Help for lonely dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
Disruptive, infuriating and downright depressing… that’s what it can be like to hear a neighbour’s dog howling and barking through the day, stopping briefly only to start up again.
Of course, it usually ceases as soon as the neighbours return, oblivious to the fact that their dog has been driving you – and everyone within earshot – crazy all day.
You can try to explain to them what’s been happening in their absence, but often owners find it inexplicable that their pet, seemingly content and happy when they’re home, could be causing such ructions.
But separation anxiety in dogs is a real problem, especially in a home that is deserted for much of the day, with the kids in school and both parents at work.
Jenny Harlow is a Sydney-based dog trainer and certified separation-anxiety specialist (jhdogtraining.com.au). She recommends that if you get such a tip-off, don’t ignore it. “If you receive a note saying your dog’s been howling and barking all day, thank them for letting you know, because it means your dog is very distressed.
“There are several indicators that your dog is uncomfortable being left alone,” Jenny says. “These range from whining, howling and barking, destructive chewing and digging to toileting in inappropriate places and even chewing their paws.”
A useful start, she says, is to video your dog’s behaviour after you leave. This can help to distinguish a separation issue from other problems, such as boredom.
“People can be reluctant to believe there’s a problem,” she adds. “Everyone wants to believe that their dog is the calm, happy, ideal pet. And of course, as soon as their car pulls into the driveway, the dog stops whatever the behaviour was. But it’s a very real problem. And listening to a dog in distress is distressing in itself.”
Some dogs can be more susceptible to separation anxiety than others. Active working breeds and rescue dogs that have been in and out of foster homes, as well as older dogs that are losing some of their cognitive functions, are more likely to suffer. And if you’ve recently moved house, the upheaval and change from familiar surroundings can also trigger this response.
The good news is that separation anxiety can be conquered. A trainer will assess the dog’s behaviour online, so as not to disrupt the home situation, and begin a program of incremental steps to increase the dog’s threshold for being left alone.
Then there’s the all-important question: how long does it take? “Some dogs are just happy to have a warm body in the house, but if it’s a specific person they need to have around, that is trickier,” says Jenny.
“It all depends on the dog – it’s a matter of a lot of tiny steps that don’t push it over its stress threshold – but I would hope to see some improvement within four weeks.”
In the end, she says, it all comes down to you and how you interact with your canine.
“Dogs love routine, so if you get up early and take them for a walk, or play ball with them in the evening, at the same time every day, they’ll feel more secure.
The onus is really on us to teach our dogs to behave appropriately.”