Separation Anxiety In Dogs

Does My Cockapoo Have Separation Anxiety?

One of many conditions which dogs can suffer from is separation anxiety. Unfortunately, your canine friend may not react well when you leave him on his own and he may exhibit what could be perceived as bad behavior as a result of his anxiety. Typical behavior associated with separation anxiety includes howling, whining or barking. He may also scratch at doors and windows or chew destructively on furniture, perhaps attempting to be reunited with you. Some dogs may involuntarily urinate or defecate, even though they may have been house-trained.

Examine your dog's behavior and consider whether he may potentially have a problem with separation anxiety. Does his behavior alter soon after you leave and when he is left alone entirely? When you are home, do you find that your dog follows you between rooms and around the house or garden? When you return from being out, does your dog display a frantic greeting? Does the behavior occur each time he is alone, or is it only during extended periods of absence? As you prepare to leave the house, perhaps packing your bag for work, putting on your coat and picking up your car keys, do these actions cause your dog to react with depression, anxiety or excitement? Considering your dog's behavior in response to these situations may indicate whether he may suffer from separation anxiety.

Why Does My Cockapoo Have Separation Anxiety?

We do not fully understand what causes separation anxiety in some dogs and not in others. Each dog is different, having a different personality and different behavioral triggers. If your cockapoo seems to suffer from anxiety when he is alone, it is important for you to understand that his destructive behavior and soiling of the house are not deliberate acts on his part. He is not trying to punish you for leaving him alone, he is panicking in response to his anxiety.

Separation anxiety may be triggered for the first time in some dogs for a number of reasons. For example, a dog which is used to having continual human contact may be left alone for the first time. A dog may experience, from his standpoint, a traumatic event, such as time spent in a boarding kennel or shelter. There may be a change in your family's circumstances, such as the loss or arrival of another pet, or grown up children leaving home and so your dog may experience a sense of loss.

What Should I Do?

Minor separation anxiety is best treated by reducing the emphasis of it. For instance, when you return home do not immediately make a fuss over your dog, even if you know he may have been anxious. Ignore him for a few minutes, before greeting him calmly and petting him. Whilst you are away from home, leave something with your dog such as an item of clothing which smells of you, perhaps a T-shirt which you may have slept in. He will appreciate the familiar sense of smell whilst he is alone. Reinforce to your dog a verbal and visual signal to indicate that you will be returning. Consider it a safety cue which you say when leaving, but which will indicate to your dog that you will be coming back. In some circumstances, you may wish to look into purchasing a calming product designed to reduce fearfulness or anxiety in dogs.

As well as using the suggestions above, training your dog to "sit" and "stay" will assist your situation. Have your dog "sit" and "down-stay" and commend him for his obedience. Whilst he is "staying", leave him alone in the room for a short period of time. Remember to reward him on your return a little while later for his obedience. Continue to train him in this way, extending the amount of time you are absent from the room. In time he will learn that he can sit quietly and calmly whilst you are not present.

If your dog exhibits destructive behavior, you may find it beneficial to create a "safe place" within your home to limit the extent of destruction to your home. Remember that the designated safe place should not be overly restrictive and your dog should not feel confined. A room with natural light and a window is ideal since distractions may be visible to your dog, as opposed to complete isolation and relative darkness. Make sure that the safe place also contains some of your dog's favorite toys so that he can be occupied. Leaving items of dirty laundry will also assist in reducing your dog's anxiety, since he will be able to smell familiar odors of you even when you are not present.

Handling separation anxiety and training your dog out of his panic response behavior will take time. In the meantime, you may wish to consider some short term solutions. Discuss the behavior with your veterinarian and ask him about anti-anxiety drugs. You do not want your dog to be sedated each time you are away from home, and medicating your dog may not seem ideal, but neither is the misery of separation anxiety. Some medication may be used just to reduce his anxiety levels in general. Provided he has not previously exhibited a negative response to being left in a kennel, you may wish to take your cockapoo to a kennel when you need to be absent for some time. Some kennels offer day care facilities, so that your dog will not be completely alone for even short periods of time. Friends and family may be able to help by "baby-sitting" your dog whilst you are out, or by having him to stay with them when you are away.  If your circumstances permit, you may consider taking your dog with you to work, so that he is not left at home by himself.

What Should I NOT Do?

The following things will NOT help with your dog's separation anxiety.

A Second Pet: An anxious dog is not necessarily a dog in need of a canine companion. Separation anxiety is because of separation from you, his owner, not just because he is on his own.

Punishments: Punishing your dog will not help him to deal with his separation anxiety. His destructive behavior and soiling of the house are not deliberate, they are because he is panicking in response to your absence.

Obedience Training: Obedience training is always a valuable asset to any dog and owner, but behavior associated with separation anxiety is not disobedient behavior in itself.

Background Noise: Although it won't hurt to try it, having background noises like a radio or television on during your absence may not assist your dog's anxiety, since those noises are not associated with you. Your cockapoo is more than intelligent enough to realize when you are and aren't home!

If you are unable to alleviate your dog's anxiety you may wish to consult with a professional who specializes in animal behavior for assistance with your dog's issues.

2 comments:

Lindsay said...

Excellent resource.

I usually recommend that people exercise their dogs - a lot - if the dog is showing anxiety when left alone. Nine times out of 10 the dog doesn't have true separation anxiety, but the dog is just underexercise, untrained and bored.

But if the dog has true anxiety, I've found that no amount of exercise will help. The dog goes into a panicked state of mind and will need lots and lots of conditioning and patience.

the Editor said...

Thanks, Lindsay. Good advice!