Is it really “separation anxiety”?

By | Published On: June 27, 2023 | Categories: Behaviour, Dogs |

‘While the cat’s away, the mouse will play’ goes the saying. In our case it can be ‘While the human’s away, the dog will… bark, howl, toilet, chew, dig, scratch, upset the neighbours…’

‘Oh!’, You might cry, ‘That MUST be “Separation anxiety”‘.

What exactly do you mean by that label? What does it look like? Have you tried to find out if such a thing even exists under that header, or are you guilty of a little bit of assumption..?

Dogs are a social species meaning they can enjoy company – only nice company of course – and naturally some dogs are not going to be pleased when there is nothing to do. I can hear you saying already that your dog is fine alone. However a recent BBC documentary showed that many dogs left alone do not enjoy it at all. Can you honestly say you checked this with your own dog (they won’t answer… but you can leave a video recording them easily nowadays).

Of course, we have to work and go shopping and do other things that do not involve the dog. The answer is quite simply – you need to make sure that your dog is not left alone when he or she does not like this. Failing this, what is better for the dog during this time, and can you help them with this instead?

The question remains; What does YOUR dog like and dislike. Not ‘Dogs – the species’… YOUR dog.

How much does your dog have to do in their daily lives, and how much do they want to do?

This is the most important part of what you need to work on. If you do not know why your dog feels unhappy when alone, you will find it more tricky to help them. Are they bored, distressed at being isolated, missing one person in particular, or hearing noises outside that they don’t like… or is it all of those? Or something else? What exactly are the triggers to this behaviour? If you haven’t found out what these are, you could be setting yourself and your dog up for failure.

Is your dog understimulated?

If your dog is a busy, active dog, you can make sure they have plenty left for them to do when you are out, as well as making sure you give them lots of exercise before you leave. Kong toys with tasty food inside, treat balls and toys that they can enjoy safely are essential. It is more than a case of just toss a chew at the dog as you go. Make sure you only leave these items when you are absent or not paying attention to the dog, or they will lose their attraction.

Is your dog missing contact with you?

Are they left alone, and can’t cope with this, or do they prefer one member of the family and only miss that individual? Often you realise that this person is constantly fussing and cuddling the dog. Nothing wrong with that, but it makes it hard for the dog when that person goes out. Avoid using the dog as your comfort blanket. If you really care for your dog, realise that they cannot cope without this attention. Don’t stop cuddling them all together, but if you cannot even go to the toilet without a patter of doggy feet attempting to follow you, then things need addressing.

Do you need to seek professional help?

You may be given a lot of quick fixes on the internet or by unqualified advisors. These can range from reasonable ideas to downright dangerous but well-meaning advice. Never, for example, put a stressed dog into a crate to try and stop it causing damage when alone. This can rapidly make a problem worse as the dog begins to feel trapped and panic. It may work IF the dog is carefully introduced to it but this takes professional knowledge.

The above are a tiny selection of possible reasons, to be established long before you leap in with some kind of remedy. What is it you are dealing with? Forget the label ‘Separation Anxiety’ if you can. It is most unhelpfully blurry in its description. Separation from whom? What does anxiety look like? Are you sure?

Above all, help is at hand – ask your Vet for referral to a Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB). They will help you sort out all the importnat detail, thoroughly and with a long-term plan in mind that you might find works quicker just because they are diagnosing exactly what is going on before attempting to treat the problem. With any doggy problem, efficiency means proficiency, and vice versa.

What is that saying? ‘Keep it Simple’ and above all – avoid labels, when helping your dog to enjoy time alone.

Want more common-sense, effective help with your dog’s training and behaviour? Have a look at Karen’s books and manuals via the link below.

– Karen Wild

– Karen Wild

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