Separation anxiety is a severely distressed state in dogs related to the dog being excessively or overly-bonded to its owners. It is manifested in a variety of behaviours only seen when the dog doesn’t have access to its owner.
- Life experiences - such as, a change of owners, significant changes in environment or routine or time spent as a stray or in a shelter or pound.
Separation anxiety is no more prevalent in crossbred or purebred dogs.
The signs of separation anxiety include one or more of the following:
When the dog doesn’t have assess to its owner...
- Barking, whining, howling- this is a serious, and often under estimated, cause of barking
- Soiling in the house, urinating or defecating at entry and exit points as the result of panic
- Frantic chewing, scratching and digging behaviour, often at entry and exit points
- Self mutilation
- Salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea
In the presence of the owner the dog…
- Greets the owner excessively
- Bolt to the water bowl on the owner’s return as it hasn’t eaten or drunk all day in the owners absence
- "Shadows" the owner
- Demands attention
- May exhibit signs of anxiety as the owner prepares to depart
- May attempt to hold or "mouth" the owner as they depart
Keeping a diary or using a video or a sound-activated recording device will help identify if and when behaviours are occurring and for how long. They can also provide a baseline to which you can compare recordings during the treatment programme. Owners can leave for short periods (15 minutes) and return to observe what has occurred.
- Encourage relaxation- see Help Dogs to be Alone
- Reduce intense attachment to the owner - see Providing Stability and Security
- Desensitise dog to departures and counter-conditioning- see Small Steps Towards a Final Goal
- Enriching the environment- see Dogs with Energy
- Medication - Clomicalm used in combination with behaviour modification means dogs get better two to three times faster.
- Avoid sudden changes in the dog’s routine; avoid harsh correction techniques or punishment.
The type of behaviour modification will depend on the severity of the clinical signs. A good rule of thumb is to do no more than the dog can easily cope with and always finish on a good note.
Start with relaxation and other short term strategies then gradually build up to a desensitisation programme once the dog is more confident, obedient and relaxed.
For the successful resolution of this problem, treatment takes time, effort and commitment on the owner’s and the clinic’s part. Generally, the presence of another dog does not help minimise this anxiety as it appears that these dogs need human company, not the company of another dog or cat.