Did you know separation anxiety is a welfare issue for your dog? In this blog we are going to explore separation anxiety, what it is and what it is not and how to support dogs with separation anxiety. (1)
Separation anxiety is misunderstood and can be seen as the dog trying to punish or spite the humans, which absolutely is not the case. Many guardians express their opinions of their dog's behaviour of trying to protest the crate or express their anger at the guardians going out without them or toileting to punish the guardian, to teach them a lesson.
It is human however to try and humanise a situation to understand the situation, we all do it, when attempting to understand a situation we try to rationalise it and whilst humans are along the right lines of humanising their dog, the above are negative connotations being attached to the dog and not a human recognition of the emotions that the dog may in fact be feeling in regards to being left alone.
We have to understand that the first time a puppy leaves their mother and siblings, this is traumatic and this is most likely the puppies first traumatic experience. In which it is up to the new guardian to heal this trauma.
When we adopt a dog from a rescue or rehome a dog, the dog has not only experienced loss, in losing their biological family but also in losing however many new families they have been rehomed with, meaning that the dog has had to attempt to form attachments time after time to be traumatised by the loss of the attachment and the security of their emotions in that attachment.
Dogs are complex beings and are just as complex as we are.
50- 56% of dog's are found to struggle with some form of separation related behaviour and are diagnosed within their lifetime. That is a whopping 70 million estimated number of dog's across the US and Europe. (2)
During video analysis it has been found that dog's with separation anxiety remained in a stationary position and wouldn't interact with their food or toy's in anticipation of waiting for the guardian, but dogs without separation anxiety spent the majority of their time alone in passive rest. (3)
Supporting a dog with separation anxiety can come in many forms and lots of professionals will have different opinions on how to address this.
My opinion is that every dog is an individual and the same protocols may not work for every dog, with all dog's being individual. Not only are all dog's individual but there could be other factors such as diet, trauma, environment, crated vs not crated, current routine etc.
This means that each and every dog needs an individualised care plan to be supported in their recovery from separation anxiety and the emotion of the anxiety being acknowledged and addressed as well as any other anxiety related concerns such as noise phobias.
Within the study I referred to above in relation to dog's behaviour in absence of their guardians, the study also found that lip licking (which is a stress signal) was more prevalent in crated dog's than the dog's who were not crated. (4)
So if crates add to the stress that a dog is already going through due to their separation anxiety what can we do to keep them safe in the absence of a guardians supervision but also ensure that their anxiety is not being further added to?
Linda Michaels MA addresses this in her book: The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behaviour Handbook and is available from Amazon https://amzn.to/3PhC74z.
Within the Do No Harm Dog Training and Behaviour Handbook you will find Doggy Enrichment Lands pg. 262-270 and information for separation anxiety, sleep and settling!
Doggy Enrichment Lands are a safe space, which are also secure, so no open windows, or risk of chewing electricals or coming to any harm within the space. This safe space will have their bed, perhaps a toileting area if you know your dog struggles to hold their toileting needs in your absence and lots of enrichment and toys that are safe for them to be left with.
White noise machines are beneficial in helping to drown out all outside noises to help dog's to settle. Our white noise machine came with variations such as brown, blue, and pink noise to change the wavelength as well as nature sounds.
The Dog TV app also has pre programmed shows for dog's with separation anxiety which has soothing music and images for your dog to enjoy.
Remember for individualised and tailored support for your individual dog, it is really important to have a formal assessment and diagnosis of separation anxiety and a protocol and plan tailored for yourself as the guardian and your dog within an in depth behaviour assessment.
But please remember your dog is not trying to punish you in any way, they are however emotionally having a hard time.
Siracusa, C.; Provoost, L.; Reisner, I.R. Dog- and owner-related risk factors for consideration of euthanasia or rehoming before a referral behavioral consultation and for euthanizing or rehoming the dog after the consultation. J. Vet. Behav. Clin. Appl. Res. 2017, 22, 46–56 https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/12/4/482#B7-animals-12-00482
Bradshaw, J.W.S.; McPherson, J.A.; Casey, R.A.; Larter, I.S. Aetiology of separation-related behaviour in domestic dogs. Vet. Rec. 2002, 151, 43–46
Scaglia E, Cannas S, Minero M, Frank D, Bassi A, Palestrini C. Video analysis of adult dogs when left home alone. J Vet Behav. (2013) 8:412–7. doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2013.04.065 https://www.frontiersin.org/.../10.3389/fvets.2021.775092...
Palestrini C, Minero M, Cannas S, Rossi E, Frank D. Video analysis of dogs with separation-related behaviours. Appl Anim Behav Sci. (2010) 124:61–7. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2010.01.014
Image description: peach background with Wolfdog puppy held in arms at the centre image. The centre title reads, Separation anxiety can look like in green and black block text. With arrows pointing off to different points on the chart which reads:
Chewing on a blue background
Loss of appetite on a yellow background
Crying, barking, vocalising on a pink background
Drooling on a yellow background
Pacing on a blue background
Unable to settle on a yellow background
Shaking, fearful body language on a yellow background
Attempting to stop you from leaving on a pink background.
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