Friday, 1 July 2011

Separation Anxiety

What can you do when your dog gets anxious and frantic when you leave them alone at home?
This is not an easy thing to deal with, trust me, we are going through it right now at home with Leo! Well, for a start, dogs are a highly social species and they love company. But like human individuals they vary enormously in their personalities and in their capacity to be self confident and self contained when they are left alone.
Dogs can be destructive when left alone in the house, but there can be many different reasons for it, perhaps not separation anxiety but perhaps boredom or sometimes even separation elation! so it is wrong to make a diagnosis without further investigation. A good place to start is to set up a video camera on a tripod when you go out and see how your dog reacts. Just general chewing and destructiveness is probably boredom. When the destructiveness is aimed at the doors and windows in an attempt to escape, then this is a more serious problem, and you should seek professional help.
The indications of anxiety start way before you leave the house, your dog is watching you for clues that something bad is going to happen. Picking up keys, putting on shoes, or even looking at the clock at a certain time of the day can start to get the dog anxious. They are expert at back-calculating your actions to predict your future movements!
Sometimes dogs that are over-bonded with their owners can get especially anxious when separated, this can be a common problem with rescue dogs that bond with new owners! These type of dogs follow you around the house, up the stairs, down the stairs, into the kitchen, into the toilet.. you get the idea? Known in the trade as 'velcro dogs' because they stick to you like velcro!
These problems can take a long time to get better, your dog must get used to short absences, even not being in the same room can make them anxious, so a start might be a baby-gate in the house where they cannot be with you but they start to get used to being further distances from you. Just shutting back doors and front doors as you go out into the front or back garden without them for a minute or so might get them used to short periods of absence. Little and often, and don't go too far too soon or you will spoil all your hard work!
Give your dog a comfy, safe den for a bed, hidden in a corner. They will like to go there when they want to feel safe. Give your dog a chew toy or puzzle to solve while you leave for a minute - they might not even notice you are gone!
There is no quick fix!! I know! 4 months and counting - but we are getting there!