Home Alone- Understanding Separation Anxiety in Primitive Dogs
When you come home, do you walk into your house to find that your dog has ripped something up or soiled the floor? This could be separation anxiety. Many owners come home to find that their dog has destroyed something, and they punish their dog for bad behavior. Punishing the dog for an action they completed in the past does more harm than good. The dog does not remember doing the bad behavior and they learn that when their owner comes home, they may be punished for what the dog perceives as no reason. The unpredictability of the owner’s return leads to greater anxiety, increasing the likelihood of the undesirable behavior.
Dogs show their distress about owners leaving in numerous ways. It is very important to pay attention to bad behavior while you are not home, because it is likely fueled by anxiety.
These are some indications that your dog may have isolation distress/separation anxiety:
- Following owner around the house
- Destroying household items
- Urinating/defecating in home or crate
- Barking/ howling
- Inducing bodily harm to themselves (biting crate so hard that they crack teeth, make their paws bloody by trying to scratch their way out of the house)
This list is ordered from what is commonly seen as mild to severe. If left untreated, many dogs will escalate to more frequent manifestations of anxiety driven behavior. As Malena DeMartini-Price, author of Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs says, “Separation anxiety in a dog is the equivalent of a full-blown panic attack in a human being due to the anxiety and fear of being left alone.” The dog experiences (usually intense) fear and anxiety about the owner’s departure without the ability to reason that they will be home later. It is treatable, but it requires consistent effort by everyone in the household. To overcome separation anxiety, you will need to desensitize/counter-condition exit cues, practice planned exits (and then not go anywhere), and in some cases to be able to get the dog’s anxiety level down to a manageable level, they will need to go onto medication.
One of the main aspects to treating separation anxiety is paying attention to when the dog is becoming anxious. Dogs will vigilantly cue into what you do before you leave, and you may notice that they may start following you and panting after you put your shoes on and grabbed your keys. Once you find what alerts your dog to your departure, you will need to practice doing that sequence and then not leaving so that the actions/objects eventually don’t mean that you are leaving every time. If you have a puppy, it is beneficial to do this as a preventative measure with them regardless of whether they show signs of anxiety.
Why do dogs get separation anxiety?
- Suddenly being left alone after long periods of not being left alone
- Moving to a new home
- Death of a family member or pet
- Change in schedule
- Old age
- Genetics – some breeds are more prone than others
If you suspect that your dog has isolation distress or separation anxiety, it is crucial that you contact a knowledgeable trainer or veterinary behaviorist as soon as possible. The longer that the dog is subjected to feeling anxious, the harder it is to work on.
If you have any questions about whether your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety or want to know more about it, jump onto our Facebook group to discuss!