As any owner of a dog with separation anxiety will tell you, it is a behavioural disorder that is best prevented as it can be notoriously difficult to treat. Not only does it cause a great deal of stress to the affected dogs, it can also make it difficult for their owners to lead a normal life. Simple tasks such as leaving the home to pop to the shops can suddenly become impossible. Sadly, separation anxiety is one of the most cited reasons for re-homing an adult dog.
What causes Separation Anxiety?
Though this condition can have a genetic component and is more likely to develop in certain breeds. Starting as we mean to go on and implementing a number of measures can go a long way toward preventing separation anxiety from occurring.
Those who develop separation anxiety will become unreasonably distressed when their owner leaves, even if it’s only for a short while. While some may hide away or whine quietly, others can become incredibly loud and destructive, causing havoc within the home.
As is true for a number of behavioural disorders, they can largely be avoided if we lay the foundation for a calm and confident pup. This means carrying out basic training, ensuring all family members follow the same rules and creating a calm and happy environment. It also means exercising them sufficiently and keeping their brains engaged. Boredom can be the driver behind a myriad of issues.
Separation anxiety can gradually worsen as a pup ages or may seem to appear ‘out of the blue’. For many dogs, it develops suddenly after a change in routine or a distressing event (for example, moving house or an older child moving out).
So, how can Separation Anxiety be Prevented?
Crate training provides a number of benefits. It plays a big role in preventing separation anxiety from occurring in the first place. Crates should never be seen as a form of punishment. They should also not be used to contain dogs for hours on end when owners do not have enough time to spend with them. Instead, crates should provide a sanctuary; a safe place that belongs to the dog and where they feel calm and comfortable. In their crate, they can be relaxed as they play with a new toy or munch on their favourite treat.
The sooner we get out pup used to the idea that we can’t always be around, the better. Initially, we wouldn’t actually leave the house and would be close by at all times. Watch the pup to ensure it remains relaxed and happy, while just out of their line of vision. On your return, reward them with lots of praise and perhaps a treat. If they show any subtle signs of distress while alone (panting, trembling or vocalizing), they are not handling it well and have been pushed too far. Take a step back and leave them alone for a shorter period on the next occasion. Gradually, increase the amount of time they are left by themselves and scale down the praise and treats.
Set them up for Success
Leaving a pup alone with no distraction is a recipe for disaster. Providing them with long-lasting chews and food puzzles helps to keep them content. Similarly, never be tempted to leave them for too long. This will cause anxiety in even the most relaxed dog.
While it may tickle you pink when your pup welcomes you ecstatically every time they see you, encouraging this can make them over-reliant on you. Ideally, we want a pup that is affectionate but also independent. Teaching them your arrival home is an exciting thing can make it harder for them to cope when you’re not there. We should remain calm and gently discourage hyperactivity. For many, asking for a ‘sit’ can help them to remain level-headed.
Nip it in the Bud
If you think your pup is starting to show signs of separation anxiety, act quickly. The sooner it is treated, the better the prognosis. Products such as pheromone plug-ins and calming supplements may be helpful while working on the above methods. Consider having a veterinary behaviourist come to the home to help.