Separation Anxiety is a condition in which a dog experiences extreme anxiety when separated from their owner(s) to whom they have a strong emotional attachment. It will not go away on it’s own. If it has manifested to an unmanageable stage, counter-conditioning techniques need to be introduced to allow these dogs to learn how to feel at ease when separated.
This condition commonly develops in re-homed shelter dogs as the new owner(s) unknowingly facilitate the dog’s neurosis by overcompensating for their rough start in life. During the early transitional days from shelter to new home, owners pour all their love and attention on their new family member. When it is time to get back to work and normal day-to-day activities, some dogs become distressed and develop anxiety.
However, it is good to remember that separation anxiety can occur in any dog. Although it is not known with any certainty why dogs develop this condition, it is commonly attributed to dogs that have been born with a predisposition to feel fearful and stressed, or where owners have unknowingly created the condition during the early development stages.
Identifying Separation Anxiety
Barking, Whining and Howling
Barking is a form of communication. Some dogs can be more vocal than others. Howling and barking is just simply a way of calling for owner or giving a dog an action to engage in while separated.
Most barking, whining and howling is accompanied by another symptom such as pacing, destruction or shaking. Dogs will often make a lot of noise as we are leaving in the hope that we will stay with them.
Videoing your dog when you away from the home is a great way to see how distressed they are. Most tend to settle down a few minutes after we have walked away.
If you find out your dog is barking or howling alone constantly but does 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 can be the result of separation anxiety. However, there are a few considerations to understand if this rebelliousness caused by boredom or truly anxiety of being left without their owner.
Think Escape! Chewing and scratching that is primarily directed to the doors or their framework. Skirt boards being attacked close to the doorways. You might see damage to walls caused by your dog chewing on them or even damaged and holey carpets and rugs in an attempt to dig their way out.
These sorts of precisely focused areas of damage are likely to mean they are trying to escape and get to their owners rather than causing havoc to have fun or keep themselves amused. Doors are, after all, where the owners disappeared off through.
Peeing and Pooping Indoors
Dogs are natural den animals. Their den is their home. 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.
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. Is your dog nervous around other dogs?
You might find that they are urinating on your place of rest. It is believed they do this because your scent is associated with safety. Or trying to mask their scent behind yours and thus will remain undetected by perceived threats from the outside world. Natures survival instincts kick 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.
How to Overcome Separation Anxiety
Good news! Separation Anxiety is curable. 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. However, it can be hard work. The key is to be consistent, patient and above all sympathetic to your dogs anxiety.
In the early stages, a lot can be achieved with some simple changes to both exercise and environment.
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
I cannot stress enough the power of exercise, for both mind and body. Tiring out your dog before you intend to go out can have dramatic results. Just as important is to make sure you allow them to settle first before leaving, the calmer your dog is before you leave the better.
Exercise in both humans and dogs releases endorphins which increases levels of happiness. Importantly for separation anxiety, endorphins decrease stress levels. With your dog in a much calmer state to begin with and also thoroughly worn out, they are likely to settle easily.
With any luck they will sleep throughout your period of absence. Which is what most dogs tend to do while we are not with them. Exercise is the most important canine daily activity that can help with a whole host of conditions.
Dog sports or games are a fantastic way to tire your pet pooch mentally, as well as physically. Agility courses are demanding on the body and mentally challenging too. I often find a good game of fetch works just as well.
Try changing up the objects they are chasing 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.
Be The Calming Influence
Unfortunately, owners unknowingly feed into separation anxiety by making a big fuss of their dear doggies when leaving or returning home. It’s so hard when they are obviously distraught your are leaving or totally delighted you are back.
Unbelievably, this act of kindness and love is actually adding to their concerns in your absence. By making each time you separate a huge deal they become nervous and anxious feeding from your own feelings.
And then making the time your are finally reunited an over-the-top joyous event will keep them pining for all that love and attention. By allowing both events to be calm and a completely normal part of daily life, the dog will also come to think of them as normal and nothing to get worked up by.
Music, Radio and TV background noise can be quite calming also. Being left in complete silence can be quite unnerving. Some people find complete silence unnerving and many dogs suffer from the same feelings.
Create an Environment for Self-Coping
Help your dog to release some tension by creating an environment that will ease their anxiety. There are many ways in which you can create a self-coping environment for your dog.
Leave background sounds and noises on. Complete silence can be unsettling, especially when your dog is already anxious. Dogs usually have noise around them all day while the family. When they are suddenly separated from the person they love most and are left in silence it can be scary. Leave the radio, TV or some music on.
Provide Self-play toys. While a dog’s brain is engaging in an activity – such as digging treats out of a rope toy or chewing up a stuffed animal – the emotional part of their brain disengages. It is the emotional part of their brain that produces anxiety.
You may already have a dog that is causing some destruction directed near or around the doors so placing the self-play toys there is a good start. Ensure that you first play with them and show your dog how they work.
Crating or Child Gate. When given the chance to pace and run a riot in the home, an anxious dog is more likely to start wrecking the joint in an attempt to self-soothe. They do not harbor resentment to you or are punishing you for leaving.
They are full of anxiety and panic. Chewing, digging, pulling down coats are all ways of “doing something” to feel better. By reducing the area they have to roam freely in, or using a crate, you can contain their ability to get worked up and hyperactive. However, dogs should not be crate for longer than 4hrs and they must have enough space to turn around comfortable.
Take some time to complete Obedience Training. As mentioned above, leaving your dog in a calm manner when going out helps them stay in a calm manner.
Cue Commands and Obedience Training
Each and every time you engage your dog in a cue training sessions, you are working their brain cells and stimulating them mentally. Like a workout for the brain!
By working on a new cues and developing memory skills before leaving the family home, an owner can reduce their dog’s fretfulness. By doing these brain exercises is hoped their mind is far too tired to worry about a little thing like being left alone.
They will simple sleep the time away when you are out of the house. Cue training also strengthen the bonds, and eye contact in particular, during this time release oxytocin between yourself and your dog. This in turn create a more settled dog before you leave.
One of my favourites is the bottle game – take a look at these two curious, and really rather clever, greys exercising their brains:
Leaving a stimulating toy out when the usual company isn’t be around is a good distraction for your dog. It will help them focus on something to do, rather than the brewing feelings of anxiousness. Although alone and without their owner, they can be completely absorbed by the puzzle game and engage their intelligent part of their brains.
Leaving their emotional part of the brain to remain unengaged. Having something to do reduces or prevent anxiety levels from raising. It is when the brain has plenty of time to work itself up that dogs become extremely distressed.
Remedies and Medication
Separation Anxiety can be a very complicated and miserable condition for those that suffer badly from it. It is severely mentally painful to experience puts an extreme amount of strain on our dogs.
As an owner is can be distressing to see out dogs go through this and quite disruptive. The above suggestion might not be successful in overcoming the worst cases of this syndrome.
Bach Flower Remedies are a combination of 38 different flower remedies that work naturally to help our dogs with negative emotions
Dr Bach’s Flower Pet Rescue Remedies can work wonders on dogs that have a number of different emotional imbalances. They are easily administered through droplets in their water bowls and compliment anxiety reduce techniques (as those I have mentioned above). I have had a great number of positive results working with this particular naturally calming remedy.
If however, none of the training or remedies are helping, Veterinary care should be sought. Especially 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. It is essential to stop anxiety from manifesting but if it is too late, a temporary medication could be a solution but I would advise this is not a permanent solution.
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 dog is 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.