Behavioural Problems – Separation Anxiety
With any behavioural problem it is important to establish the perception of the problem by the owner and identifying the actual problem. Certain behavioural problems can be recognised as normal behaviour whereas other behaviours are not acceptable and do need addressing. Once the behaviour has been identified then the trigger or cause of the problem can usually be addressed.
The signs of a dog suffering from this behavioural problem can be destructive behaviour such as chewing, noise – constant barking, whining or howling and also soiling.
The usual cause for separation anxiety is caused by a dog not being able to cope with being separated from their owner as they are over attached to their owner.
There are several resolves that can be put in place. When you are home do not allow your dog to follow your every move. You need to desensitise them to having you around. Therefore they will become less dependant on your company.
It is very important to minimise the triggers that alert the dog to the fact the owner is about to leave the house. So when preparing to leave the house for a period of time it is very important that you do not indulge in your dogs fears by enforcing them by cooing “its ok doggy I will be home soon”. This will only re-affirm the dog is right to feel vulnerable.
1) Simply place the dog in its safe area (either a crate or the kitchen) and leave without even talking to the dog. You can practice this method for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and actually stay in the house whilst you train your dog to be ok without you in the room. As time goes on you can increase the length of time the dog is left knowing the dog can cope.
2) It is important to ensure the dogs needs have been met before you prepare to leave the house. Therefore make sure the dog has had a chance to have had some exercise in which it can relieve itself and also expel some energy so that it isn’t quite so pent up whilst you are out. Make sure all the obvious factors are taken care of with water being left down and the dog has been fed at an appropriate time.
3) If you are going to be out for longer than five hours then a neighbour/friend, dog walker or dog sitter should be considered to ensure the dog can go out for a toilet break or a walk at midway point during the time you are out. Please ask any carers to not talk to the dog until after a five minute period.
4) It is also important to provide stimulation for your dog. Such as chew toys, like Kong’s which can be stuffed with tasty treats or soaked kibble, raggers (ropey toys), treat balls could be filled with a couple of dog biscuits which will provide some entertainment whilst the dog throws it around the room to get the treats out.
I think it is key to provide things to help relieve the boredom, such as cardboard boxes. Cardboard boxes are free and readily available. It is far better to be clearing up bits of cardboard than your chewed up belongings. It is important, however, to remove all the toys that have been left out to stimulate the dog so that they remain of high value to the dog when given back to the dog when you go out.
5) When you return home do not give your dog any attention for at least five minutes as you need to be sure the dog doesn’t become over excited at you returning as this again, affirms the anxiety they have been through. Simply put your dog out into the garden and call him in after five minutes. Then you can give him a fuss and a cuddle.
6) If necessary another step you can take in ignoring your dog; is to avoid all eye contact – have your eyes on the ceiling and cross your arms very purposefully so no communication can be acknowledged between you and your dog.
7) If the chewing is persistent then you may have to take steps in making your home not quite so tasty by using deterrents. Such as pepper in the carpet or citrus smells around targeted areas. Bitter apple spray could be used to deter chewing objects.
If you are unsure as to how distressed your dog is when you are out, you could set up a camcorder or tape recorder to record the actions of your dog or at least tape the noises your dog makes.
You can leave a radio station on to give background noise for your dog.
If you are likely to be back late at night it is easy to set up a timer for a lamp to come on in the early evening.
You can try using calming remedies such as skullcap (a homeopathic remedy) or valerian and hops. You could try buying DAP products such as infusers or collars which release pheromones. This is meant to trigger the reaction of making the dog feel secure, as the pheromones are the same as those released by the bitch three to five days after birth of the puppies. There are drugs which could be discussed during a consultation between you and your vet.
A change in diet may also be helpful taking great care to ensure the protein content is not high. Aiming for a protein content of between 18-20% approximately. A good quality diet may help with behavioural concerns as a diet which is high in protein can lead to a hyper-active dog which struggles to settle easily.
Causes can be down to teething, separation anxiety, stress, being over stimulated (from too much exercise and therefore the adrenalin is still surging) problems in the oral cavity which would need investigating by a vet. Some dogs will chew habitually. Young dogs get a sense of relief from chewing as it releases endorphins which aid pain relief. They can be suffering from joint pain, growing pains for example. If the chewing is due to stress then allowing the dog to have time out, will contribute to the dog learning to chill out, calm down and enjoy its own company rather than being stressed.
If your dog is soiling whilst you are out there are other measures you have to consider and factors you must take into account.
Soiling is usually as a result of a loss of house training in which case you need to take your dog back to basics and re train. However there is another element that your dog could be feeling threatened or is protecting the house. The theory being that he is putting his scent all over the place to stop “predators” from coming close. You need to make sure your dog doesn’t think he has to protect you. In effort to remove his needs to protect you, you do need to treat him like a dog and not a human.
If the soiling is due to over attachment then you must stop your dog following you around from room to room. The dog needs time out to be allowed to be a dog – a dog will be happy and confident if s/he is allowed to simply sleep or rest instead of pacing around after you!
It is important to not tell the dog off for this offence as it is likely s/he committed the act some time previously and therefore will have no idea what s/he is being told off for.
Ensure you clean the area thoroughly so no traces of smell or bacteria are left. I tend to use diluted bleach but some people use biological washing powder diluted in water.