Your Dog seems happy in his new home he is loved, he is mutually affectionate with you his new owner and yet when you return home from work one day you open the door and walk into a trashed home. Queue possible separation anxiety..
We look at what might be going on in your dogs head together with the catastrophic destructive behaviour this can cause. In addition we will cover how to help your dog cope and ultimately how to control this anxiety and hopefully curb the poor behaviour which can follow.
What Is Separation Anxiety
My friend adopted an adult dog from a rescue shelter. She took a week off work settled her into the house and all seemed ok. She had popped out now and again over the week without consequence. She worked part-time and on the first day she came back during her lunch hour. All seemed ok, a few hours later she arrived home and discovered Flo and ripped into the sofa, tipped over the waste bin, knocked over some plants and generally made a mess. In addition, she had wet and defecated on the floor. Flo the staffie was in a very anxious state come the time my friend returned home.
She knew this was a clear indication of separation anxiety.
Quite literally Flo couldn’t cope on her own. When a dog becomes overly attached, when left alone they fear the worst and may try to escape (looking for their owner) they may cause themselves injury. They may also whine, howl, bark but generally it is so much more than whining and because they are unable to deal with the stress they get into mischief. Wetting and pooing in a prominent place is also a feature.
Over the next week or so Flo displayed other signs, she would tremble, she would pace up and down the garden and when my friend tried to put her shoes on to go to work Flo would try to stop her, barking, snapping and pawing.
Why is Your Dog Suffering
Separation anxiety is usually the symptom of an adult rescue dog. Understanding why, may help your feeling of frustration, especially when you are faced with a trashed home yet again
Your dog may have had a poor start to his young life, he may have stayed in the rescue centre for some considerable time, equally his stay may have been relatively short. Never the less he now has a loving owner and has settled into his new home very well indeed. He now feels happy and loved.
His fear of being left again is very real to him, going back to uncertainty of not having an owner who cares or indeed any owner at all. He is not capable of logical thought and therefore only works on learned behaviour. It is this which is causing the stress.
Where a puppy may have left his mother and siblings you would think the puppy would be considerably more anxious. Not so, he will trust his new owners and will hopefully slide into his new family provided the foundation allows for growth.
The Adult dog from a rescue centre has known unrest and possible trauma. There maybe unknown triggers which induce the stress and certainly for some dogs being left alone is a trigger.
Coping with symptoms & How Long Will it Last
Coping with separation anxiety is not an easy ask, it is one of the main reasons why an owner will return a rescue dog back to the shelter. Your dog seems to be creating his own worst nightmare.
As previously mentioned your dog does not have logical thought and is not deliberately wrecking his chance of a safe and loving home. It may be boredom or stress induced anxiety. The latter is possibly a lifelong condition which may require constant assurance. This is not as scary as first thought. Understanding his condition will help you cope.
Putting the work in place will eventually reap dividends, not just for you and the family but for the dog himself who hitherto lived in a constant state of fear and stress.
Could It be My Fault
My friend (the owner of Flow the Staffie) asked herself, “could it be my fault”? – “could I have inadvertently made the situation worse”? or indeed could she have aggravated the condition? The answer was possibly yes.
Flo was in the company of my friend for 24/7 that first week as she had taken time off work to ensure Flo integrated well. During the integration week Flo did not have any alone time, therefore the first time she was alone was when my friend went to work.
My friend popped back at lunchtime, (a good thing to do you would think) all seemed well, the owner popped back (right thing to do) but during the second alone time later in the afternoon Flo had a melt down. A proper full on panic attack which she had no control over. This is quite a fearful thing for human and dog alike and can create the circle of “alone, stress, panic” the dog fears the panic attack itself, (just like a human) The dog knows when he is with his owner all is well.
What Are The Signs
it is unlikely your dog or puppy will start from zero to full on panic mode, there will be signs. When your dog starts with attention seeking behaviour, do not reward, this may be as simple as pawing you constantly, or continuing to bring his ball or toy when trying to eat.
If you return home and your dog greets you with extreme and frenzied behaviour, try not to excitedly return the favour. It is not an indication of how much they love and miss you but perhaps the start of anxiety induced stress.
What To Do
Greet them yes, but do not reward or go over the top with the greeting. As a pack animal your dog needs to have the Alpha Male or female leading the pack, he needs to know his place in the pack to feel safe. It does not mean you don’t love your dog, nor an indication of nurturing or lack of. it is just showing your dog you are the leader.
Your dog has to know his boundaries, he needs to feel secure and not feel the need to take charge. It is so easy to give your dog human emotions, he is however a pack dog and will not feel unloved if he knows his place in the pack. This will also include poor behaviour surrounding other members of the family.
If he becomes possessive and territorial, growling at others when and if they get too near to you, remember you are the Alpha and not he, letting him get away with this will reinforce his poor behaviour together with letting him think he is the leader of the pack. Ignoring him is a powerful tool. You can turn your back on him, lift him off the sofa and then ignoring him or placing space between you and he if he rushes in front of you at the front door.
If on your return home you see signs of attention seeking behaviour, this could be urinating, defecating or upending the bin do not punish, do not sooth as both will in some way be rewarding his behaviour. We will look at solutions in the next few paragraphs.
Boredom is Not The Same
If your dog has got into mischief whilst you are away, for example going
through the bin, chewing a sock or shoe, maybe even stealing food or opening the fridge, (some very clever dogs). Does not necessarily mean your dog is suffering with stress or anxiety. He could quite simply be bored.
If however it is accompanied by some or all:
- extreme destructive behaviour
- Excessive salivating
- Hyper sensitive when you are about to leave the house
- Aggressive to other family members/pets
- Barking or constantly agitated
- Frenzied welcome when you return
Other areas to look out for are continual licking of his paws, chewing or chasing his own tail for extended periods
You should then read how to deal with this issue as quickly as possible. Neither your dog nor you will be happy at this stage and it is certainly treatable, even the very worst cases
When and How To Deal with Separation Anxiety
We have looked at where your Dog sits in the pack and in the scheme of things how you and if there are other members of the family establishing authority (Alpha Male/Female)
Puppies and Shelter dogs also need to be acquainted with alone time, if you are happy using a crate or cage this will give the alone time without fear, during the settling in phase.
Not everyone wishes, wants or has a crate and therefore alone time needs to be a lesson or learned behaviour and ability to trust he is safe and owners will return.
- For the dog already suffering with anxiety treat the alone time as a short and frequent tiny lesson.
- Leave the house for a few minutes, ensuring you are out of eye view,
- Do not make a fuss when leaving, go as quickly as possible
- When you return, do not make a huge fuss of your dog, simply say hello and move on into the house.
- Repeat this many many times during the day.
- Slowly increasing the away time, you will quickly manage 30 minute stretches
- When you are home with your dog, play with him, walk him and do everything you would ordinarily do with your dog.
Remembering your dog is a pack animal and you are the Alpha is probably my biggest bit of advice. If he displays anxiety issues then it is important not to humanize him by that I mean dressing him inappropriately and treating him like a baby, carrying him, or treating her like she is a princess, these sorts of things can cause many unforeseen problems.
I would also suggest that if your dog has a tendency to separation anxiety then create a dog space for your dog to sleep which is neither on your bed or in your bedroom. (Cage works for many)
Another area which could be improved in the event your dog is showing signs of stress is ensuring you are giving them quality time, that could include training, walking playing and simply just being there.
Exercise is key for many dogs, tire them out before you leave for work and again when you return. Bigger breeds and working dogs require much more exercise Most of all consistency, not just yourself but for all members of the family. (click on the link to read a post I have written about exercising your dog)
My first ever Westie suffered with chronic anxiety problems and one of the clever tricks that worked, we would feed her a big meal in the morning (30 minutes before leaving). Get ready as normal and as we left the house we hid little training treats around the lounge which was where she stayed during our absence. This required her to use her nose and search for them it gave her ages of fun. She then just crashed until we returned. I later changed my job and worked from home, by this time Bonnie was so much more independent she didn’t find the need to sit at my feet whilst I worked and had a dog flap allowing her to go in and out of the garden.
There are many things on the market which offer diversion tactics and finding one that will suit your dog is a worthwhile investment.
Good Luck with you and your dog.
Thank you for reading until the end. I would welcome comments to this post as your thoughts give huge value to other pet owners and I also enjoy reading
Cordelia & Dolly
NB I have heard of cameras being used. This is especially useful if they can be linked to your mobile and you are able to return home quickly. I will review in another post and add to this once complete
See my full review of some of the best cameras on the market and how this is a huge leap forward for you if dealing with any of the aforementioned problems