If you have ever lived with a dog with separation anxiety you will recognise the frustration and stress from not being able to leave your home without your dog, either out of fear from getting that 10th note in your mailbox from your neighbours complaining about the non-stop barking and howling coming from behind your door, or from fear that if you do leave you will come back to a house in ruin from one of your dog’s desperate attempts to flee his/her confinement or in his/her panic they have accidently soiled all over your carpet or furniture. You feel trapped and desperate, but you are not alone.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common problem behaviours dog owners experience, and 3 out of 4 dogs can be helped through their anxiety and be ok with being left home alone.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a state of panic. In fact, separation anxiety in a dog is the equivalent of a full-blown panic attack in a human caused by the anxiety of being left alone (Read more about Fear in dogs here).
When in a panic state of mind the brain floods the body with adrenaline to trigger the emergency responses leading to illogical, excessive and disconnected behaviours. Your dog cannot just “get a grip” because in his/her panicked state all (s)he can think about is escaping.
These excessive and disconnected behaviours can be displayed in different ways. Vocalizing, urination or defecation, destruction or even self-mutilation are just some of the behaviours your dog might display.
Very few studies have been made about the origin as to why a dog develops separation anxiety, but some common factors from the leading experts in the area are that in the majority of separation anxiety cases the dog has been exhibited to one or more of the following factors at some point in their life.
The onset for separation anxiety can be created as early as in puppyhood. If a puppy is severely sick or malnourished during their first few months of life it can affect how well they adapt to stress and fear. Furthermore, the same can happen if the puppy is the only puppy in the litter or if the puppy is removed from the litter when it is too young. Early weaning has also shown to be a factor in developing separation anxiety later on in life.
Noisy transportation like air shipping particularly in puppyhood but even when the dog is older can also affect the dog when it comes to developing separation anxiety. Specially if that specific event has created a trauma in the dog.
Illness and old age
If we move to the other end of the spectre in a dog’s life old age and/or pain related issues can also affect how a dog copes with being alone. Senior dogs seem to need more calm, dependable environments in order not to feel overwhelmed and has a tendency to stress more easily than when they were younger. Illnesses in the dog at any age can also affect how secure they feel about being left by themselves.
Separation anxiety is also more likely seen in dogs that has changed homes once or multiple times, and more commonly so in dogs who has lived in shelters in between changing homes. The inconsistency in the dog’s life has created a deep-rooted fear in the dog of being left alone, and that fear is carried through to their new home.
Changes in the every day life
Changes in the family, like the death of a family member human or animal can also create anxiety in the dog and lead to them developing separation anxiety. The same goes for introducing a new family member as it again creates changes in the dogs life or moving to a new home. Even a change in your day to day schedule can affect your dog to a point where they develop anxiety. Dogs like routines and predictability and if the changes are presented rapidly it will affect the dog in a negative manner often displayed in what we humans perceive as problem behaviours.
No home alone training
The final factor is of course if there has been no sufficient home alone training. If you suddenly just leave your dog without going through the necessary home alone training your dog might develop separation anxiety as they simply have never learned what it means to be left alone and the sudden change can make them anxious.
There can also be cases where the dog has been exposed to none of the above factors but still has separation anxiety. There are no scientific evidence so far about whether or not there could be a genetic component that plays a role for dogs to develop separation anxiety. For puppies that exhibit an early onset of separation anxiety in their lives it might be a genetic factor yet to be discovered or it could be a learning experience perceived by the puppy as traumatic.
How to work through separation anxiety?
Even though we want to stop the behaviours the key to help is to look at the underlying emotion – the fear of being left alone and work with that in order to properly help our dogs get through it and have them be able to feel calm and content even when home alone.
Training an emotion is something that takes time, and with separation anxiety the training can sometimes feel like you are getting nowhere (Read more about training your dog here). Patience, stability, and professional help is the best tools for you and your dog when working through your dog’s separation anxiety.
Is your dog suffering from separation anxiety then contact me today for a consultation.