Alexandra Vets, Clevedon
Many dogs become stressed or anxious when separated from their owners. These dogs are usually the type, which are over-attached or have had little experience of being left alone during puppyhood. Dogs which may suffer this kind of anxiety are often nervous or timid individuals, ones which follow their owners around the house at all times and need close contact when ever at rest, such as resting a paw or their head on the owner. The problem often has its origins with a lack of habituation to being left alone when young.
Puppies need to learn to cope with being left and need the self-confidence to trust that the owner will return eventually. Dogs that do not cope well with this become anxious when they sense that their owner is about to leave the house. For example, the morning routine before going to work is a powerful trigger which the dog will rapidly recognise as an indication of impending abandonment. The anxiety may begin well before the dog is left and this makes the moment of actual leaving even worse.
Signs of separation anxiety include urination or defecation indoors when the dog is normally well house trained, destruction of flooring, wall coverings, and woodwork, often around the exits from a room or from the house, barking repetitively and excessive greeting on return of the owner.
There are various ways in which a dog can be helped to cope with its anxiety at being left alone. The triggers, which a dog recognises as signs of impending adandonment, are such as putting on coats and shoes, picking up keys or general activity around the front door. These triggers can be made less meaningful to the dog by doing this sort of thing at random times but then not going out or going out of one door and straight back in another. This should be done without fuss so that it becomes a routine event, which gradually becomes meaningless to the dog.
Before actually leaving for real, the dog should be ignored for 30 minutes. It is tempting to fuss the dog excessively just before leaving when you know it will be anxious however this is counterproductive as the change from maximum attention to zero when you close the door is harder still for the dog to cope with. Most anxious behaviour and/or destruction occurs in the first half hour after you leave, thus a distraction such as a food stuffed Kong toy or Buster Cube or a tasty chew is a good way to divert the dogs attention from your departure. It is best to leave quickly and quietly with minimum fuss while the dog is distracted.
If time allows repeated leaving and returning again without fuss is a good way to reduce the significance of your departure and if possible leave for very short periods at first and return before the anxious behaviour starts.
While you are away you can improve the dogs feeling of well being by leaving an old jumper with your scent on and leaving lights on and the TV or radio to try and make the environment as similar as possible to when you are home.
Never punish or speak harshly to an anxious dog on returning home to find further destruction or toileting. This will only increase their anxiety and make the problem worse.
Pheromone products are also available which improve the dogs feeling of well-being and provide reassurance. These emit a synthetic equivalent of a pheromone, which a nursing bitch produces to give her pups a feeling of reassurance. This effect persists throughout a dog’s life and can be used to prevent anxiety of various sorts. There are also various dietary supplements which have been shown to be very effective at calming separation anxious dogs.
In addition to this it is helpful to make the dog a more independent individual in his or her every day life. This can be done by not giving attention to the dog when they come to you for a fuss but ignoring them or sending them away. If ignored the dog will eventually go and rest somewhere, albeit in close proximity. Once this has occurred then the dog can be called in and fussed after a 5-10 minute break. This proves to the dog that attention is given on your terms and is not something that they control or can rely on at any time. This should also apply to whenever you return to the house or are separated from the dog for any period of time. The dog should be ignored for 5 minutes even if they are jumping up in greeting. This sets the example of calm behaviour to the dog to show that the period of separation is not something to be made an issue of.
Dogs with serious separation anxiety need to be retrained to accept the loss of contact with their owner and to cope with the separation period. This must be done very gradually and a specific training regime is often required. Various medications are available which may help the dog cope with the situation and speed up the learning process. If basic techniques are not working, a retraining programme will be required. Please contact the surgery to find out more.
To get some behaviour tips, or to make an appointment to have Rob spend some time with your pet, give us a call on
Hillyfields Vets, Winscombe
Monday-Friday: 9am – 6pm
Saturday : 9am to 11am
(Hillyfields Vets, Winscombe)
Consultations: 9am – 10.30am
Saturday:11am to 1:30pm
(Alexandra Vets, Clevedon)
Consultations: 12pm – 1.30pm