Some guardians who do not realise that canine separation problems may be an issue can think that the inappropriate toileting, noise, and destructiveness are the sign of a badly behaved or lack of training. If the behaviours are only shown when the dog is left alone and not when their guardian and family are home, they are the result of separation anxiety.
A number of things can prompt the development of separation anxiety. These include:
- Not taught that it is ok to be alone as a puppy.
- A change of residence – for example moving home.
- A change in the makeup of the family, a new family member joining or one leaving.
- A change in the dog or household’s schedule.
- A change in guardian, family, or caregiver. This may be because of surrender to a rescue, or rehoming.
The best way to deal with canine separation problems is to avoid them becoming an issue in the first place. Puppies can be taught to stay alone safely for very short periods from a young age. Give them something nice to lick or chew and ensure they are in a safe area, and move in and out of the room so that they know you will be coming back, and are never left long enough to become distressed. As they become used to the idea, the length of time they are in a room alone can increase.
To help mild cases of separation anxiety we can use counterconditioning to create a good association in the dog’s mind with being left alone. Give the dog something tasty like a lick mat or Kong stuffed with really nice food, which can be frozen to make it last longer, and be sure not to leave them alone too long in the early stages. As the dog comes to realise that good things happen when they are alone, they will be less anxious.
For moderate or severe canine separation problems, further behaviour modification is needed. Because of the capacity for extreme mental distress to the dog, in these cases it is best to engage the services of a suitably qualified and experienced canine behaviour professional for help and advice.