Did you know…? There are at least nine types of separation related behaviour problems in dogs and they all have different solutions. Here’s what you should know before you start working with your dog.
Separation Anxiety Facts…
Despite it being the no.1, go-to piece of advice, only two kinds of separation anxiety can actually be helped by gradually building up time alone! If your dog gets anxious enough to chew, scratch, toilet, or cry continuously, when you leave him, he is in a panicked state. While he’s like this, he won’t ever realise he is safe enough to get better. In fact, the more he repeats this behaviour, the more likely he will get worse.
None of the main causes of separation problems are caused by too much love and attention! True story. Dogs need to bond with their pack, human or otherwise, to feel safe. In fact, medications that work particularly well for separation anxiety (Zylkene for example) simulates the bond a pup has with their mum. So please, feel free to hug your dog as much as you want, and share you bed with them – if you wish!
Chewing can help to relieve anxiety. Wood, fabric, and leather can be particularly satisfying to an anxious dog. That’s why they love your sofa, shoes and door frames. Door frame chewing can also be connected to frustration based separation anxiety!
Get a crate, they said…
Only two kinds of separation anxiety will be improved with the introduction of a crate. One will be made dramatically worse, three could go either way, and three won’t be affected at all! Crates can make great safe spaces for dogs. But those that suffer with frustration related issues will hate being trapped in a crate. As will those that have very severe symptoms or toilet when left alone.
When dogs become anxious the bladder and bowel are affected, so if you come home to an puddle, you can be sure he had no choice – it’s just biology. A crate could make this experience particularly awful for a dog that is affected in this way.
Only two kinds of separation anxiety might get better with the introduction of extra toys (the other most common bit of go-to advice), but one will get significantly worse. Extra toys are great for dogs that are bored. But, if your dog is hyper or can’t settle himself then toys will make things worse. Either that, or they will just distract the dog for a while, and then they’ll get stressed when they have finished with their toy.
All nine separation related problems have different causes but in each case the dog goes into into survival mode. Survival mode affects a dogs pain threshold, making it easy for them for chew their way out of crates. It also shuts down their rest and digest system which means they won’t eat, drink, or rest while they feel that way.
It’s not their fault…
Dogs don’t punish their owners with their anxious behaviour. They aren’t being defiant either. Anxiety switches their thinking brain off. So they have no power over these behaviours, and couldn’t stop them any more than a person could stop a panic attack.
Only one kind of separation anxiety can be helped with a remote treat dispenser, or talking to your dog through a camera! If your dog suffers from frustration then this is likely to make things worse.
Only one kind of separation anxiety can be permanently solved by focusing on the separation problem alone! The other eight all need extra support by working on the dogs general routine and behaviour outside of the separation time. This could be working on separation anxiety triggers, reducing frustration, helping them to settle themselves, implementing a safe space, improving pack relationships either with humans or other pets, stopping the use of a conflicting technique, solving other anxiety triggers, and about a million other possible things.
Can they settle themselves?
Dogs that don’t know how to settle themselves may not fully recover from separation anxiety! So make sure to spend time working on that while you work on the anxiety itself.
Some kinds of separation anxiety occur in only one specific situation. For example, many dogs can be left alone in cars, other houses, or campervans, with no problem. Some can even cope really well at different times of the day!
Often it is one particular member of the family that the anxiety is connected to. It won’t matter who else is with the dog, they’ll still worry when that specific person leaves them. And it’s not just at home. This could happen if they pop into a shop for a moment, or leave the car momentarily.
Three kinds of separation anxiety in dogs can only be diagnosed by a full behavioural assessment. The underlying cause will not show in the dogs behaviour when alone. And, if undiscovered, the dogs overall behaviour and confidence will suffer. As will your behaviour training results. Conflicting training techniques are a big cause, as is redirected or displaced anxiety, and trauma.
Be careful who you get advise from
If your dog has separation related problems, please only take advice from someone that understands the difference between the different types, and how to solve them. The wrong advice could cause additional stress to your dog, and be a waste of your time and money!
Especially be wary of anyone that tells you that you have caused the problem by spoiling your dog, or by letting them on your sofa/bed. Or if they suggest gradually increasing the dogs time alone without checking for triggers, related behaviours, or fully investigating and watching the behaviour either in person or via a remote camera.
Are you struggling with your dogs separation anxiety?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area and beyond, or via zoom. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!