A dog who is suffering with canine separation problems is a distressing situation, both for the dog and for the guardians who love their dog and want them to be happy. Dogs are a social animal, and being left alone is not something that comes naturally to them. They need to learn, preferably as young puppies, that being alone is not something they need to fear.
Common signs of canine separation problems include:
- Vocalisation. Dogs suffering with separation anxiety may bark, whine, or howl. This can often be the first sign of canine separation problems, if a neighbour mentions that the dog is frequently noisy while their guardian is out.
- Destructive behaviours, such as chewing or digging when left show the dog is anxious and cannot cope with being left. They may also try to dig or chew their way out of and escape from the area in which they are confined.
- Inappropriate toileting. If a dog has perfect housetraining but toilets in the house when left, this is a sign of canine separation problems.
- Pacing. Some dogs may move around the house in fixed patterns, following specific paths. This kind of repetitive stereotypical movement is a sign of distress.
- Showing signs of anxiety when the guardian or family are preparing to leave the house.
How To Help The Dog
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.