By Tricia Del Sorbo, Senior Behavior Counselor - CPDT-KA
“Hi my name is Rocky. I love long walks and playtime with my friends at Biscuits & Bath. Most of all, I love my mom. In the morning, I wake her up by licking her feet. Then she gives me my breakfast and we go for a walk. I love walks! When we come back inside she takes a shower. I don’t like this because she closes the door and I can’t see her. Then she puts her makeup on. I really do not like when she puts her makeup on because after she puts her makeup on, she goes outside alone. When she goes outside alone, then I’m left all alone. I don’t know if she’s forgotten me or if she’s gone forever. I yell for her to come back but she does not hear me. My heart starts to race, I pace and shake but she still does not come back. I panic so I chew on the couch. Sometimes I even wet myself because I am so worried. I hate it when I cannot see her. My effort pays off though. After 8 hours of yelling for her she comes back.” -Rocky
“Hi my name is Jennifer. My dog Rocky has been destroying my home and peeing out of spite. He barks so much my neighbors are complaining. I am at risk of being evicted from my apartment. He is an angel when I am with him. I do not know what to do.” -Jennifer
According to Dr. Nick Dodman of the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, separation anxiety affects nearly 20% of the approximately 80 million pet dogs in the United States. That equates to 16 million dogs who suffer from Separation Anxiety. Older dogs are much more prone to the condition. It is a devastating diagnosis leaving dogs and the parents who love them in distress.
There are various reasons why a dog develops Separation Anxiety. Environmental factors, age, anxiety levels, genetics, physical health and poor early coping skills between the age of 3-12 weeks may contribute to the likelihood that a dog may develop the condition. Sometimes separation anxiety may develop in the same way as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in which a single scary experience causes a lifetime of stress. For dogs who have been moved around from household to household or from family to family may develop attachment issues and panic when left alone.
Separation Anxiety is a medical condition that should be diagnosed by your vet in close communication with your behavior counselor. Often, dogs with separation anxiety will require both medication and training. Some dogs may experience psychogenic anorexia, which makes them so nervous that they refuse to eat in the absence of their owner. Other dogs may be so anxious that they injure themselves in panic or even self-mutilate by chewing their paws, legs, rump or tail.
It is a common misconception that a dog will chew, destroy, or defecate because they are mad at their owners. In reality, the dog is experiencing some level of stress and is looking for a way to find relief. Luckily, we now have the technology to help us in these situations. If you suspect your dog may be anxious when they are home alone, set up a camera to monitor their behavior. Symptoms of Separation Anxiety vary from dog to dog. Warning signs may include shadowing the owner from room to room, door dashing through opened doors, hyper-arousal and over exuberant greetings upon arrival. For some people, the signs of Separation Anxiety are clear. The dog may try to escape, self-mutilate, urinate or defecate, continuously vocalize or destroy things in the absence of its owner. For others, the signs may not be as clear and milder symptoms may go untreated and cause daily distress for the dog.
Although there is a wide variety of symptoms that a dog with Separation Anxiety may display, the symptoms themselves resemble other factors. Boredom, lack of mental and physical stimulation, cognitive dysfunction, noise phobias and physical pain can also manifest in ways that may seem similar to Separation Anxiety. Seek professional help if your dog displays any of these symptoms.
According to Malena DeMartini, the leader in setting the road map for treating separation anxiety says: “An SA dog’s body is flooded with stress-inducing chemicals each time he’s left alone. The experience of daily panic and fear begins to make him hyper vigilant, constantly watching his owner for signs she may be leaving.” “This constant state of mild stress punctuated by the panic brought on by actual absences contributes to a devastating cycle of stress chemical production that makes it impossible for a dog to learn to feel safe while alone without training intervention.”
Separation Anxiety does not resolve on its own. Early prevention is key. Start alone training as soon as you get your puppy. Keep them in a safe place and create a routine of leaving them alone for at least 30 minutes a day, not to exceed 4 hours. Play calming music for your pup while you are away to break the sound of silence. Through A Dog's Ear is a composition of music aimed at calming your dog’s brain. Keep your comings and goings low key. In some cases, the dog starts by looking forward to the explosion of attention and endorphin when you return. The anticipation of your arrival may cause anxiety when the anticipation is prolonged for too long. There is no need to say goodbye when you leave. In fact, for a dog that is anxious when you leave, it may become a signal to the dog that they are about to experience a lot of stress. Some dogs may display aggressive behaviors simply upon hearing the word “goodbye”. When you return, ignore your dog for a few minutes until they are calm.
In conclusion, provide your dog of any age with lots of fun things to do throughout the day and if you suspect separation anxiety, make an appointment with your vet to rule out alternative medical concerns then speak to your behavioral counselor to create a tailored training and management program.
Biscuits and Bath offers training classes, private lessons, train-and-play sessions, and home phone consultations with our trainers. Ask about what is best for you and your dog!