We often choose to get a dog because we desire that unbiased unlimited love and companionship that they offer. Many dog owners love to be with their dogs all the time and if we could choose to we would spend all day with our lovable pets.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually fit into the reality of our lives. Many of us have to leave our dogs to work, or at the least to spend time outside of the home taking care of everyday life. If our Shelties or our mini Shelties react very poorly to us leaving by having excessive anxiety it can cause heartache for both of us!
Shetland Sheepdogs are very loyal and loving. They are very active and need a lot of care and attention. Because of this, separation anxiety can be an issue. If while you are away, your Sheltie paces, whines, barks, is destructive, defecates or urinates, and tense for long periods of time they may have separation anxiety!
Do Shelties and Mini Shelties Have separation anxiety?
It’s easy to think that Mini Shetland Sheepdogs may suffer from anxiety more than their larger breed counterparts, but really the breed whether mini or normal sized suffers at the same rates from anxiety. That is depending on their personality and how they are trained they may struggle with anxiety.
Shelties are a high-energy working breed. They are meant to be around people, helping people. When you get a Sheltie puppy it will imprint on you making you the leader of his or her pack! This can mean loving and loyal companionship, but also it can mean that your Sheltie hates being separated from you.
If your Shetland follows you EVERYWHERE or is constantly staring at to you get your attention it could be boredom or you could be on your way to having a dog with anxiety issues. (read the linked article to find out how to tell the difference.)
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How to tell if your Sheltie or Mini Sheltie has separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is more than your dog just not liking it or being unhappy when you leave. There are different levels in the severity of anxiety but for it to be considered anxiety there are signs that you will want to watch for. This includes but is not limited to any of the following behaviors happening when you leave your dog alone.
- Whining or crying
- Barking or howling
- Defecate or urinate when otherwise house trained
- Seems wound up or tense
- Coprophagic (eating poop)
- Excessively chewing or chasing its tail
- Excessive licking
Your Sheltie doesn’t need to be displaying all of these for it to be considered anxiety. Even just a few of these behaviors if extreme enough to cause you or your dog distress.
Some dogs will start to get agitated if they realize that their owners are about to leave. If your dog starts to get agitated when he can tell you are getting ready to leave that could be the start of anxiety.
There can be a concern of your dog developing anxiety if your Shetland is following you around relentlessly.
How to help your Sheltie overcome separation anxiety
If your dog’s separation anxiety is mild then there are some things that you can do to help them become more confident and independent.
If your Sheltie has moderate to severe separation anxiety it is recommended that you get help from a professional dog behaviorist. If you try and push your anxious dog too hard or in the wrong way even with the best of intentions it could make the situation worse.
Here are some tactics you can try if you would like to help Shetland be more independent and overcome their mild separation anxiety.
Start by working on basic commands and then level it up.
Sit and stay
Sit may seem like a very basic command, but if you can master the stay it will help your Sheltie gain more confidence and independence. Working towards training your Sheltie the sit and stay command will also help them learn a pattern of being left alone.
- Start with teaching them to sit and stay on the floor just a very small distance away from you, maybe just 1 foot.
- Gradually increase the distance and time. Make sure to reward them with a high-value treat like this one (affiliate link) and reward liberally.
- Keep working on it 3 times a day for 5 minutes at a time.
- Help your Sheltie get so good at staying that you can leave their sight just for a few seconds and they hold the sit.
- Continue working on it until you can go in another room and they still stay in their spot.
- Work on the same process with the go to bed command. See the description below.
Slowly work to increase the distance and time throughout a few weeks. Make it fun and rewarding for your dog and give them lots of praise.
Eventually, if you are consistent with this process you will be able to start spending small amounts of time in another room alone. Be patient as it could take several weeks to several months of consistent practice.
Go to bed command
Getting a soft bed like this one on Amazon (affiliate link) and teaching your Sheltie to go to their bed is another way to teach them to stay in a place that they can relax in instead of being with you or in your lap all the time.
The process for teaching them this is very similar to sit and stay, except that you will add in showing them where to go when you say the word bed. You can do this by luring them with a treat to their bed and rewarding them when they go and lay down in it.
Desensitize your dog
If your Sheltie is in the habit of getting up every time you do then you can make the action no longer meaningful to your dog by getting up, sit back down, get up, sit back down, over and over again.
It sounds like a lot of work, and it is in the beginning, but I promise it works!
This process will tire your dog out and teaches them that you getting up doesn’t mean anything, and they might as well stay put. This is much more effective if you try this tactic after your dog has had a good play session with plenty of exercise.
It’s a lot easier and quicker to wear them out that way, otherwise, if they have pent-up energy they may think that you are trying to play a game with them.
I know that some people with high-energy dogs will say that this process will wear themselves out before they ever wear their dogs out, but even then, if you repeatedly do this every day many many times a day then eventually it will start to work.
Once he stops getting up when you get up, then try walking away. If he starts to follow you, you can walk aimlessly around or go in circles or go back to your original spot until your dog gets tired of it and gives up.
Set a schedule
If you are able to create a consistent schedule or routine that your Sheltie can follow, in which you include plenty of playtime and snuggles, but also set aside a few times a day when he practices being alone. This can help your dog learn what to expect.
Dogs are creatures of habit and once taught to do something either good or bad it can be hard to change or break that habit. This is both great news and not so great.
It’s great to know that once you get them in the routine that you want you’ll be ‘golden’ and won’t have to deal with it again, but it’s bad because when they do form a not-so-loveable habit, it can be a long process to break it.
Starting with 5 minutes of alone time reinforced by lots of distractions rewards and praise for any amount of time that is quiet can help your Sheltie get the idea of what you expect.
Now I know that some of you would say, “but my Sheltie will never be quite.” That’s ok. start with two 5 minute sessions a day, if he cries the whole time when the 5 minutes is up go and get him, let him get back to following you, but completely ignore him, don’t talk to him, don’t reassure him that he’s ok. You are a stone-cold wall!! You don’t want to reward him with any attention whatsoever for his crying behavior.
When he starts acting less stressed, calmer, and quiet, then reward him and praise him. If you do this consistently then he will start to get the idea that you want him to be quiet during that 5-minute practice session. Once he’s done that consistently for a week start adding 1 minute every day or so until you work up the desired amount of time.
Restrict their access
This can be very difficult to do especially if your sweet Sheltie is used to having the run of the house, but it can be very important in setting up boundaries and helping them to see you as the leader in their pack.
Baby gates (affiliate link) work great for smaller Shelties. It can help them have some space, but also keep them from following you. Keeping a bed in their space for them as well as a kong or other toys (Amazon affiliate links) that can help to distract them and keep them entertained for the 5-minute practice sessions that you will start with. It also can help to make the experience a rewarding one.
Larger gates can work well for bigger dogs who need a bit more of a barrier between them. You can check the price on a great gate here.
This can always be used as a temporary solution while your dog gains more confidence with other training.
To prevent him from getting into distress, every time you must leave the room, toss a stuffed Kong or some treats right after closing the gate behind you. You want your dog to learn that great things happen when you leave.
Quality playtime, exercise and mental stimulation
My favorite thing to tell my students is (check out my classes for kids!) “A tired dog is a good dog!”
All of the steps we have discussed work so much better if you are able to set aside some good quality time with your pooch to play, teach, and exercise with your dog.
Shetlands can be high energy, they should be getting at least 2 hours of exercise a day.
Shelties were bred to herd and chase cattle. They love being busy and they will love to be challenged. Trying out a fun training program together like this widely popular program Brain Training for Dogs can help unlock your dog’s hidden potential and help them learn how to avoid problem behaviors.
Fetch can be quite an enjoyable game for Shelties. This extremely durable ball (affiliate Link) can help your dog get the mental stimulation and exercise he needs.
If you don’t have livestock for your dog to herd try getting 3 or 4 of these herding balls (affiliate Link) and make a game for your Sheltie to herd them across the yard.
You can also teach your Sheltie to play games that require a bit more distance from you than normal. This can make learning to trust that you will still be there, more fun and exciting. Hide and Seek is a fun game that we taught our kids to play with our dog Bear. It didn’t take long for them to learn how to do it.
Just remember to start out slow by hiding in simple places first such as behind the sofa or door, in a different room in plain sight, or just behind the other side of a wall or chair.
Working towards helping your Sheltie become more confident and independent is great, but be mindful to not do the things that are going to encourage them to follow you everywhere. These things can also help your dog to overcome their separation anxiety.
Don’t do these things
Don’t let your Sheltie sleep with you. This is a hard habit to break if you have already been doing this, but if you teach your dog to go to his special spot when he’s alone having him sleep there at night will also help to encourage his independence.
Don’t let your Sheltie have access to the entire house. This will help your dog learn boundaries and he will realize that when you go to his off-limit areas that means it’s time to stop following. This may be the best solution for bathroom privacy because let’s face it if you have probably had your dog follow you to the bathroom more than once!
Bathrooms have all sorts of exciting noises and smells, as well as textures such as tissue and other things in the trash can that your Sheltie would love to chew. Teaching your dog that bathrooms are off-limits is a great idea for so many reasons!
Don’t yell at or scold your dog! Yelling at or getting frustrated with an anxious dog will only make him more fearful. Anxiety is usually based on fear of being alone or something bad happening so increasing these feelings by yelling will be counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish.
Don’t let your Sheltie sleep at your feet or on your lap. Now to some of us (me included), this sounds like cruel and unusual punishment!
I love to have my little dog sleep on my lap or near me, as do most owners, but if your Sheltie has anxiety or jealousy issues then this behavior might need to be tabled for the time being.
Teaching your Sheltie about their own space can be hard, and sometimes unpleasant. For now, you should try not to overdo it on the cuddles all day. Hopefully, after you get their separation anxiety under control you can start to allow this more often.
With patience and consistency, your Sheltie will become the independent and confident dogs that you want him to be!