anxiety is one of the main causes for dogs being rehomed.
Owners can find that the strain of living with a dog suffering from
this is too much to bear, however it can be overcome with some behavioural
modification techniques and a lot of patience.
What is separation anxiety?
anxiety is when the dog cannot cope without the presence of his owner.
This problem manifests one, some or all of the following:
soiling - When
a dog gets stressed they can lose bowel control. A natural surge runs
down the dogs alimentary tract at an interval of around two hours,
when a dog gets stressed, this surge is interrupted for a few hours.
The force of the resulting surge can be too powerful and
overcomes the dogs ability to control himself.
can cause a dog to become destructive. The sites of destruction are usually points of entry and
exit and in the form of digging or chewing.
takes very little effort on a dogs part and he can keep it up for
quite some time. This is
a call to his pack and can also come under the category of separation
related problems dependant on the length of the activity.
anxious and stressed some dogs will exhibit excessive salivation
Mutilation – Pad
chewing, tail mutilation etc.
possible that some dogs may have accepted isolation before, but then
manifest anxiety. This is nearly always likely to be a medical
problem. Deafness, blindness, athritis, infected ears etc. can all
forms of aggression are a display of the dog trying to keep his master
all separation problems are caused by dog/owner attachment and it is
important to look at other reasons as to why the dog is distressed when
left. These come into the
category of separation related problems:
of exercise and stimulation –
have active brains and they need stimulation, lack of this will result
in destructive behaviour. In
homes where exuberant behaviour is discouraged, the dog can see the
owners’ absence as an opportunity to go wild.
The destruction is usually widespread.
can become frustrated when separated from the rest of the “pack”.
The dog will try to communicate by barking out of annoyance,
then become frustrated and as a result will resort to destruction.
can occur from the dog experiencing a frightening situation.
The dog is not necessarily anxious because the owner
specifically is not there, just that he is alone and vulnerable.
Attempted burglaries and fireworks are common causes of this
Why does separation anxiety occur?
anxiety occurs due to an over-attachment between dog and owner.
The dog requires the owners’ presence and panics when alone.
The dog that has this over-attachment will follow his owner from
room to room, sleep across doorways so his owner is always in sight and
generally demand his owners’ attention as and when he requires it.
How do you cure separation anxiety?
is no one single cure for separation anxiety. If your dog suffers with separation anxiety or related
problems, there are many things to undertake to ensure a cure of this
your dog's problems. You will find that a pattern emerges, you may
find that your dog tolerates certain separation and not others. In the
case of one of my own dogs, he would tolerate being left when it was
not a working day. This was simply because his attention/walking times
were different and altered his daily pattern - he could expect me home
at anytime. Aim to confuse the dog by keeping the pattern different.
relationship between you and your dog needs to be restructured to
enforce the dogs pack position. Any
form of attention should not be given to the dog on his insistence, it
must all be at the your instigation.
Aim to separate the dog from you for 5% of your time and work
it up to 30%. This involves you shutting doors behind you for a few
minutes to isolate him - installing baby gates across certain doorways
is extremely useful, for instance the sitting room.
When you are present in the sitting room, put the dog at the
other side of the gate, gradually build up the time as his confidence
increases, if he panics, reduce the time by half and build up again.
Always remember to reward any good behaviour!
The dog should then learn to accept being excluded from the
room and this will break down his over dependence on you.
successfully resolve separation anxiety, you need to find your dogs’
limit and work it up. Start by doing everything that you would
normally do before leaving the house (e.g. put on your coat, pick up
your keys). Walk out of
the door, lock it, wait for a minute or so then unlock the door and go
back into the house. Don’t
interact with the dog, walk past him and carry on with something else.
Repeat this exercise as many times as possible during the day
but with at least a 30 minute break between repetitions.
Gradually work up the time you stay outside, if the dog shows
any distress, cut the time in half and start again.
Time – You
must set aside some quality time for your dog.
This involves taking at least 20 minutes scattered throughout
the day to concentrate on general obedience work and play.
is useful to have some special toy’s which the dog only gets left
with when you leave. On
your return, immediately pick up the toy and put it away, this will
give the toy a novelty value to your dog, whilst providing something
interesting and tasty for him to reinforce that being left is not
cause for concern and can be enjoyable.
These interactive toys are excellent:
are high duty strong rubber, conical shaped toys with a hollow centre.
If the inside is coated with cream cheese or peanut butter and
then stuffed with some tasty biscuits, chicken, liver etc.
the dog has to work hard to obtain his treat.
are from the same manufacturer as the Kong.
It is a red rubber ball which is hollow in the centre and has
bone shaped cutouts. It can
be stuffed exactly the same as the Kong.
is a square toy which is hollow and has inner chambers. The dog must work the ball to get the treats through the top
not an interactive toy, they do distract from chewing and are an
excellent safe toy.
"indicator" is extremely useful. Decide on an
"indicator" - wind chimes for example. Place the indicator
in view for a few seconds and give the dog no attention whatsoever -
remove the indicator then call your dog to you for attention.
When you choose to give the dog no attention, place the indicator in
view – always ensure that it is out of view when any attention is
given. Work on building
up the time that the indicator stays out - whenever you leave the dog,
place the indicator in view. The
dog will soon pick up that when the indicator is there, he gets no
Influences – It
is advisable to ensure that the dog has some form of calming influence
when you are away. Leave
the radio on, play a calming CD on auto repeat or a recording of
family noise (the dog’s name must not be mentioned throughout the
from home –
can make the mistake of involving the dog in long, drawn out
departures. By doing this we are making the act of leaving the dog
"a big deal". Most dogs will pick up on a departure routine
(e.g. picking up keys, certain clothing etc.) always vary the routine.
Give the dog no attention whatsoever for about 30 minutes
before leaving and always be inconsistent in the departure routine.
Always keep it low key, say nothing to the dog. Confuse the dog
by going through a departure routine and then not going out, this will
avoid him being triggered by certain events.
interact with the dog on your return, walk past him and carry on doing
something casual (e.g. making a cup of tea).
Any destruction that the dog may have caused, ignore it – never
chastise the dog. He
has no concept of what he has done and by chastising him you are
compounding the problem as he will also be anxious about your return.
When the dog is quiet, then interact with him.
What if the dog is seriously distressed?
the dog is becoming very panic stricken and seriously distressed, it is
wise to get some medical assistance.
There are various medications available from your veterinary
surgeon which can be used, these can be very useful but they will not cure
the problem, it is essential to use behavioural modification in
conjunction with the treatment for it to be successful.
Drug treatment is for short periods not long term use.
As with most medical treatments, there can be side effects so
ensure that you discuss these with your vet and be vigilant for any signs
of them. Drug treatment is NOT suitable for young dogs.
hydrochloride belongs to a class of tricyclic antidepressants and is a
derivative of the anti-depressant Anafranil which is used to treat
obsessive-compulsive disorders in humans. It works by inhibiting
re-uptake of serotonin in the central nervous system and has proved to
be very useful in some cases but don’t expect an instant
improvement, it does take time to take effect.
work by stopping hyper-ventilation, slowing the heart and respiratory
rate and therefore lowering the blood pressure – all these
precipitate psychological panic. They are widely used in conjunction with other sedatives such
as Diazepam, Amitriptyline etc.
drug therapy needs to be professionally and carefully monitored by a
separation anxiety problems can be cured within a few months.
It is always wise to consult a canine behaviourist if you
experiencing extreme problems.
it is humans who cause behaviour problems in dogs as they become what we
make them. When problems
occur, we owe our best friend the patience and perseverance to put our