Research suggests that 8 out of 10 of dogs will find it hard to cope when left alone, but half of these won't show any obvious signs, so it can be very easy for owners to miss. Without effective home alone training, many puppies and dogs are at risk from developing separation anxiety, especially when they are used to having their family around so much. Lots of 'lockdown puppies' may never have been left alone, and that is something that we should really try and address sooner rather than later. So as we start to prepare for life in the 'new normal', now is also the time to think about how you are going to help your puppy or dog cope when they are home alone.
Separation anxiety is a much used term but what do actually is it? Put simply it is a suite of problem behaviours (separation related behaviours) which happen when they are left alone (or if they do happen at other times, they are more intense and last longer when their human is not there). Dogs that have separation anxiety are not 'naughty', they are dogs that are frightened and panic when alone!
Typically the big signs of separation anxiety include:
- Excessive barking, whining, crying and howling
- Chewing or destroying walls, floors and doors, paticularly around entrance/exit points such as doors and windows
- Frantic attempts to escape, sometimes to the point of self-harm
- Defecating and urinating (especially if they are fully housetrained and don't do this at any other time)
- Getting anxious before the owner leaves
It is super important to undertand that your dog does not have to display all of these behaviours to have separation anxiety.
Other more subtle signs could be related to separation anxiety include:
- Whining and low level crying
- Hiding or withdrawing
- Shaking, cowering or trembling
- Being hypervigilant
- Self mutilation
- Destroying things when left
- Being unable to eat
- Negative body language when getting ready to be left - ears tucked, wide eys, ears pinned back
Separation anxiety can affect any dog and it's often difficult to understand why it develops. Owners are often told that it's their fault for spoiling their dog - don't feel guilty it's nothing you did or didn't do. There is some evidence to suggest that some breeds (gun dogs) and mixes (cockapoos and cavapoos) may be more susceptible, but often we will never get to the bottom of why a dog has separation anxiety...and actually that's not really that important in treating it.
While you may want to know "why?", it's far more beneficial to accept the situation and focus on helping and supporting your dog to cope when you are not around. We know from the evidence available that the problem is highly unlikely to go away on it's own and your dog will not "get over it" by repeatedly being left by themselves - in fact this is likely to have to opposite effect and result in making them even more fearful!
Separation anxiety training is absolutely necessary to help those pups and dogs who are unable to cope alone, and while this training needs patience and cannot be rushed, separation anxiety is largely treatable. When treating a dog with separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s anxiety by teaching them it's okay to be alone and this should be done by putting in place a training plan that is tailored to your dog.
You may think that your dog doesn't have separation anxiety, but are you sure? It's more common than you think for dog parents not to realise their dog has got separation anxiety, in fact they may only become aware of this when a neighbout tells them that their dog is barking all day! So even if you think your dog is happy left alone, every once in a while check for signs that your dog may be distressed by filming your dog whilst you're out.
If you think that your dog has developed Separation Anxiety it's vital you get support asap to help you and your dog, Karen has support packages available to help you with this.
Prevention is most certainly better than the cure and home alone training for pupies, and also dogs not used to being left alone, is absolutely critical.
Join our Separation Anxiety and Home Alone Champions facebook group if you'd like information and support with this.
***This information is for general guidance and is not a substitute for individual advice from a suitably qualified professional.