Separation anxiety in dogs is an enormous problem. We will discuss how the problem manifests itself and how dog lovers can treat it.
Whilst one of the great benefits of dog ownership is the close relationship and bonding with our dogs, it does however cause problems if your dog becomes too dependent or reliant on you.
You are not alone. An estimated 10% of all puppies and older dogs suffer from anxiety disorder. What is sad is that it often leads to dogs ending up in animal shelters due to the resulting behaviours which is ironic.
Dog separation anxiety is not an easy fix, but it can be dealt with. However, it may take some time.
As with many dog behavioural issues, lets look at it with your dogs eyes. Dogs are sociable animals that developed from pack animals, so love company. So you and your family are the most important thing in their lives. So if he is separated from you, a dog will be distressed and be anxious to varying degrees.
The level of distress can be shown by the following symptoms:
* Whining / crying
* Destructive behaviour
* Inappropriate urinating
* House soiling
* Panic attacks
* Self mutilation
* Loss of appetite
* Excessive salivation
* Sickness / vomiting
Unfortunately some of these could be for other behavioural causes. One way is to observe and take notes of when it occurs. If you are a working family, is it when you are away during the week and the problem does not materialise at the weekend?
Particularly if you have a routine prior to leaving the house, such as putting your computer bag in the hall or the pram by the door, is it at this moment that the behaviour starts? If so, the link is often easier to see.
Your dog may want to be always close to you, following you all through the house and even gets distressed and worried if you leave him for a couple of minutes to take the bins out.
Some of the behaviours only occur during the separation, particularly barking, destructive behaviour and interior urination and soiling. These are common symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs. These are particularly irritating and worrying.
When you arrive home, he may be wild with excitement and even urinate with excitement and take ages to calm down. Not what you really want after a hard day of work at the office.
So why do dogs develop or suffer from separation anxiety? As with all dog behavioural problems, it is complex and can often not be linked to a specific event.
I have listed below some of the triggers that have been noted:
Often directly after holidays or unemployment where you have spent a lot of time with the dog, then suddenly he is left alone for long periods
A break in their routine, children leaving home for University, particularly if they were actively looking after the dog. This may also combine with less activity / interaction with the dog for longer periods.
Moving house, linked to their territorial background, can also trigger anxiety with new smells and noise etc.
Time in kennels, when separation from the family is made worse by being away from their home territory. Having a dog sitter is obviously a better option, particularly if it is someone the dog has known for awhile.
A traumatic event when alone such as a fire, great noise and commotion, storms. We forget how much they rely on us.
A sad fact is that Dog Separation Anxiety is more prevalent with dogs from rescue homes.
So now we know more about it, what can we do to help your dog?
If you have a puppy, it is important to develop:
A routine with quiet time and time without you or others.
A place where they can feel relaxed – a crate / cage and a run is great. The cage is useful if you move or go away on holidays as it is associated with safety and you even though other things may be changing.
Puppy socialisation will also reduce their dependency on you.
Training in general – a lot evidence suggests that well trained dogs suffer less from dog separation anxiety.
Whilst it depends on the severity, it also depends on the dog, his age and environment.
One possibility is to check on the basics of dog ownership. Does he have enough exercise and attention during the day? Does he have a comfortable secure area to sleep and eat? There are mixed views about the use of cages (crates) as a training tool. However dogs brought up in cages, who have plenty of exercise will often retire to their cage to rest and have their quiet time. Dog obedience training is a particularly useful support, as it provides structure to the interactions of dog and human and heightens the level of the relationship.
A good exercise before leaving the dog, if not currently done, is worth a try. Sometimes, if he is not tired enough, he may be irritable, but if he has had a good time he will relax and wind down when he gets home.
Do not make a big drawn out event of going and, in the last five minutes, ignore him. The shock of great attention to nothing is worse than a wind down from normal attention to nothing.
If part of the anxiety behaviour is barking and jumping, you might want to try obedience, such as sit and stay commands, prior to going.
If the dog is used to a crate, then a crate is useful as it is seen as safe and limiting movement seems to be a limiter to anxiety. In worse cases, it reduces damage in the house.
Leave the radio on, choose a station with a lot of different people talking. Do not leave it in the room the dog is in , but in a neighbouring one that he can hear. Some people leave recordings of the family talking – over dinner etc. These are either on rotation or just a 45 min tape, which is enough, as the anxiety is higher in this earlier phase of separation.
There is the concept of increasing the time apart and this is particularly useful with puppies as they develop. Increasing in small time amounts the separation.
Another concept is “Desensitizing” the dog to the triggers that cause the anxiety. For example, if it is the computer bag by the door, do that in the evening or weekend, when you are not leaving the dog and then sit and read or watch TV. Pick up the car keys and carry them. Bit by bit, desensitize the triggers until none are left. Leaving the pram in the hall rather than folding it away could be an alternative to desensitizing the trigger.
Linked to this is training. Leave him and then say 1 min later come back, ask him to sit and, if he does, give him a treat. Then do the same with 2 mins and build this up. Do this, extending the time, getting him to sit, then giving him a treat.
Bribery works in some countries and with dogs. It is surprising what you can do with treats, tasty chews, that can distract him at the moment of leaving. By the time he has finished, he has forgotten that you have left him, we hope.
Linked to this idea are some of the dog toys where they use their intelligence to get at the treat.
If you have a cat, leave him in the same area as generally dogs in a household with cats around are less likely to suffer anxiety. This is perhaps linked to socialisation or, if the cat isn’t worried, why should I be? Likewise, anxiety disorder is less commonly observed with a dog when there are two dogs.
Then there is the entry and the difficulty there is that, when you return, you want to hug and make a great fuss of your dog. However, that reinforces that it the separation is a big event. Come inside and do what is needed before fussing him.
One of the reasons may be because the dog is out of control of your leaving. This could be due to his dominant or alpha behaviour – leaders want to manage the situation, but can’t. Most dogs fall in to a leadership position in the household. However, they can be trained out of it and, as in their packs, can become followers. For more details on leadership
So, not straightforward, but plenty of things to look at and try. Be consistent for a couple of weeks as some things can take some time.
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