Helping Dogs With Separation Anxiety

 

sun set dogMarie Miller, author, behaviourist, Tellington TTouch Instructor and a founder member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK), looks at separation anxiety in dogs and how owners can lessen the problem for their animals. 

Dogs are very sociable and enjoy the company of other animals or people, so it is unfair for them to live in a situation where they are regularly isolated for long periods of time. If they become bored and seek to occupy themselves, it could be in ways that are much less amusing to their owners! A bored dog is not necessarily suffering from separation anxiety and his life can be vastly improved by enriching his environment or employing a dog walker or dog sitter to break up his day.

True separation anxiety is very distressing behaviour for both dog and family. The amount of damage caused by chewing, digging, ripping or toileting breakdown can cause dread in the human about what they will find when they come in. The dog will also be stressed because his owner seems to arrive home in an angry mood. Added to this, complaints from neighbours directly or via the local authority about barking or howling can cause even the most loving owners to become desperate. The sad reality is that many dogs are given up for re-homing, or are put to sleep, because they suffer from separation anxiety, so awareness and prevention is the key to avoiding this situation.

Avoid actively encouraging a dog to be clingy by fussing him every time he demands it. This does not mean totally ignoring your dog, just stay neutral and don’t be available every time he seeks your attention. Avoid allowing him to follow you from room to room. We all need to be needed but it is unfair to make a dog so dependent that he cannot cope without human company. Under-socialised or anxious dogs are much more likely to form a strong dependence on their family. Dogs who have undiagnosed pain or sound sensitivity issues are also prone to separation anxiety. Remember, if you are in a bad mood when you come home it is not your dog’s fault and he has been looking forward to your arrival. 

Tellington TTouch bodywork can help your dog to relax and feel good and this may help him to settle in his own space without constantly seeking physical contact. A well fitting dog t-shirt can also help to give him a sense of security.

When leaving your dog, stay calm and neutral. Talk normally and avoid chattering away or black Labradorgiving extra cuddles just because you are leaving; this might make you feel better but it will create much more of a vacuum for him when you are gone. Teach him the joys of a creatively stuffed Kong to give a tasty occupation when he is alone. Make sure you pick the Kong up when you returnso he gets it only when you are away from him. Something bearing your scent like an old sweat shirt can also help him to settle, but make sure that it is big enough for him to spread out and lie down on or he will be tempted to tear it up to spread the scent before settling down with it.

Make sure your dog has sufficient physical exercise. It is also essential to occupy him mentally by training and playing games with him. Introduce him to other people if possible so that his whole world does not revolve around you. Ask them to feed him and to play games with him. Teach them how to do some body TTouches if he is happy to be handled by another person.

These are just a few hints to help you to prevent the development of separation anxiety. There are many more ways to help an existing separation anxiety problem so please don’t despair - seek professional help to resolve the problem.

Marie Miller can be contacted at www.pawsnlearn.com