Whine O’Clock

Help for lonely dogs suf­fer­ing from sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety.

Australian House & Garden - - CONTENTS -

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.”

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