So why does Separation Anxiety in Dogs Occur
So starting with my own dog...
Retired racing greyhounds, or in fact any rehomed breeds often experience separation anxiety. It is easy to understand why these anxious feelings manifest in rescued dogs due to their start in life.
A history of shelters, kennel surroundings, being taken from their mothers far too early or previous abusive treatment can all propel a dog to feel anxious when they find a home environment in which they are loved, well looked after and happy.
Racing greyhounds have a unique upbringing. Most puppies tend to be separated from their mothers around the 8-week mark. This is an important age to get to as pups need to be fully weaned from their mothers' milk and their social skills are developed.
However, greyhounds destined for the track will often stay with their litter-mates for at least the first year. In some cases, they will also stay with the mother during this time too.
When most dogs move on...
Track training starts when the brood reaches the one year mark. This will typically include the full litter for the next 3-6 months. Once their racing skills are determined, the adolescents are moved onto selected race grounds, and it is at this point the litter could face separation.
However, quite often, if siblings show the same racing competence and technique they are moved to the race ground together and could continue their adult competing lives in each others company.
At the home farm, or when at the race ground training, these careers hounds spend the majority of their time with one another. There are always large numbers of greyhounds in both environments. Many racing greyhounds have kennel mates, if not their sibling then another grey with a complimentary disposition is matched.
When retired racers are rehomed, it could be the first time in their lives that they are separated from other greys. When the owner is then not present, it will their first experiences of being alone.
Knowing this, it is understandable that these initial stages during the adoption period can, therefore, be extremely unnerving and stressful and how separation anxiety can manifest if not recognised and addressed.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
This distress is not just applicable to rescued dogs. Canine separation anxiety is quite common and often misdiagnosed as bad behaviour or unruly antics. There are some definite signs to look out for to determine whether your dog is suffering from a form of anxiety or whether something else is triggering their disruptive actions or melancholy.
Peeing and Pooping Indoors
Dogs are natural den animals. Their den is their home, and they know it offers protection and safety when needing to rest, retreat from danger or rear their offspring.
Once house trained dogs do not usually pee or poop in the home, they do not want to soil the place they eat and sleep. Ex-racers, even those that did not make it to the track, will be passed the point of needing to be house trained. If you find your new addition to the home relieving themselves inside rather than outside, this could be a sign of separation anxiety.
The location of their indiscretion seems to be important here. If you find they are urinating in their crate or bed, it shows the signs of a submissive, fearful dog; they do not want to leave their scent outside of their own bedding in case it is picked up and detected as a stake to the territory.
You might find that they are urinating on your place of rest. It is believed they do this because they can smell your scent and relate it to safety. Coupled with this, they likely trying to mask their scent behind yours and thus will remain undetected by perceived threats from the outside world. Natures survival instinct is kicking in when alone and vulnerable.
If the urinating happens elsewhere in the home, it could be a sign of separation anxiety, but it could also be something else entirely, such as territory marking or a medical issue.
Barking, Whining and Howling
Greyhounds do not tend to bark at all. Barking is a form of communication and some dogs can be more vocal than others. Howling and barking is just simply not a trait of their breed. I have heard that if Greys are kept with other dogs that do tend to barky, then they will pick it up but on the whole, it is not something they are known for.
If you find out that your greyhound is barking or howling alone but do not tend to make a sound when in someone's company, I would consider this a form of separation anxiety.
Destroying the Home
Destructive behaviour is another result caused by separation anxiety, but again there are a couple of distinct points to look at to understand if this rebelliousness is from boredom or angst. Think Escape!
Chewing and clawing primarily directed to the doors or their framework. When crated or housed in an enclosed area you will see damage to the floor in an attempt to dig their way out. Scratches on the windows or window frames.
These sorts of precisely focused damage are likely to mean they are trying to escape rather than causing havoc to have fun or keep themselves amused.
Recognising Separation Anxiety
Not all symptoms of separation anxiety happen once left alone, it is well worth looking out for clues of your grey becoming anxious pre-departure. There will be some visible signs that your pet is becoming distressed when they suspect their owner is abandoning them.
Your smart pooch will quickly associate specific activities with an impending departure. They see the same sequence of events when it's time for walkies, but this time you do not have the lead in your hand. It can be easily misconstrued that they are just excited for a walk but recognising separation anxiety is essential for a happy hound.
If you have recently come back from a walk, for instance, most dogs will be ready for a rest and not be up and by your side again. Symptoms will include becoming agitated, following you from room to room, whining and generally looking worried. Heavy panting and trembling are also common as their heart rates increase.
For Greys specifically, a tail tucked in, lowered head and flattened ears are all forms of body language that show fear and apprehension.
Some separation anxiety occurs with the dog's complete inability to be entirely alone. In circumstances where the owner is not present, but another person, dog-sitter or other pets are around they are quite content.
The other circumstance is being separated from a particular person. Nothing else around them or no-one else with them can ease their anguish. This type of separation anxiety could be triggered by simply having the person to whom they are so attached leave their field of vision or if a barrier is placed between them, such as a door guard. In a lot of cases, even the sound of theirs owners voice does not soothe them. They crave their touch and close proximity.
How to help overcome Separation Anxiety
Good news! Separation Anxiety is not incurable. There are an abundance of successful methods for treating it and hundreds of happy hounds out there who will now be grateful for a little alone time.
In the early stages, a lot can be achieved with some simple changes to both exercise and environment.
Tiring out your dog before you intend to go out can have dramatic results, but make sure you allow them to settle first before leaving. There are a few good points to this method:
Exercise in both humans and dogs releases endorphins. This is turn increases our levels of happiness, and more important for separation anxiety decreases our stress levels. With your dog being in a much calmer state, to begin with, coupled with a higher sense of contentment and of course, being thoroughly worn out, they are likely to settle more willingly.
With any luck, and if they are anything like my grey Tipps, they will sleep throughout your period of absence. Many behaviourists believe that exercise is the most important canine daily activity that can help with a whole host of conditions.
Going for a walk and when an owner may need to leave the home are not intrinsically linked, your dog will not associate one with the other. This is an important point because dogs, and greys especially, respond to routine.
Usually this a good trait, however, it prompts them to think ahead. If they believe being walked leads to being left alone for an extended period of time, it could mean that anxious feelings start to manifest when out.
These emotions building up will take their focus away from outdoor activities. Not only would the separation anxiety continue, but the well-being that comes from exercise and the social skills that develop from play are also at risk.
Finally, introducing dog sports or games are a fantastic way to tire your pet pooch mentally. Agility courses are physically demanding and mentally challenging, but a good game of fetch works just as well. Try changing up the objects of their chase from tennis balls to frisbees to rope ties.
This stimulates their minds more with the need to remember which of their toys they should be chasing on any particular outing or even throw!
Training and Tricks
Greyhounds are not known for their ability to perform tricks, but they are extremely intelligent beasts and eager to learn like other breeds. Every time you engage your dog in a training session, you are working their brain cells and stimulating them mentally.
By working on a new trick or developing memory skills before leaving the family home, an owner can reduce their dog's fretfulness. It is hoped their mind is far too tired to worry about a little thing like being left alone.
One of my favourites is the bottle game - take a look at these two curious, and really rather clever, greys exercising their brains: https://youtu.be/y6-vETr3DPY
Leaving a stimulating toy out when the usual company won't be around is a good distraction for your pet. It will help them focus on something else rather than the brewing feelings of anxiousness.
Although alone and without their owner, they can be completely absorbed by the puzzle and will focus on figuring out. Afterwards, once the goal has been achieved, likely a reward in the form of a treat will be dispensed and with a satisfied feeling, rest should soon follow.
Be the Calming Influence
Unfortunately, owners frequently encourage separation anxiety by making a big fuss of their dear doggies when leaving or returning home.
Unbelievably, this act of kindness and love is probably feeding their concerns in your absence by making each time you separate and are then finally reunited a joyous event. Ideally, by allowing both events to be calm and or so very normal, the dog will also come to think of them as normal and nothing to get worked up by.
Maintain a level of noise
Retired racers, shelter or kennel dogs and family dogs are used to certain levels of noise during daylight hours. Leaving the radio playing or the TV on can maintain this level of noise when no-one is else is there to fill the sudden quietness.
I know a lot of people, myself included, that become a little jittery when faced with complete silence.
Medications and Rehabilitation
Separation Anxiety can be a very complicated and distressing condition for those that suffer badly from it. It is painful to experience as an owner and puts an extreme amount of strain on our dogs, both physically and mentally. The above home remedies might not be successful in overcoming the worst cases of this syndrome.
Veterinary care should be sought after if the symptoms continue and become more exaggerated over time. Separation Anxiety builds in its ferocity and in order to work with your pet to succeed in dealing with the problem medication may be required.
Administering forms of prescription drugs will not cure the condition. They are a support mechanism to aid rehabilitation by bringing your beloved hounds' stress levels down so make distracting techniques more pliable.
If your Greyhound or any other breed, suffering from this illness is becoming intensely agitated and is morbidly unhappy, seek professional behavioural help. Many great behaviourists have successfully worked with owners and their dogs to overcome separation anxiety and go on to lead, happy, healthy worry-free lives.