|Posted on July 10, 2015 at 10:15 AM|
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a behavioural condition wherein the dog becomes stressed and anxious when the owner leaves the dog alone, or when the dog is separated from other dogs. Separation anxiety is a complex condition, often misdiagnosed as other anxiety conditions. In order to ensure correct treatment, it is important to first ensure the correct diagnosis.
When separation anxiety is suspected, it is always first best to get a vet to fully health check the dog, to make sure there is not a medical reason for the symptoms.
What causes of separation anxiety?
There are lots of things which are thought to cause separation anxiety or be contributing factors. Some possibilities include:
Long periods of isolation
Lack of physical and mental stimulation
Experiences as a puppy
Lack of boundaries
What are the signs of separation anxiety?
Excessive barking and whining
Panting, shaking, salivating and other stress signals
How can I prevent my puppy developing separation anxiety?
Often separation anxiety can be caused when an owner brings home a new puppy and the puppy is never left alone for any period of time. The owner takes time off work to settle him in and watches the puppy 24/7, allowing the puppy to follow them around the house everywhere they go. This unfortunately means that when the owner does come to leave for the first time, the puppy has never experienced this situation before and when left no longer has the reassurance of someone close. It is important that puppies learn to accept being alone and self-soothe.
How can I solve my dog's separation anxiety issues?
Once the possible cause of the behaviour has been established, we can work towards the solution. For moderate to extreme cases, it is always best to seek professional advice from a behaviourist, however here are some suggestions:
Utilizing the crate
To learn how to crate train, see our other article 'Crate training your dog'. The crate should become a good place to be for the dog; providing a safe, secure place for him to be able to settle. The owner should not just put the dog in the crate when they leave, but when they are in the house too, so that he does not learn that going into the crate means the owner is leaving.
When the owner does leave the house initially, they can give the dog something to entertain him in the crate, such as a stuffed Kong toy, to initially distract him and create a positive association with the owner leaving. Only leave for short periods of time to begin with, maybe just opening and closing the front door, then a few minutes, working up to longer durations. When the owner returns, they should not immediately let the dog out of the crate, but instead leave it a short time. It is also important that the item given as a distraction does not become a cue to the owner leaving which is couter productive, so the item must also be given randomly whilst at home.
Changing our behaviour
Dogs are cognitively remarkable; they are able to very accurately read our behaviour so quickly they can learn that the owner is due to leave by reading signals that the owner may not even realise themselves! Things like putting our shoes and coat on, picking up the keys ect can be clear markers for the dog that we are due to leave, and can trigger the stress symptoms instantly in dogs which suffer from separation anxiety. Dogs are also exeperts at seeing patterns.
Leaving and arriving home
Leaving the house and returning should be a non-event to the dog. Whilst owners may feel as though they are comforting the dog by fussing, in fact this could lead to creating anxiety. There is no need for leaving or returning to become a big deal, the dog should be completely ignored when leaving and returning. Only gentle praise when the dog is exhibiting behaviour you want to see, ie calm and settled.
Mental and physical stimulation
A dog being mentally and physically tired means his mind and body can relax more easily. Whilst not always a cure on its own, ensuring adequate mental and physical enrichment can usually help with many of the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. Types of enrichment should be varied between high energy and low entergy. Scent games, brain games and confidence building games are brilliant ways to keep your dog entertained in a calm way.
If the dog is regularly being left alone for long periods of time, it is worth the owner seriously considering if they have the time necessary to dedicate to their dog; if they do not not, it may be worth re homing as an option.
You can check some of our other articles, such as 'Games to play with your dog' to find ways to mentally enrich your dog.
Creating boundaries, building confidence and reducing hyperattatchment.
Dogs need to understand how they fit into the family, what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. A dog with no boundaries can easily become stressed and anxious, so training is extremely important in ensuring your dog's welfare. Training will help install confidence in the dog, and exercises like 'go to your bed' can be utilized to teach the dog to relax in one spot whilst also building space between the dog and owner comfortably. There are various ways to build confidence in your dog which also tie in with mental stimulation, such as scent games and brain games, where the dog can make decisions and problem solve on his own.
All areas covered
All text and images (c) insync K9 and may not be reproduced without written permission