Dog Behaviour Advice - Dog Advice Articles
How to prevent Separation anxiety
To date I have never had a request to correct a dog for separation anxiety at a shelter. Even when they have a dog returned because the owners finally cannot live with it, no shelter has then asked for any help in order that they can find it another home. Why is this and what is going on with the dog for it to become so possessive or fearful of the owners leaving it alone in the home.
We have many symptoms and these range from barking and scratching at the door to get out. We hear where dogs are destroying the house whilst the owners are out though this symptom on its own can sometimes is due to boredom. We have dogs following the owners around into every room and are unable to sleep on their own in the place designated it by the owners. We also see dogs that actually growl at the owners and more worrying at their children. Others will urinate or defecate only in the house as if they were saving up for when the owners go out. This cannot actually happen as this would mean the dogs would have the ability of forward planning and they cannot do this.
There are three types of separation anxiety and the first is because the dog has suffered some traumatic experience and so is fearful of loneliness. This is behavioural and it is best to first check with your vet then a behaviourist to isolate the trauma and advise on a regime that will train the dog to loose its fear. This is a dog problem.
The second is where the dog is so dominant that it treats the owners like its wards and must look after them or is then controlling the resources. This means the owners cannot venture outside the property and gardens unaccompanied by their dog. Again, we see dogs showing owners major aggression to keep them under their protection.
The third is the most common and where the dog misinterprets the owner’s actions and becomes unable to function by itself without their presence.
The first is most often a dog problem and it would seem that so are the other two but I wish it were that clear cut as all dog owners and dogs are different.
Many dogs find new homes and settle in relatively quickly but for a proportion the problem can begin to become noticeable on the first day. This would suggest that it is a dog problem not an owner problem. The trouble with this assumption is that when the dogs return to the Shelter they cure them without the helpers seemingly doing anything. This then seems to suggest that the problem is with the owners.
Often owners notice that when their dog goes into another household if just for a holiday or as its new home, the dog does not have the same problem. This too would suggest it is an owner’s problem. This assumption can be incorrect because most people treat the dogs in the same way so why do some dogs have a problem and others do not. This brings it back to looking as if the dog is to blame. Any further conflicting ideas and we will begin to think the butler did it and to blame him.
I wish I had the statistics that review the normal treatment regime as used by most owners to their new dogs within the first two weeks and see how many dogs begin to suffer from anxiety when left on their own. It does seem a little unfair for kind owners who are so attracted to their little dog only to find it turn into a little monster. Eventually they are unable to live with this dog so they return it to the Shelter yet it never had any previous signs of a problem. Certainly, the shelter then looks at the dog and cannot understand what is wrong as once it is back it with them is becomes as good as gold again so they blame the owners.
Trying to define whether it is dogs or humans that are at fault is a fruitless exercise as there are too many variables to suit each human and dog combination.
However, there are some general rules all owners can follow that should prevent this problem from ever surfacing rather than having to correct it later.
First, we must understand that moving home for us is very stressful and it is the same for our dogs. If we can accept this, we can try to make it easier for our new dog by making as few changes as possible.
Firstly, ask if you can take the dog or puppy of your choice for a walk or a trip in the car to a place you normally visit. For puppies, you need to wait for the completion of the vaccinations but if you ask your vet and tell them that you wish to socialise at the earliest opportunity, there are vaccines that work more quickly.
Allow your dog to know your house, garden, and your local environment playing with it so it becomes used to this as a second area. Try leaving the dog out in the garden to play and then for the family to go into the house with the doors closed. Even try going away from your property some distance to see or hear what it will do when you are not in sight. A good test is for all the family to ignore the dog for an hour and watch to see if the dog will occupy its time by itself. By ignore I mean ignore it as if the dog does not exist and for all the family to do this. It may seem cruel but try not to show excessive attention towards the dog otherwise it will attach itself to the owner very quickly becoming dependant on them.
Watch any bitch chase its puppy’s away form her food bar when it is time for them to learn to fend for themselves. Watch wolves start to refuse to regurgitate food to the puppies so they must find their own food instead of being reliant on their parents providing it all. As owners with food for our dogs being always on the plate, there is no challenge or competition in its life so becoming totally dependant.
Before finally adopting your dog and you feel it is becoming used to you then when you return it to the shelter take along a blanket for the dog to lie on so his and the kennels smell impregnate the blanket. If you are taking the dog on the first day then do ask for its blanket even if it is a bit dirty or smelly. So many owners purchase all new things for their new member of the family and wonder why the dog rejects them.
Once you have your dog liking your home, allow it to find its place to sleep rather than define one. Often the area you choose may seem fine for you but not to your dog. Many owners choose the kitchen but they often contain the noisy fridge, water boiler, and washing machines. They also have cupboards that contain all the smelly cleaning products. You may not smell them but your dog can.
If you have purchased a bed for your dog why not take it along to the Shelter and allow it to use it there so it is not so new when the dog begins sleeping in it at your own home. Placing in the bed a hot water bottle and a ticking clock can often help a dog feel more at home more quickly.
If your dog does not wish to sleep anywhere other than with any of the family then it is better, you sleep close to your dog near where your dog should sleep. Family bedrooms are out of bounds. You can try using a crate as most dogs love dens and so they have a place to call their own.
If you later find your dog is not a problem and you find comfort with your dog sleeping in your bedroom, I will not condemn this practice so long as the dog is not controlling the owners and there are no children involved in the household. Many dogs have no interest in its hierarchy.
Most people purchase toys for their dogs so again let the dog use them in the kennel so they become use to them in the safety of their own shelter environment. A good toy is a Kong where you can stuff it full of sticky food that dogs love to lick out like the marrow out of a bone. With the right food, a dog will spend hours licking this out and it has a reward for chewing the Kong and not your furniture when it is alone.
Once you think the move to your home is no longer stressful then your dog should settle in easy. One important point with introductions is never go forward towards a dog always make it come to you and that includes children wishing to meet the dog. When you say to your dog the command of come you should then give it a reward like lots of fuss or a titbit but the act of coming to you is a submission to you and your family placing the dog in its lowly level within your family hierarchy.
One of the greatest mistakes made by owners is to over fuss the dog giving it so much attention and love. Many dogs think this worshiping towards them places them at a higher level in the household. It may even think it is higher than your children are and that is dangerous. Dog’s survival rule is to obtain and control all the resources it needs to survive and being higher up the hierarchy means first in line for food. Once the dog attaches itself to the owner means then it feels it is in control of where all the food comes from.
I wrote earlier that there are no cases of separation anxiety at a shelter. In another article I said how I protect myself from aggressive dogs and how the People of Romania live with so many roaming dogs. What we all do is to totally ignore the dog as if it does not exist. The shelters do care about their dogs but cannot give the dog the amount of attention dogs receive in a home. As they ignore the barking and attention seeking the dog learns that, such tactics are useless and gives up. The shelters workers are inadvertently using the ignoring technique and this is what cures the dog’s anxiety. If you ignore the problem, it will go away. Showing attention only reinforces the behaviour.
Do you remember Comic Ali in Iraq where he was saying that he could not see any tanks even though there was an American tank outside on the road? Dogs corrected from chasing cats, chickens or sheep etc will look the other way when next they meet as if they do not exist. It is as if I do not look at it then it does not exist. We all do the same as Comic Ali so why not use it.
If your family wishes to have lives outside of your house and not always have your dog by your side then as soon as the dog enters your home do not spend two weeks showering love and attention on it then for it to all to come to a stop. It does not take two weeks to make a dog anxious, as one day can be enough.
There will always be times you and your family have to ignore your dog so why not train for this as soon as it comes into your home. How many owners leave their dogs outside but let the dog in when it barks at the door. Do not let it in but wait until it has stopped asking wait a further 10 minuets then let it in. Dogs must not tell you what to do.
Demonstrate to your dog that it is you to decide when your dog receives attention, not your dog. All the family must do this, as it is unfair that the parents are trying to teach the dog rules within the household whilst the children allow it to do whatever it likes. This only confuses the dog creating even further problems.
Do take the dog out for a nice long walk before you are going out so that it cannot face going out again when you leave. Once tired out, all it will wish to do is lay down to go to sleep and will happily wait for your return. Try with short time absences and then gradually increase them. Do not talk to your dog when you are about to go out: just leave without ceremony. On your return, wait about 10 minuets after entering before you give your dog a welcome home fuss. A dog suffering anxiety is too fussy when you return so just ignore it for a while instead of reinforcing it.
One of the major reasons for separation anxiety is where the dog develops and excessive attachment to its owners and is then incapable of functioning alone. It is up to the owners to teach their dogs to accept periods of loneliness and to cope with this in the certain knowledge you will return and that the time is unimportant.
If you can follow these few guidelines that I know do appear a little unloving they are at least understandable by your dog and so that it can learn to cope by itself. You do not have to keep this up for ever only for a few weeks until you feel confident your dog is not being anxious when left on its own.