by Maggi Burt CPDT-KA
Separation Anxiety is a disorder of panic and distress at being away from an attachment figure. It can have varying levels of severity and can manifest in different ways. If there is destructive behaviour it is often found around areas of entrances and exits like doors or windows. There can be self injurious behaviour, extreme escape behaviours, ongoing vocalization, housetraining issues and even vomiting in severe cases. In mild cases it may be only vocalization or anorexia. Some will also self soothe by chewing on items that smell like their owners…that would be the shoes, cell phone, television remote and things like underwear or socks.
What is Separation Anxiety not? It is not “not enough exercise” though that can be a factor in some cases. It is not a “lack of leadership”. Most things aren’t, but that is another subject altogether. It is not “bad behaviour”.
It is a panic attack.
Your dog is not thinking about punishing you by chewing your shoes or tearing down the blinds, your dog is not thinking about anything but getting to where you are. It is also not boredom, teenage chewing phases or general misbehaviour. Those are all issues, yes, but they are not separation anxiety.
How can you help? Engage a trainer experienced and knowledgeable in dealing with separation anxiety, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) is well qualified to assist. There are also great books available that can help you put together a training plan to help your dog. Malena DeMartini’s book “Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs” is invaluable to understanding the process.
Make sure your dog has adequate amounts of both exercise and rest. Most dogs should be sleeping 16 hours a day…not running for five hours. Over-exercise can in some cases increase the stress levels of the dog while hiding them under physical exhaustion.
Do mental work with your dog. Feed them from a food toy, do some trick training or take a class, let them have walks that are mostly sniffing and less running…all proven to reduce stress levels and help them out mentally. If you use a daycare, choose one that has rest and quiet periods as part of their daily routine.
Speak to your veterinarian about pharmaceutical assistance if the symptoms are severe. This is a health emergency and medication can be a huge help in relieving the panic.
Ensure your dog does not have ongoing issues that may be related to the anxiety, like pain or noise sensitivity.
The last step is to take care of YOU. People with dogs who have SA and other anxiety disorders have a hard time. An occasional dog sitter so you can go out for a walk, visit a friend, or see a movie can be a lifesaver. You love your dog. You deserve a break. Take one.