Separation anxiety in Weimaraners is very common! Let’s face it, the “why” almost doesn’t really matter; what matters is how to fix it — to save your Weim’s sanity, your own sanity, the safety of your dog, and the contents of your home!
So this article is going to focus on the “how,” not the “why.”
What is Separation Anxiety?
Just because your dog may be bad (Hey they’re Weims, what do you expect?) when they’re alone doesn’t mean your dog necessarily has separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a highly anxious mental state that can manifest in:
- Excessive vocalization when your Weim is left alone (the most common manifestation)
- Destruction (especially around doorways and windows)
- Inappropriate elimination/diarrhea
- Self-injury (from escape attempts)
If your Weim is exhibiting distressful behavior when left alone, it may or may not be separation anxiety. It might actually be a Weim that is under-stimulated and/or a Weim whose environment is without enough enrichment.
It’s only separation anxiety if the bad behavior is exhibited along with the freaked out mental state. This is important to understand so that you do the right thing to fix the problem.
Are Weimaraners Prone to Separation Anxiety?
Research studies have shown that mixed breed dogs are more prone to separation anxiety than Weimaraners, but researchers also acknowledge there are simply more mixed breed in their studies (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 259(10), 1118-1129) so the jury is out.
Because Weims were originally bred to work with their owners, and they doubled as companion animals after the hunt, their propensity to want to be and to work with people is engrained. Perhaps that is why separation anxiety is so prevalent with Weimaraners?
Personally, I do not believe that Weimaraners as a breed are prone to separation anxiety. I believe that Weims have a tendency towards separation anxiety depending on genetics, rearing, boredom or stress…. and probably other precluding factors that we just don’t know about.
If your Weimaraner has Separation Anxiety, It’s not Your Fault
First of all, get rid of your guilt.
It is starting to become clear that separation anxiety is not caused by spoiling your Weim (e.g., letting your Weim follow you from room to room, allowing your Weim to sleep in your bed, giving treats for no reason, etc.) thereby, the theory goes, making them “hyper” attached to you.
In fact, in recent studies, the recommendation to prohibit your Weim from being in your bed, sitting on furniture etc. “should be ignored. There is simply no evidence supporting this.” (Pretty succinct and to the point!)
Unfortunately, other outdated advice is out there, like ignoring your dog or providing a special (usually food-dispensing toy) when you leave. It’s repeated, picked up by other sites, and repeated again. It’s not your fault that outdated is still out there and thought to be effective!
That doesn’t mean that separation anxiety is not treatable. It is definitely treatable! And I’m going to tell you how. 😊
Treating Separation Anxiety in Weimaraners
I’m going to draw a lot here from Malena DeMartini-Price’s book, “Separation Anxiety in Dogs – Next Generation Treatment Protocols and Practices” in this article.
Malena’s book, published in 2020 presents new information on treatment based on research. And because I am a geek, I actually did read the references and the published data.
(I’ll get into treatment in a second, but if you are interested in an online course, the one below was created by Malena so you might want to check it out!)
An online, self paced course, Mission POSSIBLE is the perfect place to start your separation anxiety journey.
Treatment Recommendations – that DON’T Work
Malena makes a point that resonates: You can reward behaviors in dogs, not emotions. If you can’t reward emotions, how to do you reward the absence of one? Meaning, is it possible to reinforce (with food, as most people do) the feeling of calm? Or the absence of anxiety? I’ll let you ponder that one.
If rewarding emotions doesn’t work, what about all the other advice that is usually dispensed? Just look at this article on separation anxiety in dogs published by Dr. Karen Overall and her group in the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2021. There is a cool table which is kind of buried behind several clicks, so I’ll summarize it here:
Myth: Stop Spoiling your Weimaraner – New research shows that there is “no evidence supporting this approach.”
Myth: Provide a food dispensing toy – When owners try to desensitize dogs to departure cues and provide a dog with a food dispensing toy, the toy may become the predictor of departure.
Myth: Desensitize your Weim to departure cues – Scrambling cues may not be generalized and furthermore an anxious dog may have trouble processing the information anyway.
Myth: Ignore your Weim prior to leaving – Interestingly, dogs that were petted before departures appeared to “experience enhanced relaxation and stress responses were diminished.” This was also supported by another study done in 2020 (Animals. 2020; 10(7):1110).
Myth: Crate your Weim – Unless your Weim is comforted by the crate, ditch it. If your Weim has any misgivings about the crate, they can feel entrapped and panicked, making the separation anxiety worse.
Myth: Exercise! – While this may help, it will not solve the problem and in fact may change the presentation of separation anxiety instead.
Myth: Get another dog – There is no data on this, but studies have shown that in shelter dogs, additional dogs don’t lower stress, but the presence of human care-takers did.
Myth: Go to obedience class – It’s a great idea in general, but doesn’t seem to have any correlation to separation anxiety.
Treatment Recommendations – that DO work
DESENSITIZATION. That’s it. Desensitization. Desensitization a process where your dog is introduced to something potentially scary (being alone) in small increments of time — before they get anxious.
It’s a gradual program where your Weim learns to be calm for longer and longer durations. Easy to explain and understand, but hard to implement! It takes sooo much patience because it’s slow, sometimes mind-bogglingly slow, impossibly slow…. frustratingly slow!
The absolute hardest part of the program is that once you start, you absolutely must commit to never, ever, EVER letting your Weim go past their comfort threshold and freak out. If this happens, you are subjecting your Weim to a lot of stress and exposing them to fear. You will also be “going backwards” in your training.
Hire a dog sitter, take your Weim to day care, do a “trade” with another doggy friend for dog sitting. Do what you have to do! Do not let your Weim experience ANY separation anxiety during the desensitization period!!
How to Implement Separation Anxiety Training with Your Weim
As I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, you start slooooooow. Start with one second of alone time after you exit the door. Is your Weim okay with that? Cool, go to two seconds.
Only go as fast as your Weim will allow and err on the side of moving the pace too slow rather than too fast.
Then — and this is important — start varying the time. Sometimes long, sometimes short.
Also important. You’re going to integrate your departure cues. Guess what peeps, you’re gonna have to put on that coat at some point, and it is either associated with anxiety or not. If you don’t want it to be associated with anxiety, then it needs to be included in the protocol.
This means that you should start putting that coat on after your dog can handle a short period of absence. Next time, pick up your keys instead of your coat. Shorten the time. Mix up the length of absences along with and the adding and removing of departure cues. Of course always going slow and staying under your Weim’s anxiety threshold. But mix it up.
Remember, calm is the goal. Calm is what you want to see.
And don’t forget! You aren’t allowed to ever let your Weim experience any separation anxiety during the desensitization period.
To manage that, the use of video cameras is essential to lick this problem. There are many available, and you don’t need to get fancy. The key to the monitoring is so that you will know exactly when your Weim is about to get anxious. You don’t need the other bells and whistles for this (treat dispensing, etc.).
Always keep your Weimaraner under threshold, and watch them so you can.
How Long Will it Take to Cure My Weim?
I always hate this answer, but — it depends. It just depends on the dog and how effective the training is.
Generally, progress in the beginning tends be slow, but it starts to build.
There are no quick fixes. You should think months, not weeks.
Getting Help! (Two Important Keys)
Behavioral Treatment – Go with a Separation Anxiety Pro
I think I’m a fairly good dog trainer, but when it comes to separation anxiety, I would be getting help from a professional. Trainers that are well versed in separation anxiety will be able to help read your dog’s behaviors on video and come up with a plan that makes sense for your Weim. I don’t know about you, but my own emotions would likely tempt me to go faster than I should, and I realize that. It is pretty much human nature!
I recommend taking the Mission Possible Online Course Separation Anxiety Training for Guardians.
I also highly recommend Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (and Weim owner!) Sally Bushwaller.
A little hand-holding for this challenging problem is well worth the money!
An online, self paced course, Mission POSSIBLE is the perfect place to start your separation anxiety journey.
Pharmacological Treatment – Let’s Talk Drugs
I know it’s not easy to decide to medicate your Weimaraner because of separation anxiety.
If you’ve read any of my other posts on topics such as feeding, I’m sure you know that I tend to lean holistic. I would definitely try all natural remedies that are out there for separation anxiety. Herbs and supplements, essential oils, swaddling shirts, phermone diffusers, CBD oil…
Yes, I would try them all. BUT I wouldn’t spend a ton of time on them if they don’t work quickly. Keeping your Weim exposed to anxiety is just not nice… plus dogs in an anxious mental state don’t learn well, so behavioral training could also potentially slow down.
So yeah. Consider drugs, and consider it early in treatment.
Of course, drugs alone won’t fix things. Behavioral treatment will. But pharmacological treatment along with behavioral treatment will make things much easier for everyone, especially your Weimaraner since it will improve their learning rate by keeping them more calm.
Clomipramine (Clomicalm) and Fluoxetine are licensed for use to treat separation anxiety in dogs, but there are other drugs that are used off-label. Speak with your veterinarian about these drugs when you start your treatment protocol.
Final Comments About Separation Anxiety and Your Weimaraner
Remember, separation anxiety is not about bad behavior, it is about anxiety. Teaching your Weim calm behaviors, and wearing them out are great adjuncts to treating separation anxiety, but you can train and exercise them 12 hours a day and ultimately it will still not solve the issue.
If you take the time to desensitize your Weimaraner to your absence, you will have the best success. This is based on what is currently (2023) available based on the ever-growing peer-reviewed studies on this problem. But with that said, research is research, and new break-throughs and insights may always change things again. I’m hoping for an easier way in the future, but for now, patience with the desensitization protocol will yield the best results to cure your Weim’s separation anxiety.
Have you overcome separation anxiety with your Weimaraner? Please comment below!
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Your comments and questions are welcomed