Home Alone: Deal­ing With Dog Sep­a­ra­tion Anx­i­ety

Un­der­stand, iden­tify, and learn how to help your furkid cope with sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety

Clubpets - - THE KENNEL -

Ever left home for work in the morn­ing (to the re­luc­tance of your dog) only to find the cor­ners of your favourite maple wood cab­i­net gnawed or worse, drop­pings in the mid­dle of the liv­ing room? These may be signs that your dog is suf­fer­ing from sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety.

What is sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety?

The con­cept of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety is lit­er­ally what it reads — that a dog feels anx­ious and ex­hibits some be­hav­iour that shows its dis­com­fort when it is left alone. How­ever, the tricky is­sue is to iden­tify whether a dog is truly suff­fer­ing from sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety. One has to con­sider an ar­ray of fac­tors be­fore con­clu­sively iden­ti­fy­ing a dog’s sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety.

De­spite the signs that it dis­plays, a dog may not be suf­fer­ing from sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety. On some oc­ca­sions, a dog may dis­play signs of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety, know­ing that by do­ing so will get it at­ten­tion. In such sit­u­a­tions, be­hav­iours may man­i­fest from fac­tors in­clud­ing not be­ing able to ex­pend fully its en­ergy, the gen­eral dis­like when it is left home alone, or when it is seek­ing your at­ten­tion. It may be bored or frus­trated from its pent-up en­ergy. How­ever, in a true sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety case, a dog will clearly dis­play signs of stress from be­ing sep­a­rated. Sur­veys have pegged the preva­lence of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety at about twenty per­cent. To put things into per­spec­tive, roughly one in five dogs will suf­fer from sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety. While there is cur­rently no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence to ex­plain this phe­nom­e­non, do look out for the fol­low­ing spe­cific be­hav­iour pat­terns that help in es­tab­lish­ing whether your dog suf­fers from sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety.

Iden­ti­fy­ing sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety

One may look to iden­tify signs of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety by con­sid­er­ing the be­hav­iour dis­played by their furkid dur­ing the fol­low­ing in­stances:

1. The “be­fore” in­stances

Dogs may emit sub­tle signs that point to­ward its dis­tress when it picks up de­par­ture cues. For ex­am­ple, a dog may ex­hibit ex­ces­sive vo­cal­i­sa­tion, or start pac­ing and pant­ing, upon pick­ing up cues that its owner is leav­ing, such as pick­ing up keys or putting on shoes.

2. The “dur­ing and af­ter” in­stances

Own­ers of­ten re­alise only upon the af­ter­math that their dogs suf­fer from sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety; be it com­ing home to a torn pil­low or poop on the din­ing ta­ble. These af­ter fac­tors in­clude:

• Uri­nat­ing and defe­cat­ing: As­sum­ing that the dog is potty-trained, that it uri­nates and defe­cates in other spots when left alone even though it usu­ally does not

• Caus­ing de­struc­tion:

Where own­ers find scratches or chew marks on doors, win­dow ledges

• In­juries:

Dur­ing the pe­ri­ods of anx­i­ety a dog may suf­fer from self-in­flicted trauma

• Un­touched food:

Gen­eral re­luc­tance to eat when alone

In the “dur­ing” phase, a pet may face such over­whelm­ing stress that it may make the at­tempt to es­cape. Also, dogs may whine or bark ex­ces­sively, pace around and take repet­i­tive ac­tions. Such be­hav­iours are vastly dif­fer­ent from when the dog is with you. Typ­i­cally, sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety signs are ob­served dur­ing the “be­fore” and “af­ter” in­stances. While such signs do point to­ward the is­sue of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety, a miss­ing piece that may con­clu­sively es­tab­lish that your dog is in­deed feel­ing dis­tressed when alone, is what it does dur­ing the pe­riod it is alone. There­fore, it is rec­om­mended for one to ob­serve their dog’s be­hav­iour when left alone. This may be done ei­ther by in­stalling a video cam­era or to ask a neigh­bour to take note of your pet’s whin­ing and bark­ing.

Sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety be gone!

Re­search sug­gests that sub­ject­ing a dog to pun­ish­ment for dis­obe­di­ence is in­ef­fec­tive when deal­ing with sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety. As such, do con­sider ig­nor­ing clingy and at­ten­tion-seek­ing be­hav­iour, and pro­gres­sively train your dog to re­main calm when it de­tects de­par­ture cues.

It is pos­si­ble to teach your furkid that de­par­ture cues do not nec­es­sar­ily mean that you are ac­tu­ally leav­ing. This may be con­di­tioned where own­ers pick up their keys but do not leave the house. Be­fore leav­ing the house, try to en­sure that their fur-kid is in a calm state of mind. The be­havioural tech­nique, known as sys­tem­atic de­sen­si­ti­sa­tion, may also be im­ple­mented. This is done by ex­pos­ing the dog to short pe­ri­ods of sep­a­ra­tion, be­fore grad­u­ally in­creas­ing the pe­ri­ods to the re­quired pe­riod of ab­sence.

If the sit­u­a­tion per­mits, have an­other pet ac­com­pany your furkid dur­ing pe­ri­ods of ab­sence.

In more se­vere cases, you may con­sider en­gag­ing pro­fes­sional help, whether by seek­ing treat­ment from a vet­eri­nar­ian (through the use of med­i­ca­tion to re­duce anx­i­ety and pro­mote learn­ing), or ad­vice from a pro­fes­sional dog trainer.

It is un­der­stand­able that com­ing home to poop on your sofa, or a chewed up pil­low may not be the most pleas­ing of sights, and may be frus­trat­ing, es­pe­cially af­ter a long day at work. The un­for­tu­nate fact is that re­search has shown that sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety is a com­mon cause for un­doubt­edly the most re­gret­table out­come – re­lin­quish­ment to an­i­mal shel­ters. To avoid these sit­u­a­tions, it is ad­vis­able for pet own­ers to un­der­stand, iden­tify, and rec­tify such sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety that may af­fect your furkid, at the ear­li­est.

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