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From Stressed to Success - Separation Anxiety and Your Dog

separation-anxiety-in-dogs

You come home from a long day at the office. You’re dog-tired (pun intended) and ready for a quiet evening at home in front of the TV. The first thing that happens as you walk through the door is your furriest member of the family literally bowls you over in excitement. It’s nice to be missed you think. The next thing you notice is the angry note on your door – your dog has been barking all day and your neighbour is threatening to call Law Enforcement. The third thing you notice is the smell. Fido has defecated and urinated all over your prize Persian rug, and finally you notice is the countless scratches on the front door, and your lounge looks like a scene from the crime channel. What the hell happened while you were gone?

Fido could be suffering from Separation Anxiety.

What is Separation Anxiety and what causes it?

Separation Anxiety, as the name suggests, is the inherent fear of being left alone. Separation Anxiety (or SA for short) is not to be confused with boredom or simulated SA, where the dog is seeking attention by behaving badly. A bored dog will generally eat well while his owner is away, he will chew selective ‘toys’, such as the TV remote and shoes, and his barks are most often monotone. A dog suffering from SA will start showing signs of stress before you even leave the house, will bark frenetically throughout the day, pace up and down, and often howl in distress. Chewing and digging is destructive and they will seldom eat, as they are too stressed to do so.

The jury’s out as to what causes SA. But there are a number of factors which could be contributing factors:

- A history of abuse or neglect
- A change of owner
- A change of environment (ie moving house)
- A change in routine

 

What can you do to treat SA?

The first thing to do is to visit your vet or Animal Behaviourist to rule out illness or medical problems, or other behavioural problems

  • Prevention is better than cure

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. SA is definitely preventable when the dog is still a puppy.  Making him comfortable, confident and happy to be left alone is key, and training while still young is the answer to potential problems later on.

  • Gradual Desensitising

Desensitising your pooch takes patience. What follows are a few guidelines, but we suggest getting in professional help to do it properly.

  • Dogs suffering from separation anxiety pick up on cues before we even leave the house (picking up car keys, opening the garage door etc), so you need to get them used to the idea that you are leaving beforehand. Pick up your car keys, or open the garage door, but don’t leave, just yet. Do this over a period of time, until he doesn’t show any signs of stress at these cues.
  • When he’s ready for the next step, start by moving “out of a sight” for a few minutes, until you eventually do get in your car and drive away, but only leave them alone for a few minutes. When you do leave (and on your return a few minutes later), don’t make a big fuss. Doing so just heightens the fact that you are leaving them.
  • Gradually extend the period “away from home” over a number of weeks, using your intuition as to how long is “enough”.

As well as desensitising, there are other methods to try at the same time:

  • Distract with food / toys
    • Hide some food in his toys. Licking and trying to get the food out will create hours of entertainment.
    • Hide his food around the house, making it a game to find it.

 

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise
    • A tired dog is a happy dog. Chances are the more tired he is, the less chance there is of him expending his energy being anxious.
    • Try and take him for a walk, or play a fun game such as tug-of-war just before you are due to leave the house.

 

  • Medication

As a last resort, mild sedatives or other medicines have been known to do the trick. But as always, we suggest consulting your vet as to which ones to try. Follow their advice and dosage to the book.

You can try the Regal Stress and Anxiety Remedy, a herbal nerve tonic that is beneficial for dogs prone to separation anxiety and problem behaviours.

DO NOT:

  • Scold or punish your dog. This will just cause more stress for your dog and your efforts will be nullified.
  • Get rid of your dog because you don’t know what to do. If you are unable to treat him, seek professional help.

 

Common breeds who suffer from Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety can happen to all breeds, but according to professional dog trainer, Katie Finlay the following breeds do seem to be at a higher risk than others:

  • German Shepherd
  • Border Collie
  • Poodle
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Vizsla
  • Labrador Retriever

 

While the effects of Separation Anxiety can be infuriating, all is not lost. Tidy up the mess, give your pooch a pat on the head, politely respond to your neighbour’s rude note by saying that you intend to rectify the situation, and give your local vet a call to get the ball rolling. With time, patience and perseverance, you will soon have a happy and confident hound who will be more than happy to be left in his own company.  As for the Persian rug, we suggest a good dry cleaning!

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