Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety : Causes and Signs

Separation Anxiety or Separation Distress, is when a dog becomes very distressed when one person or dog leaves their sight. Cases where a dog is distressed when left alone are often referred to as separation anxiety.

Causes

Habits: It’s important that new puppies and dogs learn how to be calm while left alone. If someone has always been around the whole time the new dog or puppy is settling in and then suddenly they are left alone for the first time, they may panic. While taking time off work for a new puppy

can be useful, use this time to also teach the puppy gradually longer periods of confinement and alone time.

Over excited greetings and departures:  If you fuss over your dog as you leave the house and create a big excited event on your return, this creates anxiety and can lead to separation related behaviours.

Bad experience when left alone: If your dog is only left in the back yard when you are out and is very lonely, this may create anxiety about the yard. If the dog has a bad experience in the yard while alone this can cause an anxious reponse to being left alone in the yard. For example, while you aren’t home a loud machine makes a noise at your next door neighbour’s house where renovations are happening.

Signs your dog has separation anxiety

  • Excessive vocalisation such as howling, whining and barking when left alone
  • Destructive habits when left alone, often directed at perceived barriers such as the back door
  • Excessive salivation when left alone
  • Panting and shaking when left alone
  • Escaping or escape effort when left alone
  • Self injury or mutilation when left alone
  • Clingy behaviour
  • Pre-departure restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Loss of appetite

Not all dogs that show some of these signs necessarily have separation anxiety, in fact this issue is commonly over-diagnosed. For a correct diagnosis, a dog will usually show a cluster of the signs above together although may not show every single one of the signs listed.

Prevention and Treatment

Prevention is always easier than cure when it comes to Separation Anxiety (SA), as with so many things. This article is a follow up to our last article on the causes and signs of SA and will cover tips on prevention and treatment.

PREVENTION

Teach young puppies from an early age to be happy to be left alone by leaving them alone in small sessions and build up the time gradually. Give your puppy alone time while you are home and not only while you go out. This is very important.

Avoid over excited departures and arrivals. These can cause anxiety as the departure signals that you are leaving and it is over emotional.  It’s common to see owners make a huge deal about arriving home, hyping up their dogs who then get very over excited. This causes your arrival home to be the highlight of your dog’s day and while they are waiting around for this to happen, anxiety can build. Although it isn’t the easiest thing to do, ignoring your dog for 5 to 10 minutes before you leave the house and after you get back home is a very effective method at avoiding anxiety associated with departures and arrivals.

TREATMENT

As above, reduce over enthusiastic greeting behaviours by ignoring the dog until it is calm. This is often difficult for owners and requires consistency and patience .

  • Reduce the intensity of the owner – dog relationship by reducing the amount patting / stroking / cuddling, etc. This can be easier said than done.
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Obedience training to improve communication and to give owners skills that can be used in behaviour modification
  • Environmental enrichment – leaving things for the dog to do at home such as chew toys and interactive or food dispensing toys
  • Give the dog a toy or bone on departure. Especially toys which involve chewing and physical interaction.
  • Leave TV or radio on
  • Leave the dog with an item that contains your  scent
  • Leave the dog in a place that it feels safe and relaxed such as a room or crate
  • Teach the dog to ignore the pre-departure cues such as shutting up the house, putting on work shoes, grabbing keys etc.
  • Anti – anxiety medication prescribed by a Vet. These drugs are reported to make behaviour modification occur 2 – 3 times faster when used at the same time as a behavioural training program – See Dr Rue Mobile Vet’s Article in this issue of Home Helper
  • Natural therapies such as – Homeopathy, Bach Flower Essences
  • Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). This is a plug in diffuser that mimics the pheromones that the female dog gives out shortly after giving birth. It is also available on a collar.

Quick fixes including leaving the dog with a friend or dog sitter so that someone is always around, or taking the dog to work with you. But of course, not everyone has this option.

Some dogs are okay when left with another dog but this doesn’t work for every dog and you shouldn’t get a second dog only to fix a problem with the first dog. Also, some dogs will learn the unwanted behaviour in the first dog that you are trying to treat and then you will have 2 dogs with the problem. Some people have had success by fostering a stable and well balanced dog on a trial basis to see if it helps the first dog and if so, proceed with the adoption. But make sure you can handle owning two dogs.

If you need help with Separation Anxiety, Contact Us

Fear of Riding in Cars

Fear of Riding in Cars

Most dogs seem to look forward to car rides. However some dogs may be quite uneasy.. they have fear of riding in cars.

Some causes of a dog being fearful in the car may include:

  • The dog was not exposed to the car as a pup
  • The dog has experienced that the car usually leads to a negative experience i.e. the dog is usually only taken in the car to go to the vet or somewhere else it does not enjoy
  • The dog has had a bad experience in the car
  • The dog has been rewarded for behaviours that encourage anxiety in the car, such as cuddled and soothed while whining and barking at strangers out the window

Some tips to help your dog to enjoy car rides:

  • Familiarise the dog gradually with the car. Use lots of praise and rewards for progress towards the car. Reward your dog for a calm response toward the car
  • Don’t cuddle and sooth your dog if it’s doing any behaviour you don’t want
  • When a family member arrives home in the car, take the dog to greet them at the car instead of waiting until they come inside. This will teach the dog to associate this pleasant experience with the car
  • Take your dog on some short trips to somewhere he loves, such as the park or beach. Once your dog realises that he is going somewhere fantastic he will be excited to ride in the car
  • Crating your dog in the car may help to make him feel more secure. When around the home, make the crate a comforting place for your dog. Good things happen there such as receiving treats, pats, praise, and it’s a safe place to relax.

Sometimes ingrained fears may take a lot of time and effort to improve. But do not give up. For serious issues, consult a trainer to help you out.

Pets and Fireworks

Pets and Fireworks

New year’s eve is fast approaching and that means the biggest fireworks displays we see all year. While they are usually fun for us, a lot of pets suffer major anxiety surrounding the noise phobias that go with fireworks.

Fear of loud noises in dogs can also happen with loud thunderstorms but fireworks are particularly loud. Each year, hundreds of cats and dogs go missing due to the noise of fireworks displays causing noise phobias.

Pets can go to great lengths to escape – bolting through doorways or windows, climbing or jumping fences, digging out, even breaking down barriers doing major damage to fences, walls and themselves.

If you prepare early, there are some things that you can do to make the event easier on your pets and prevent the heartache of your pet going missing. If you know your pet has a noise phobia, speak to your vet about the latest treatment options and natural remedies. Some drug free remedies include Thundershirts and Rescue Remedy or Bach Flower Essences.

It can help to give your dog some good exercise in the afternoon before the noisy fireworks. Feed them a meal about an hour after exercise. A full and tired dog should show less anxiety and find it easier to relax.

If your pet does not have a major phobia, or you aren’t sure what their reaction will be, the best approach is to act upbeat and happy like nothing is wrong. Play your dog’s favourite game with them or do some training that they enjoy. Offer food for calm and relaxed behaviour if your dog is food motivated. If your dog is too fearful to enjoy games or training, give them a small, dark cosy space to retreat to. A crate is ideal if your dog is crate trained.

When there is going to be fireworks on, it’s best to lock your pet indoors and preferably stay with them if you can. Have the TV or some music on to help block out the noise. If you need to leave your pets alone indoors, leaving the TV or radio on can help them feel like someone is home. Never leave your dog tied up unattended as they can choke themselves to death when frantic.

Ensure your pets are micro-chipped, registered with your local council and wearing a collar with ID tags. These steps ensure the best chance of getting your pet back should they escape. Remember to check your local pound and neighbouring pounds several times in the unfortunate event that you do lose your pet.

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