the realms of boredom or misbehaving. When returning home you may notice things such as scratches around windows and doors, torn up carpets and flooring and excessive chewing.
These actions can sometimes overlap into bad behaviours, but the difference is your Border Collies body language. If they are calm, stretching (maybe even a yawn, as though they’ve just woken up) when you re-enter your home then any destruction is likely boredom. You can solve this quite easily by finding new ways to keep your Border Collie entertained and understanding your Collies’ exercise requirements.
However, if your Border Collie comes up to you frantic, panting and pacing, then it may be due to anxiety.
Separation anxiety also has some more specific symptoms, such as toileting accidents in the house when left alone, the previously mentioned panting and pacing, and also being excessively clingy to their favourite humans.
You may find yourself unable to leave a room without your Border Collie following closely behind! (even if they had previously been comfy, or sleeping.)
Ultimately, the biggest difference between your Border Collie misbehaving and having separation anxiety is whether they exhibit panic or distress when left alone.
If you have noticed your furry friend struggles being alone and never seems to fully relax unless someone is nearby, then it is very possible they could be suffering from separation anxiety!
What causes separation anxiety in Border Collies?
The basis of separation anxiety is that whenever you leave your Collie alone they worry that you won’t come back. They think you have left forever! This doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong though.
Separation anxiety can be caused in puppyhood. Especially if they have been taken from mum a little too early. (Who wouldn’t feel a little lost and lonely moving away from their whole family?). With some time and patience, you can help your pup adjust to life away from their mum and siblings easily.
As mentioned before, separation anxiety is common in Border Collies and a number of other working breeds. This is because these dogs thrive on structure, activity, and mental stimulation. If they are used to being around people and other living animals for long periods of time, and then are left on their own it can trigger this fear of abandonment.
If you have an older Border Collie it is also possible for them to experience separation anxiety. It can trigger at any point in your dog’s life for a multitude of reasons, sometimes something as simple as a change in routine.
For example if you get a new job and your working hours change or if you pick up a new hobby and are out of the house at a time that you wouldn’t have been previously.
Anxiety can also be hereditary. If your Border Collie had anxious or nervous parents then those genetics may have been passed down. Try not to worry too much though! Anxious genes do not automatically mean you will have an anxious dog, just that they may have a higher chance of developing it. With understanding, patience and consistent work, you should be able to overcome this together!
How to teach you Border Collie to stay calm when left alone
So now we have looked into some common symptoms of separation anxiety, and what can cause them. By now I’m sure you are wondering how you can work with your Border Collie to resolve these issues. Well, look no further!
We are now going to take a look into some training methods which the whole family can practice, to help improve your Border Collie’s separation anxiety.
First, we are going to look into Border Collie puppies with separation anxiety. It is possible that your puppy may grow out of their fear of being alone without any assistance at all, but it can be a good idea to give them a gentle push in the right direction too.
One of the easiest ways to help puppies with separation anxiety is to make sure you regularly give them alone time.
Unsurprisingly, no one really wants to shut a cute bundle of fluff out all alone (and that is not quite what we are going to be doing either!), but giving your puppy a chance to learn that being alone is okay and you will always come back can be incredibly helpful when they are older!
A great way of offering your Border Collie puppy some alone time is crate training them, or if you have the space a puppy pen. Creating an area where your puppy can go to relax is an extremely useful tool for a variety of reasons, and in this case it allows you to create a safe environment while they learn it’s okay to be alone sometimes.
We found this foldable puppy pen from Amazon to be a brilliant purchase for Mila when she was little. We bought the larger size and found she had enough room to play around in but also didn’t become too overstimulated and could settle herself when she became tired. And, it was so easy to fold away and stick under the stairs when we weren’t using it.
These safe spaces are something you can learn to utilise in your day to day life, such as when you are doing house work or cooking. This teaches your Border Collie puppy to understand that there will be times when they cannot be near their humans all day long, but that doesn’t mean they will be alone forever!
Once you return to let them out of their safe space, whether it is a crate or a pen, make sure to only do so when they are calm and relaxed. This helps them associate you coming back with being a normal calm event. After you have let them out, wait five to ten minutes for them to calm down again and then be sure to give them lots of praise and some treats!
Try not to fuss or cuddle your Collie if they are excited or jumping around. You will want to make sure your puppy is calm before rewarding them so they associate the reward with calm behaviour.
Please note this method can also work with older dogs, just be sure to take it steady and build up to longer periods of time. As they are larger they may try more aggressive or destructive means to reach their humans. You know your dog best so consider all the techniques to find the best solution for you and your pup.
This next method we are going to discuss can be used with Border Collies of all ages. This is a therapy technique called desensitisation. The aim of this method is to teach your Border Collie that their owners leaving the house is normal and does not need to be a massive event.
Here is how:
To start off, you will need to identify your personal cues. What are cues? Well, these are the little actions you make when getting ready to leave the house. But they start long before you ever open the door, and your Border Collie knows this.
Your cues could start with you picking up a pair of shoes, putting on a coat or jacket, moving your work bag to the front door or even picking up the house keys.
Cues are all of the little actions that make up your routine when leaving the house. And all these actions are signals to your Border Collie that you are leaving and that they are going to be left alone, thus triggering their anxiety.
Once you know what your cues and routines are, you can begin the desensitisation process.
To start this method of training you want to look at your list of cues and pick the one you usually do first, and then you are going to repeatedly do this (or a variation of it). To begin with you may notice your Border Collie starts to show anxiety symptoms immediately, this is absolutely fine!
Every time your Border Collie then relaxes and settles you will reward the positive behaviour with reassuring cuddles or treats. Once you have that one down and your Collie no longer feels anxious when you do this, move on to the next.
Say for example, the first part of your routine is grabbing your coat from upstairs and putting it on the back of a chair.
What I would do is grab my coat and move it about from upstairs, downstairs, chair to chair etc. So my Border Collies can see me moving it about and touching it. Once they stop showing signs of stress from me doing that, I will reward their calm behaviour with lots of strokes and fuss and then move on to the next cue: Putting on the coat.
For this, I might walk around the house a bit and take it back off. Once my dog is no longer showing any signs of this bothering them I can then move onto the next part of my routine and repeat the process.
This method can take a while and will require work from everyone in the family. Still, with perseverance and consistency it can have very positive outcomes. Consistency is so important when dealing with an anxious dog, without it they can struggle to learn what you want from them.
Now we have looked at what you can do when leaving the house, we are going to look at what you can do to help when you return home. This is all about actions and routine much like the previous section.
It is so important to signal to your dog what behaviours you expect to see when you return home. Collie’s are intelligent dogs and will soon pick up on this if you and your family are displaying a consistent message.
If when you return home your Border Collie are exhibiting frantic behaviours the key here is to ignore them completely until they have calmed. So, for example, if they are jumping up at you as soon as you enter, you are going to gently push them off and ignore them until they are calm. Once they calm down you can then give them a treat and some praise.
Or if they are being vocal and barking to gain your attention, you wait until they are quiet and reward that behaviour.
For Border Collies with separation anxiety it is important to focus on positive reinforcements and rewarding the behaviour that you want to see, rather than punishing those you do not want. When you have a nervous dog, punishing them can just add to the stress that they are already experiencing and even make the situation even worse. Positivity always wins!
How can Puzzle toys help with separation anxiety?
A good, short term way to help your Border Collie stay calm while they are alone is to keep them occupied and mentally stimulated. You can do this by investing in some puzzle toys, such as food and treat dispensers. These help to redirect the negative energy and emotions they may be experiencing into a more constructive task. These can be especially effective when the reward is food.
We have purchased many puzzle toys for our two Collies and have found that these have been the greatest hits! They really do help to distract your Collie away from the cues that you are about to leave the house!
Kong Goodie Ribbon. The ribbon has four hollow cones that can be filled with different treats and lickables. With the ability to fill the toy with a variety of their favorite foods this keeps our girls occupied for ages! And they are freezable and even dishwasher safe.
Snuffle mats have become an absolute winner in our house. These are brilliant little brain teasers for our Collies and take no time at all to set up. We just sprinkle a handful of their regular dry biscuits over the mat and set it down before we leave. It keeps them busy and they forget all about us leaving!
Pretty much every puzzle game EVER by Nina Ottosson. Nina is a goddess in our house. We have purchased quite a few of her puzzle games and all have been a hit with Mila and Izzy. They really enjoy working out the puzzles and of course the delicious treat they get for doing so! But they really do have so much fun with these toys! The twister board is our latest purchase and both girls have really loved it!
While puzzle toys may not resolve separation anxiety, they are a good way to help put your dog into a calmer state of mind. They can offer a distraction from their anxieties and allow them to redirect their focus.
How long can you leave your Border Collie alone for?
A general rule of thumb for leaving a Border Collie alone is one hour for every month old they are, and then add on an additional hour. In our opinion, this caps out at around 5 hours for the maximum time a Border Collie should be left alone for. You may find this time is significantly shorter if your Border Collie suffers from anxiety.
Now, we are really not the sort of people to advocate only having a dog if one member of your household doesn’t work. That would just be hypocritical of us. That said, if you find that you’re often leaving your Border Collie alone for longer than 4 or 5 hours, it’s probably worth finding a way to fix this. Try asking family, friends or neighbours to do a little check-in to help relieve their boredom. Failing that, pet sitters and dog walkers are available pretty much everywhere, and they’re pretty inexpensive.
Hopefully this article has given you some helpful tips, and a plan going forward to help your Border Collies separation anxiety. In many cases it will be possible for you to help your dogs anxiety with the methods above alone.
That being said, it is important that you do not feel ashamed or embarrassed if you need to seek out professional advice. Separation anxiety is a very serious condition and can negatively affect both you and your Border Collie in the long run. If you are still struggling to help your dog then it may be worth a visit to the vets for professional advice, whether it is a specialist training program or medication.
Best of luck to you and your lovely Collie!
Pssst. if you’re after more tips to look after your Border Collie – check out our article about stopping unwanted Border Collie barking.
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Top picks for our Border Collies
1. BEST DOG TOY
Ok, it’s a bold statement, but I think that this interactive dog puzzle toy is absolutely brilliant!
2. BEST BOREDOM KILLER
We all know Collie’s love to be … challenging! Give them this snuffle mat and you’ll get at least 10 minutes peace!
3. BEST SHAMPOO FOR YOUR COLLIE
We’ve tried absolutely loads of different types of shampoos and dog conditioners. Save yourself some time and try our favourite brand – works a treat!