By: George Lygidakis
Our dogs need us to be loving leaders to stabilise and calm their minds. They needs us to be a calm, powerful being.
Separation anxiety is a psychological condition that occurs when a dog experiences anxiety if it is separated from a person or people on whom they are dependent. They feel insecure when that person isn’t with them.
The physical signs that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety include barking, howling, crying, restlessness, digging, chewing and any other anxious or destructive behaviour that doesn’t occur when you’re at home.
What Can Be Done to Cure Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety?
Short-term solutions to stop the symptoms include a safe and sheltered environment (e.g., in a crate or in the laundry basket), bark collars, doggie day care, a house sitter (if you’re going away), a jacket that sits tight around the dog and has a calming affect (it mimics hugging the dog), a radio (for calming background noise), or toys or clothes that have your scent.
Remember: You’re meant to be their pack leader. If you’re not, you’re creating unnecessary stress and anxiety for your dog. The most common cause is when a weak (i.e., sensitive or insecure) dog has become the pack leader through excessive affection or attention, or a lack of rules or boundaries. These dogs need constant attention from you to confirm their status and will panic when you leave.
Your dog’s state of mind when you come and go is critical. As pack leader, you should ensure that you create composed behaviour before you leave and when you arrive home. Be collected and self-assured and give no affection until your dog is calm and passive. Leaving or arriving in an emotional, anxious or excited state is not the behaviour of a leader, and it creates anxiety in your dog. Address anxious behaviour immediately and never shut a door on an anxious or dominant mind.
If an activity or sound is a trigger — such as the front door shutting or the garage door opening — desensitising your dog to that trigger may help. For instance, try regularly picking up your car keys but not leaving.
The best remedy for separation anxiety is regular walking, but make sure you walk your dog properly. A long, calm walk with your dog by your side can work wonders. Don’t allow your dog to walk in front of you or to be in an anxious or dominant state of mind.
Should Medication Be Considered?
I’m not a fan of medication. The vast majority of cases are quickly corrected by adhering to the above strategies, so drugs should only be a last resort.
I’d like to once more stress the importance of being mindful of your own emotions when leaving your dog. I recall one case of extreme separation anxiety involving a Kelpie and a woman who did not seem to be doing much wrong as a leader or guardian. She eventually confided that one day as a child, her father had shot her pet dog because it was naughty while she was at school. As soon as she remembered this, she became quite emotional and we both realised this was the issue. It was her own anxiety about leaving her dog alone that her dog was sensing and reacting to.
Amazingly, since that moment, there has been no more anxiety from the dog. The dog went from almost screaming with anxiety to having no reaction at all. My client couldn’t believe it. She even got in her work uniform and drove away to test her dog’s reaction. It is quite astounding, and it shows how attuned dogs are to our emotional and mental state. Dogs are always mirror us.
With that said, some dogs simply cannot be left alone. It’s quite unnatural for a social pack animal. Consider a second dog as a solution if it suits your lifestyle.
George is a dog whisperer and behaviourist from Sitdropstay Dog Behaviour.