You're a loving parent, devoted to your family. But one day you find yourself locked inside your house and there's no way to get out. Then you discover your beloved 3 year old has gone missing - last seen wandering out the garden gate.... how would you feel? Would you be panicking? Would you scream and shout? Would you be climbing the wall and trying to break the door down? Chances are that at the very least you’ll be feeling extremely anxious!
If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, then that could be the kind of panic your dog is experiencing when you go out.
Once you understand what’s going on in your dogs head, a whole set of so called ‘dog behaviour problems’ can start to make sense.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common problems faced by dog owners all over the world. Plenty of advice is available as well as some so-called miracle gadgets that promise to ‘solve’ it. Sadly, most of it won’t help at all, because they only seek to distract your dog rather than deal with the actual problem itself.
The solution is actually quite simple and doesn't require you to spend a small fortune. Neither does it require a lot of time and effort on the part of the owner.
But before we go down the road of finding the right solution, the first thing to be sure of is whether your dog is suffering from separation anxiety in the first place.
There are some very obvious symptoms and some more subtle tell-tale signs, sometimes missed by owners or taken to mean something else.
Symptom Number 1: Making a Lot of Noise While You're Out
The most obvious signs are the noisy ones and definitely the hardest to ignore. A dog barking, howling, crying or whining when the owner is out of sight is a classic indicator of separation anxiety.
This kind of behaviour can have your neighbours complaining as loudly as your dogs. Also many dog owners react badly to this situation and can end up making it worse. One lady I went to see had a dog that would bark for 30 minutes at a time. He only stopped barking when his owners voice gave out from yelling at the dog to shut up. Trouble was, the dog thought she was joining in and he therefore had even more reason to bark!
All too often, these very audible symptoms are mistaken for a dog being bored or lacking in exercise, when in fact separation anxiety is the cause.
It’s simple really - if a dog is stressed as to the whereabouts of its family members it will make a noise like a homing beacon, to try to get them to come back, just like it would in the wild.
A dog with separation anxiety can cause extensive damage to the house while the owner is out..
Symptom Number 2: Messing In Your House
This is perhaps one of the more unpleasant symptoms to deal with as some dogs will pee and poop in the house while the owner is out. This could be anywhere — the carpet, the doorway or even your bed.
It may make absolutely no sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to a dog, in the same way that making a lot of noise does. A dog relies heavily on its sense of smell to find it’s way so the dog believes that if the house smells of the pack, the pack members will be able to pick up the scent and know where to return to.
Symptom Number 3: Chewing
All dogs react differently to the stress of separation and while some dogs will be proactive in trying to get the family back together, and perhaps try and claw their way out, others will not cope at all and start to panic.
Chewing releases a natural endorphin into the body that can help to calm down the nervous system — so chewing up your favourite shoes is often a dogs way of trying to feel better.
All too often I hear people saying that the dog is punishing the owners for leaving them and it couldn’t be further from the truth!
You can also understand why they’ll target items such as clothes, or even sofas as they smell of the missing person. Unfortunately the damage is often expensive!
Symptom Number 4: Escaping
Sometimes dogs will try and escape while their owner is out and most people believe that their dog is trying to run away. However, it’s more likely that they are trying to get out to find their owners.
I remember visiting a family that had two Labradors, who would jump out of a bedroom window when the family went out. The idea of doing something dangerous was not nearly as important as the need to find their ‘lost children’. It was a genuine attempt by the dogs to get out and find their owners. This also links to the next symptom.
Symptom Number 5: Destructive Behaviour
Dogs that scratch doors or dig up carpets, or even chew the plaster from the walls around the front door, are panicking about where you are and are trying to get out. As well as the two Labradors I mentioned, I know of countless cases of dogs attacking the threshold area to get out.
Symptom Number 6: Health Problems
Some dogs will excessively lick or chew on their own body to relieve stress. Some owners are advised to leave food and a toy out to occupy the dog or feed it while they are away, yet it is not a
Dog Listener Tony Knight has been a professional dog trainer for over 10 years
substitute or cure, merely a distraction. It’s not hard to imagine that a parent whose child has gone missing would not be in the mood to eat or play a game. If stress becomes too great it can also lead to health problems, in the same way as humans who cannot cope with stressful situations. Often the vet will find it hard to diagnose anything specific.
Symptom Number 7: Following You Everywhere
Interestingly, the most common sign of a dog with separation anxiety shows up when you’re still at home. It’s when you can’t move around the house without your dog moving too. They literally seem to be stuck to you like glue! Some dogs will even lay on the owner’s feet in order to be alerted by the slightest movement. Unfortunately, this kind of intense parenting is not helpful to dogs or owners (unless the owners never want to leave the home).
So here again are the 7 most common signs of dog separation anxiety that you should watch out for:
* Barking, Howling, Whining or Crying
* Barking, Howling, Whining or Crying
* Messing in the House * Chewing
* Chewing * Running Away
* Running Away * Destructive Behaviour
* Destructive Behaviour * Health Problems
* Health Problems * Following You Everywhere
If your dog is showing signs of any of these, then you need to act now. Unfortunately your dog’s separation anxiety will not go away by itself and often will continue to get worse.
How To Put a Stop To Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety In 3 Easy Steps
1. Identify the symptoms of separation anxiety in your dog.
2. Show your dog, in a way they understand, that they are not responsible for you (because at the moment they really think they are). That means taking on the role of pack leader yourself.
3. Learn the right way to leave your dog and return so they never feel responsible for you again.
We wish you every success.
Tony Knight, Dog Listener Trainer