WHAT IS

DOG SEPARATION ANXIETY

?

WHAT IS DOG SEPARATION ANXIETY:

Fear is a normal response to an actual or a perceived threatening situation. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. Anxiety is a feeling of fear or apprehension about what is to come. The anticipation of either the unknown or something that is to come that they perceive to be bad or has made them feel anxious previously.  Separation Anxiety is triggered due to separation from the owner, the person(s) they’re most attached to. The dog can become very upset, can sometimes panic, and will experience a decrease in mood state. They may employ coping mechanisms to help alleviate the stress that they feel. These may be destructive behaviour or self-harm. 

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS:

With Separation Anxiety the following coping mechanisms symptoms persist ONLY when the owners are absent:

  • Bark (not a persistent barker when owner present), 

  • Howl,

  • Whine / whimper or ‘cry’,

  • Chew or destructive behaviour in the home or garden (not usually destructive when owner present),

  • Disruptive (e.g. may pull items off of sideboards (not usually disruptive when owner present),

  • Pace continually,

  • Drool or salivate,

  • Tremble,

  • Dig outdoors or scratch or destroy doors, windows or carpets indoors – can result in serious injury / self-harm,

  • Frantically try to escape (to try to re-unite with owners) – can result in serious injury/self-harm,

  • Chew at a body part (feet, tail) part causing self-harm,

  • Persistently lick themselves,

  • Urinate (although completely house trained), 

  • Defecate (although completely house trained),

  • Appear anxious, agitated or depressed when you prepare to leave,

  • When you leave, commence frantic barking,

  • When you return, they appear elated, act as if you have been gone a whole year!

 

If some of the above symptoms persist when you are home then look for other reasons why these symptoms may be being displayed such as boredom, lack of mental stimulation, juvenile destruction or incomplete toilet training. Sometimes there is an easy fix and it isn’t Separation Anxiety. Please read through the “Mental Stimulation – Exercise for the Brain Behaviour Guide” which can be found on the Learning Zone of the website. This will allow you to ensure that your pets mental needs are being met adequately. Of course a daily walk will help with this, especially if given prior to you leaving them, however this alone Is often not enough.

UNDERSTANDING THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SEPARATION ANXIETY:

  • A dog with Separation Anxiety exhibits physiological signs of stress. 

  • This is an automatic response to being parted from their owners – a panic response. 

  • They have an emotional response to being parted and their mood state is drastically reduced. Meaning that they can become visibly and clinically anxious and depressed.

Dogs, as a species, are highly social. It does not come naturally to a dog to be separated from its family. If they stayed within their canine family, they would be together 24/7, so we have to teach dogs how to cope to be left on their own. 

 

Think of a toddler who is left on their own for the first time. They would become anxious and frantic if their parents left them alone for an extended period before they have got used to this happening. People expect dogs to just except being left on their own when it is in-fact quite alien to them as a species. 

 

We are actually expecting them to do something which goes against their genetic makeup. Through conditioning, any animal can learn to adopt practices that go against its genetic makeup however they need to be taught how. 

COMMON CAUSES OF SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS:

If the dog has usually had human companionship and then this situation changes. For example: 

  • The dog is no longer constantly with a person,

  • A major change in routine resulting in the dog needing to be left alone,

  • A new job where the dog cannot go with the owner, 

  • Death of the owner who was always home, 

  • Adopted from a shelter,

  • Rehomed (change of owner/loss of the previous owner),

  • Moved house,

  • New family circumstance – child has gone to college / new pet.

IS MY DOG JUST BEING SILLY:

  • Your pet is not being silly or playing up. They feel fear, anxiety and panic. They do not feel safe when you leave them alone. It not just that they may be lonely or would prefer you to stay.

  • Ignoring their reaction or forcing them into a situation where they do not feel comfortable or safe is the last thing that you should do. Would you throw a child into a swimming pool using the sink or swim approach?

  • Owners who try ‘flooding’ (exposing their pet to a high level of stimulus to the thing that they fear) are usually not rewarded in the way that they hoped and live to regret their actions. 

  • Just because you know there is no real ‘threat’ doesn’t mean that your dog will adjust, and you certainly have not communicated this to them in an effective way. 

DOES BREED TYPE PLAY A ROLE IN SEPARATION ANXIETY:

Yes, some breeds seem to be more susceptible to Separation Anxiety than other breeds. Breeds with sensitive natures are particularly prone, such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Weimaraner’s.  Even some dogs from the same litter of puppies can be more susceptible than others to Separation Anxiety i.e. the more sensitive puppies, and to some degree, it depends on the personality of the individual dog. 

The following breeds may be more susceptible to Separation Anxiety, but it should be noted that any dog can develop Separation Anxiety, as it is dependent on the dog's particular personality and environmental conditioning (what you do or do not do):

 

  • Weimaraner,

  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffie,

  • Hungarian Vizsla,

  • German Shepherds,

  • Australian Shepherds,

  • Labrador Retrievers,

  • Cocker Spaniels,

  • Bichon Frise,

  • Border Collies,

  • Chihuahuas,

  • Toy Poodles.

TREATMENT OF SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS:

The earlier you spot separation anxiety in your dog’s behaviour the easier it is to treat and the greater success you have in treating it if you get professional help from a Dog Behaviourist / Dog Psychologist. If the separation anxiety is left untreated it can continue to grow in severity. Even to the point of your dog having to be surrendered or rehomed. The best advice we can give is to get help early for separation anxiety treatment from the right professional person.

 

You will need to enlist the help of a professional Dog Behaviourist  / Dog Psychologist who will assess your personal situation along with assessing your dog inherent behaviour and true personality. After their assessment, they will then develop up a Behaviour Modification Plan for implementation. The earlier you seek help from a professional Animal Behaviourist the easier it will be for you to resolve the issue that you are having with your pet. 

 

Separation anxiety treatment focuses on changing the dog’s emotional response with the stimulus (counterconditioning) and / or replacing the undesirable response with one that is desirable using reinforcement-based techniques (response substitution). In scientific terms, this is Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning. In other words, we turn the negative association into a positive experience for the dog.

 

During desensitisation, it is essential to ensure that your dog never experiences Separation Anxiety. This means that during behaviour modification for Separation Anxiety, your dog cannot be left alone except during your desensitisation sessions.

 

When treating Separation Anxiety in dogs, the goal is to resolve the dog's underlying anxiety by teaching them to tolerate being left alone. This is accomplished by setting things up so that the dog experiences the situation that provokes his anxiety, namely being alone, without experiencing fear or anxiety. This is not an easy task and unfortunately, is not as simple as leaving your dog on their own, just for short periods whilst they get used to It. 

SEPARATION ANXIETY MEDICATION:

In some cases, separation anxiety medication may be required from your vet if the dog’s anxiety is so high that it stops the dog’s ability to learn the Behaviour Modification Plan designed by your Animal Behaviourist. BUT by only giving your separation anxiety medications to treat a behavioural issue you WILL NOT be fixing or treating the underlying cause of the behavioural issue. You will only be treating the symptoms of the behavioural issue. Medications should only be given as part of a Behaviour Modification Plan. You will work with both your Vet and your Behaviourist who will work together to help you to fix the issue. 

HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?

At Animal Behaviour Australia we are committed to rectifying the cause of your pet’s behaviour problem so that you have a problem-free pet. Dealing with symptoms alone does not rectify the underlying cause or address motivating factors resulting in your pet’s behaviour. We advise that you seek help to address BOTH the cause and symptoms, by booking a Behaviour Consultation for your pet with our Animal Behaviourist. A targeted treatment plan will be provided for your particular pet and situation. Each pet and situation is different, so each plan is different. A Behaviour Consultation does not cost as much as you may expect. Get help for your pet now. BOOK NOW!!

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