There’s a common myth that when a dog tries to interact with you as you get home, you should ignore him. This is often applied to dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, but the effects of ignoring your dog can be devastating.
(Author note: I’m not saying here that you should adhere to your dog’s every whim, that can be exhausting, I know this because I have a few OCD issues and do in fact bounce to attention if a dog wants something. That’s not how everyone should live though- as it’s pretty tiring at the very least)
What I am saying though is that dogs who are ignored when you come home, particularly if they suffer with separation anxiety can become depressed. Despite people still telling us that dogs don’t have the same psychological capacity as people, clinical depression is not inherently human. Dogs can get it too. In fact, treatment for canine depression is pretty much the same as human depression, but poor dog knowledge doesn’t only disregard it as a possibility, it can also cause it.
Whilst we don’t know a great deal about how dogs feel, because we are not dogs, we do know that they feel and if we are capable of empathy, we can’t deny that they can show mental distress.
Signs of depression in dogs are non-specific but can include:
· Appetite loss.
· Sleep pattern disruptions.
· Decrease in interest and energy levels.
· Pain and stiffness.
· Loss of interest in activities.
· Emotional blankness.
These general signs can be indicative of all sorts of changes. We should certainly ensure our veterinarian rules out infection, physical changes and general physical illness. Karen L. Overall tells us that any dog that seems to be sad and loses all joy in life fulfils the criteria for depression. She also tells us that the age-old advice of ignoring a dog who needs to interact with us, to deal with their own anxiety or emotional needs can cause them serious clinical depression. Ignoring a dog that has suffered with severe anxiety whilst alone – until he gives up trying to interact - is unkind and counterproductive because it actually adds to their anxiety. Talking gently and kindly to the dog with the aim of soothing them without over fussing is a much fairer approach.
As part of a scientific and carefully presented behaviour modification program, gentle and empathetic greetings are a necessary part of helping your dog deal with Separation Anxiety and get over it in the long-term.
Reference: Manual of Clinical Behavioural Medicine for Dogs and Cats, Overall K, Elsevier, Canada, 2013.