What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
These two words spell big trouble for dogs and their people. What is it? Imagine this scene, you are getting ready to go out for a few hours, shopping and maybe a visit with friends. You have a dog that shares your home with you, we’ll call her Peggy, she’s an adorable miniature poodle that you love very much. You are finally ready to go, grabbing your keys and heading for the door. Peggy, your poodle, is acting a bit clingy, following you around but you tell her it’s going to be okay, and you fuss over her, hugging and kissing and finally step through the door, locking it as you leave.
Hours go by, and finally you are home again, you’ve had a great day of shopping and spending time with friends. You naturally anticipate a re union with your beloved Peggy as you step through the door. You noticed something is different, there is a strange smell in the air, not a good smell either. With an increasing sense of wrongness, you move down the hall, only to step into a puddle of urine…. then further on you see doggie poo leading you further into your home like a trail of breadcrumbs. It gets worse from here… as you step into the living room area, you notice that not only is there poo on the floor but also on the couch! It gets worse… vomit on the couch and on the floor! If this is the first time you have encountered this coming home, your first thought is that your dog is terribly ill!
If this is not the first time, maybe it’s the third time, forth time, 5th time….. you know this problem is not going away any time soon. You ask yourself, can you live with this? What do you do, punish the dog? You’ve tried that and it has not helped. In fact, since dipping your dog’s nose into the pee, vomit and poo, scolding her, spanking her, your dog now hides when you come home to this mess. You, being a human, assume your dog is feeling guilty and that is even more damming in your eyes. How dare your beloved dog do this to you? You just want the best for your beloved Peggy, loving her, buying her the best toys and best food. Spending lots of time with her every day! How ungrateful! What a brat!!! And so on…..
Is this the dog’s fault?
If you’ve read more of my articles on this website, you already know the answer to this question.No, YOU have created the dog before you. Sorry, it’s true.
Correcting this is a LOT harder than PREVENTING it in the first place. In this post today, I will help you to prevent Separation Anxiety. That story above, happened to me more than 30 years ago, over and over and over. She is the only dog I have ever had, with separation anxiety. I NEVER had another dog with this problem since then because I PREVENTED it. Sadly, I had to choose euthanization for Peggy as the problem was just too severe. My husband and I could not leave the house, without having this scene repeat itself.
I have since learned over the years that we were relatively lucky that Peggy didn’t destroy everything in sight, some dogs will rip into couch cushions, destroy blinds and curtains, chew holes into walls and doors and the list goes on.
What causes Separation Anxiety?
Basically, it is a dog that has never learned to be alone, to be content and relaxed while the dog’s human family is not there. The dog becomes increasingly upset, barking non stop, marking territory, venting his frustration on anything he can get his teeth into. The dog is not thinking, he is only re acting to fear and frustration. If your dog hides and acts ‘guilty’, you have trained him to behave this way by yelling, scolding and punishing your dog when you come upon the scene. Guilt is a by product of knowing something is wrong when you do it, and feeling remorse afterwards. Cesar Milan has video taped dogs with this problem, and apparently most of the damage that a dog (suffering from Separation Anxiety), does is within 30 minutes of being left alone. In the video below, he talks about how pent up energy becomes negative energy.
For more on Preventing Separation Anxiety, READ BELOW.
Now that I have established what Separation Anxiety is, I will explain how you prevent it. Some basic guidelines to follow:
- When your dog shows fear, DO NOT comfort your dog. Instead, behave with confidence yourself and act like there is nothing to be afraid of. Your dog will eventually follow your example. When you comfort a fearful or anxious dog with comforting words, petting and hugs/kisses etc. , you are in fact, REWARDING your dog for being fearful. It’s been proven over and over and over by many trainers over the years.
- When you leave your home or come back from an absence, DO NOT fuss over your dog, especially if your dog is feeling anxious or is overly thrilled to see you. For the same reasons in #1, you are rewarding your dog for his anxiety or rewarding him for his too exuberant behaviour when you come home. When leaving, keep it cool, and when arriving back home, wait until your dog is calm before addressing him and giving any attention.
- Teach your dog to accept a crate so that you can confine your dog in that crate for short periods. My dogs have to earn the right to have the house to themselves when I leave the house. I teach all my house dog puppies, and even the older dogs that I adopted, to be content in a crate for up to 6 hours in a crate, longer at night. Gradually I give that dog more freedom while I am away until I no longer have to crate him at all, except for night. My house dogs always spent their night in a latched crate for nights, it made them feel secure. Some dogs are very accepting of a crate right from the beginning but most will put up a fuss. I will write a seperate post on teaching your dog to accept a crate.
- Make sure your dog gets daily exercise, a dog with too much energy, will create a lot more damage. Frustration from lack of exercise and boredom will set some dogs off. If they cannot depend on you for releasing this frustration, your dogs will develop anxiety as a result.
- Feed your dog a top quality food and give him these meals at least 2x per day at regular times. Nutrition is important because a dog that is lacking certain minerals will have more anxiety… magnesium and calcium must be balanced and the B vitamins too. Feeding your dog 2 meals a day at least, at regular times, will give your dog that security of knowing that you are dependable.
- Leave your dog at home with certain toys that he loves, but can only play with when you leave. Give your dog a treat when you leave, so he or she, associates your leaving the house as a good thing. The more natural the treats and food are, the better for the dog, right? For US citizens, Only Natural Pet has a sale going on now or try Raw Paws for an amazing selection of specialty foods and treats. For the rest of us (Canada and others), The Green Life offers healthy treats, often by the case for a better price. You can find all those online sources in the Store Reviews page.
- And the last but not least….Leave your dog at home more often than you take him with you. Your dog does not need to be with you all the time, in fact it will be factor in creating separation anxiety. If people followed the above guidelines, they would have a happier dog and there would be fewer dogs left in hot cars too. Think about that. I also shudder when I see truck owners with their dogs in the truck box, un secured. Those dog owners are assuming that their dog will not jump out, that no one will attempt to lure and steal their dog and that they will never have an road accident while the dog is in the back….I love my dogs too much to subject them to that.
In summary, when you teach your dog to be content without you always there close by, you are giving your dog confidence in his own ability to be just fine on his own for certain periods.You will not have to deal with the issue of separation anxiety in dogs, if you do it right.
another post you may be interested in is….. What does a dog need?