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If you’re reading this, it may be because you have a dog who struggles to be alone. Maybe you’ve tried things the past or maybe you aren’t sure where to start. This is a great place. You are not alone. Many hundreds of thousands of dogs suffer from separation related issues every year.
Let’s talk separation anxiety basics!
“The Basics” - Separation Anxiety (SA), also known as Isolation Distress, is a panic disorder in dogs. Have you ever had a panic attack? They are awful. Heavy chest, heart beating 1000 times a minute, shaking, dizzy, room spinning - PANIC.
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety quickly fall into a state of panic when they are left alone, or when they realize they may be left alone soon. They are not in control of their actions after that moment just like someone who is afraid of heights is not in control of the terror they feel when in a tall building and need to escape or someone who is fearful of snakes who has just come across a garden snake. We may not understand it, but to that person and DOG the fear and panic is very, very real. It won't stop until they feel safe again. When the threat has disappeared, in this case, being alone.
Dogs cannot process that you are just running to the mailbox or that you come back every time you leave for work. Logic simply does not apply. Their emotional state has taken over and their system is flooded with cortisol and adrenalin. The amygdala (the emotion center of the brain) is running the show. If panicking, the dog is now their stress threshold - maybe it starts the moment you pick up the keys, or put on your shoes, or open the door or 2 minutes after... thats the thing, every dog is going to be a bit different, just like us. These are not robots we can program.
But wait, maybe you’re unsure if your dog suffers from separation anxiety. Maybe your dog is new to your home, or a puppy. Maybe you've had a few neighbor complaints or your dog has ALWAYS been ok being alone, but something is different suddenly.
This is where gadgets come in. Technology is amazing these days, right? The very best way to truly find out is to observe your dog when you are away. Set up a tablet, laptop, cell phone or security camera and observe what happens when you leave. For most dogs, the panic will set in almost immediately, or within a few minutes. Here are some common signs your dog may not be feeling ok when left alone; vocalization (barking/howling), pacing, panting, drooling, scratching at doors or windows, destruction (especially near exits), refusal to eat (anorexia). If crated or confined you may see; biting at the bars, digging in the crate, clawing at the door. This may go on for the entire time you are away or on and off, but if it exceeds a few minutes and gets worse before it gets better, there is a chance your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. Just one symptom may do it, they don’t need to be suffering from all of the above FYI.
So, you've watched your dog, and saw what you hoped you wouldn't - now it’s confirmed.
My first recommendation, is to try to find a way to leave your dog home alone less often. This doesn’t mean just with another dog. Though some (not many) dogs will find comfort with another dog, most dogs need a human. The good news is many dogs who have separation anxiety are ok with just about any human around! So if you work full time, maybe try for a dog walker a couple of times a week. Maybe doggy day care where they are supervised by humans, a neighbor or friend that can stop by? This won’t solve the problem, but it will greatly reduce your dogs stress levels and that is a big deal! When you are ready to start treatment, the less stress and anxiety they are feeling daily about being alone, the better!
Next, find help. Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers (CSAT's) are the best place to start. We have studied the in's and out's of separation anxiety and know how best to treat it. There is a lot that is still unknown about SA but we are the leaders in successful treatment, and all work together as a whole to continue education, research, data gathering and more so we can continue to help dogs successfully heal. We can work with clients anywhere in the world, as all work is done remotely!
Speak to your Veterinarian!
Sometimes, but not always, behavioral medications can be extremely useful in the treatment of separation anxiety. They should be supported with a behavior modification plan. In my opinion, this should not be a last resort. If you or a family member were suffering from daily panic attacks, couldn't live a normal life, function under specific circumstances, there is good chance you would want to speak to your doctor to see if there was anything they could do to help, right? The same should apply to our pets.
Why did this happen?
You may be asking, why did this happen? Well, we just don’t know for sure. There are some common links. There are even some genetic discoveries being made as we speak, but we do know one thing for sure. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
Here are some of the common links we’ve found through years of study:
- Multiple rehoming/moving episodes
- Air shipping (especially during puppyhood)
- Illness or malnutrition during puppyhood
- Singleton puppies
- Death/departure of a family member
- Sudden introduction of a new family member
- Traumatic event
- Seizure disorders
- Genetic predisposition
What didn’t cause your dogs separation anxiety -
- Sleeping in bed with you
- Too much attention/affection
- Eating from the table
- Being allowed on the couch
- Too much attention when coming home or leaving
Just tell me how to fix it!
There is hope! While separation anxiety is complicated and can be time consuming to treat, it can be helped. No other behavioral issue has the impact on the household that separation anxiety does. My clients often feel trapped in their homes like prisoners, isolated from friends and family, guilty for leaving, worried about what they will return to.
To successfully start to heal our dogs need to learn slowly, through gradual desensitization. We teach them that coming and going, and coming and going (always at a rate they can handle) is boring. The process is fairly straightforward, though not always easy, which is why trainers like myself and the other CSAT’s exist. We are specially educated under the amazing Malena DeMartini, who is the worlds expert in treating separation issues in dogs. It is an easily misunderstood disorder in dogs, and many (well intentioned) trainers often give advice that may delay if not hurt the process.
If you think your dog is suffering, please get help.
If you know your dog is suffering, please get help.
If you've tried other things that haven't worked, please get help.
If you've given up ever leaving your dog alone, please get help.
There is hope.
And if you need me and would like to work 1-1, I'm here for you!
Thank you -
CSAT - CPDT-KA