This month’s feature letter tackles the perennial problem of dog separation anxiety
Spike shares his tips on how to understand and address this issue answering Pecan’s plea for help
We have a massive problem surrounding dog separation anxiety in our home. Leaving the house for extended periods of time has been causing more and more distress for my pawrents. To the point that there is now a dogcam (yes pawrents, I know what it is) which emits my hoomans voice when I am either fast asleep or not in the room. My pack worry so much they need to watch me literally ALL THE TIME. What can I do to reassure my velcro family that they simply don’t need to invade my personal space when they are out. Honestly Spike, their intense separation anxiety means they yap through the device constantly (yes pawrents, I also know it is you stalking me when you should be out having a lovely time whilst I am all alone .. hooooooowwl). It is disturbing my peace and quiet and private wash and chew time. I’m at my limits!
P. S. Spike, don’t mention that when I am in another room I am shredding all the soft furnishings and teddies. They still think it is the cat.
Thanks for highlighting a really big issue for pawrents. Dog separation anxiety causing hoomans to remain at home too much is the number one destroyer of private washing and chewing time in many dog families. Which is why I recommend that pawrents design their homes with designated space filled with expensive soft beds and toys for dogs to enjoy throughout the entire house where they cannot be watched or listened to. That aside, hoomans stalking their dogs due to their inability to stay off electronic devices for any given length of time is a hot topic on the howlervine.
Pawrents can’t seem to help their dog separation anxiety when away from their pets. It’s a natural reaction to dogs being the entire focus of their lives and the superior species (we have trained our hoomans to pick up our poo. Point made. More on toilet training techniques in next months letter).
My advice would be to either play dead or stare into the camera for extended periods of time without blinking. Some extra fast panting with tongue extended might also be added for dramatic effect. This will cause them so much distress they will always take you with them when going out in future to stop their dog separation anxiety. Problem solved.
Continue with your teddybear massacre when you are alone, they will never figure out it’s you, even when they realise they don’t actually have a cat.
If this fails you might want to wash your privates right next to the camera.
Yours Spike the Vizsla
Agony Aunt Dog Blog
A (serious) word for pawrents from fur mom and Behaviourist Expert Caroline Wilkinson from Barketplace
Spike has conveniently forgotten that until his fur brother arrived he actually suffered terribly from separation anxiety. Hence the lack of doormats, rugs and curtain hems in our home. I also bought a dogcam thinking it would be fun to see Spike snoozing casually on the sofa (like everyone else’s dogs seemed to do). But NOOOO! It was a howlerthon to beat even the most impressive opening sequence of a Hammer House of Horror movie. Imagine the baying of a pack of wolves echoing through moonlit forests. Then triple it.
Separation anxiety also affects a lot of dogs, not just us owners. Spike, I also stalk you on Facebook when you go to Penny’s Pet Care services for doggy days out. Your adopted fur mom Abi posts pictures of you online.
To get some professional advice I spoke with Caroline Wilkinson from Barket Place who is a Certified Animal Behaviourist (ICAN) and ABTC Registered Animal Training Instructor.
(And buyer of treats & blankets)
P.S I know it’s next doors cat really 😉
A brief guide to dog separation anxiety
Caroline has a passion for improving connections between human and hound, with a focus on relationships and reduction of stress for canines living in a human world. At Barket Place, she offers online consultations as well as training courses and an on-going training club. Here’s her guide to Separation Anxiety.
Why do some dogs experience separation anxiety?
The reason behind a dog’s anxiety when left can be complex – for example, it could have stemmed from premature maternal separation, time spent in kennels (especially for rescue dogs), a physical or neurological ailment, or the loss of a human or canine companion. It is really important that when working with your dog to understand them and help move forward to a solution, that you work with both your vet and a qualified, force-free behaviour practitioner.
How do I know if my dog has Separation Anxiety?
There is a difference between ‘Separation Anxiety’ and ‘Separation Fun’. Filming your dog when they are left can really help you understand what issue your dog may have. Separation Anxiety is not about your dog being bored – it is an attachment issue, which no amount of ‘tiring out’ will resolve on its own. Despite a lot of anecdotal statements to support it, Separation Anxiety is rarely fixed by welcoming another dog into your home. It is the human support your dog is relying on and another canine companion isn’t the solution.
Dogs with Separation Anxiety will become anxious, displaying stress signals and potentially destructive behaviours. Things that you can look out for include: panting, paw chewing, howling, inside toileting (when they’ve been given appropriate garden access before being left), destructive chewing, or digging by exit points of the home.
Dogs with separation issues will often display stress signals before you leave – they are incredibly good at picking up the slightest of signals that we are about to leave them. You might see your dog lip licking (flicking its tongue up over its nose), panting, yawning, or pacing. In extreme cases we can even see dogs guarding shoes or the door to try to prevent owners from leaving.
Is it fixable?
In most cases, especially in young dogs, we are able to work through a behaviour modification programme successfully to help our dogs feel more comfortable about being left. This is usually paired with the dog never being left alone outside of the ‘training’ sessions initially – by utilising family/friends or dog daycare to help support your progress. In some cases, however, medication support is required to help your dog be able to cope with any changes you try to implement. This is why it is so important that your vet is involved in the process.
What can I do to help?
As I mentioned, for dogs with Separation Anxiety it is important to work through a customised behavioural programme that is tailored to your individual dog’s needs. However, if you currently have a ‘velcro dog’ (won’t leave your side when with them) or a dog that’s starting to show small signs of being anxious about being left, here’s a few tips to get you started before you meet with your behaviour practitioner.
Make Alone Time Fun
Dogs are incredibly social and often want to spend all their time with us. We want to empower them to enjoy a little solo time – so try adding in some enjoyable daily activities for when you aren’t in the same room as them. This could be added simply by throwing their food out into the garden for them to ‘hunt’ for or by adding in some quiet stuffed Kong chew time.
Create a Calm Space
Giving our dogs their own designated chill out space or den can be really useful to help them understand what’s expected of them when they’re left. We want them to love their bed / crate or space in the home. You can use their ‘bedroom’ zone to feed their meals, have chews, or just a quiet nap. If they are puppies, when they fall asleep carefully pick them up and transfer them to their ‘bedroom’ area so they wake up there feeling relaxed.
Give Lots of Chewing Time
We often see chewing as a ‘problem’ behaviour in our dogs – and it can be potentially dangerous if they are chewing the wrong things. Appropriate chewing, however, should be seen as a super positive experience for our dogs. It is great for reducing stress in our dogs, as it allows the release of endorphins – with both dopamine (happy hormone) and oxytocin (love hormone) levels being improved after chewing or eating. Getting your dog used to daily chewing sessions can also be one part of the puzzle when it comes to helping them pair a positive experience with us leaving them.
If you have any questions for Caroline, you are welcome to join her free Facebook Tips Group which focuses on living, training and connecting with our dogs:
You are also welcome to book a 1:1 online consultation over at Barketplace.uk