Separation anxiety is well known in the doggy world. This is one of the most common problems that a dog can develop. It is an anxiety disorder and can be defined as a state of intense panic brought on by the dog’s isolation or separation from his or her owner(s).
The perfect scenario for separation anxiety is displayed when you leave for work in the morning, if he has separation anxiety, he or she is thrown into a state of nervous anxiety which intensifies extremely quickly.
As you know by now, our dogs are social animals, they need a lot of company and social interaction to keep them happy and content with their condition. No dog likes to be left alone for long periods of time, but as you know some dogs’ breeds do a lot worse than others when it comes to this condition: these are the ones that are very prone to separation anxiety.
There are several things that can contribute to our dogs experiencing separation anxiety.
As said earlier, some dog breeds are genetically predisposed towards being anxious and feeling insecure, this is something you should take into consideration when making a decision on which dog breed you’re going to adopt (you should take into consideration how much time you have to spend with your dog, if you are going to be away most of the times, it doesn’t make sense to adopt a dog that is predisposed to this condition).
Some of the breeds that are very much likely to develop separation anxiety are Airedales, Springer Spaniels, Weimaraners, and German Shepherds.
In addition to the above reason, you should know that a significant number of dogs from shelters develop separation anxiety easily not minding their breed. Most dogs in shelter homes would have undergone some significant amount of trauma in their lives.
Obviously, they must have been abandoned by their previous dog parents and so they will have a lot of problems developing trust for their new dog parent or guardian (in this instance you). In their mind, you are going to do the same thing the other dog parent did(leave them).
Another situation is the dogs that have been separated from their mothers and siblings very early in their lives or the ones that have been orphaned early in life. These puppies are also known to be very prone to separation anxiety.
Take a look at puppies from pet stores. They are a perfect example of such dogs, All of them have been taken from their mothers very early after their birth (likely eight to nine weeks after birth), now they are confined to a small glass box in the pet store for a long period of time (From the time they are taken from their mother to a number of months till they are adopted).
This process of taking these puppies from their mother who would have given them the needed comfort at this age and the obvious lack of exercise and affection when they are in the pet-store leads to a psychologically traumatic experience for these puppies or dogs.
The number one cause of separation anxiety for any puppy or dog is neglect. Your being absent more times in your dog’s life than you are present will surely lead to your dog or puppy developing separation anxiety.
Our dogs so need our company, love, affection, and attention to be happy, content, and secure with us. The signs of separation anxiety in any dog are pretty much distinctive. Our dogs usually pick up cues and learn quickly the tell-tale signs of when we want to leave the house. (Our putting on of our cologne, the jingling of our car keys, the wearing of our coats, etc.) All these signs tend to make them anxious.
He or she will likely follow you from room to room, whining, trembling, and crying. They may even get more aggressive with you; this, obviously is their attempt to stop you from leaving the house.
When you leave the house, their erratic behavior will quickly get worse, and usually, within thirty minutes, their erratic behavior would be at a peak state. He or she would likely start barking incessantly, scratching and digging at the windows or doors (this is their attempt to escape their perceived prison and unite themselves with you), chewing on inappropriate items, and even start to urinate and defecate inside the house.
There are extreme situations where he or she might inflict self-mutilation on themselves by chewing on their own skin or pulling on their fur till they are wounded. Some of them would engage in compulsive behaviors like spinning around or tail-chasing (this is obviously because they have no idea of how to deal with the predicament, they find themselves in).
When you get back home, you are likely to be met by an over-excited dog, he or she would jump around you in frantic excitement for a long time (this can be up to one minute for most dogs without any health issue.)
These long greeting periods are usually misunderstood by many dog parents. The natural thing that most of us do is to fuel the dog’s excitement by encouraging the behavior, the truth is that this act by our dog can be compared to a psychotic disorder. Your encouragement will only make your dog jump around more erratically and is telling them that this psychotic disorder is acceptable.
If you have been doing the above, you have to stop and rethink what you are doing. Naturally, it seems like the right thing to do, after all, you are only reciprocating your dog’s action and it seems like the right thing to do but it is not. Apart from encouraging this psychotic disorder, you are validating the separation anxiety cycle.
When you are leaving the house, his or her safety and comfort are under threat and when you come back the safety and comfort are restored, the problem with this cycle is that each time it happens there is a higher intensity to your dog’s reaction until it becomes uncontrollable.
The good thing is that there are many ways of managing and even completely eliminating separation anxiety in our dogs.
The very basic and first thing to do is to tire out your dog. Exercise him or her and wear them out, especially when you know you will be away for a longer period in the day; For example, if you have an eight to five job, you will probably get home around six or seven in the evening.
That means for about ten to eleven hours each day, your dog won’t see you. So early in the morning, you can engage your dog in a vigorous walk for about twenty to thirty minutes (you can involve your dog in your early morning jogging if you do so).
Another thing you can do is to involve a dog walker for afternoon walks with your dog. That is to say that around twelve or one o’clock in the afternoon, a hired dog walker comes around to give your dog a walk.
Now that you have tired out your dog early in the morning, the next thing is to provide some good form(s) of distraction while you preparing to leave and leave the house.
You can get a couple of dog toys, Kong toys are known to keep our dogs busy. There are also rawhides that can keep them busy for a long period of time. If you want to go natural, you can get a couple of marrow bones from your local butcher and bake them (for about twenty minutes). This is to get them hard and crunchy.
Slice them into some chunks (some few inches each). This you can give to your dog about ten to fifteen minutes before you leave the house. This will keep your dog well engaged and act as your cover when you leave the house.
In addition to this, you can put on your radio or television set (any station with a lot of talk shows is ok), keep the volume low, you don’t need to make the environment noisy as this would aggravate them instead of calming and distracting them from you.
If possible, provide some view to the outside world for your dog (if possible). Seeing people and animals going about their daily activities in a calm manner will give your dog a sense of calm and comfort that everything is ok.
Another approach would be to use some form of reverse psychology. This is the act of using positive reinforcement to do away with the anxiety that builds up when you are about to leave the house.
How do you do this? First, you have to dedicate some time daily to this form of the training routine.
Do the normal things that you do before leaving the house, taking your bath, putting on your outing cloth, jingling your keys, etc. The main thing is to give your dog the impression that you are leaving, all the while ignoring his or her call to attention.
But after doing all these things, instead of leaving the house, go back to the house and relax. Repeat this until your dog does not get anxious when you want to leave, immediately you notice that he or she is not acting erratically even with all the signs of you leaving. Praise your dog, if you have some treats give him some.
The next phase of this training is that, with all the signals, you should walk out the door. But don’t leave immediately, stay about one to three minutes and then come back into the house. This process should be repeated like the above until your dog gets an understanding of what is expected of him.
There is also the option of crate training your dog to adjust to staying and enjoying his or her crate.
As you can see, dealing with separation anxiety is not such a big deal. As with anything that has to do with our dogs, patience, and love are required of us to get the best results.
Hi, I am Charles Nwankwo Editor-in-Chief, Mydoggything.com. Gleaning from Professional Dog Trainers, behaviorist, Registered Veterinarians, and Breeders. We are passionate about making dog care easy for you. My job is to make sure that you get the best-updated dog care information to understand and take care of your dog or dogs.