By Rangnath Tamboli* and Saba Poonawala**
While the words ‘separation anxiety in dogs’ are almost trending now, do you actually know what it is?
It is a behaviour in which a dog shows visible stress levels. These can be excessive barking when owner leaves and the dog is alone for some time, scratching the door to get out of the room, excessive and destructive chewing of objects around the dog, pooping and urination, excessive salivation and panting, and excessive whining.
Imagine a situation in which the dog is always used to be around its owner, and then one day the owner has to go out to the mall. The dog, in this case, goes crazy without having the owner in sight and begins to exhibit the above behaviour.
So what are the main reasons for separation anxiety?
1) The owner has always been around the dog and never taught the dog that being left alone is perfectly okay and normal. In such a case, in the absence of owner, the dog doesn’t know what to do and has a panic attack. The owner should always make going out ‘normal’.
2) A traumatic experience that the dog went through. Many abandoned dogs face separation anxiety. For example, if your dog ran out of the house and was luckily found after a few days, don’t be surprised if this dog faces separation anxiety. The next time, even if you go to another room, he may follow you and ensure that you’re always in his sight.
3) When a family member leaves the house for good. For example, if primary owner of the dog is a young child who has left for higher studies to a different city, the dog will, in many cases, face separation anxiety. This is because, for the dog, that person was his entire world and now this is not the case anymore. It therefore leaves the dog sad and confused.
4) Constant re-homing of a dog also can cause separation anxiety. For example, if a dog is put up for adoption and goes to a home where owners can’t give him the life he deserves, they decide to re-home the dog. In this case, the dog moves from one family structure to another. Many times, it is re-homed again. Here too, the dog loses confidence as constant re-homing leaves it confused and depressed.
Does your dog face any of these issues? It’s high time that you solve it. And here is how you do so:
To start with, consult your vet to rule out any medical issues that your dog could have. Once you have this out of the way, it’s time to have the treatment plan in action. Understand when the anxiety is situational and what the triggers are. Make a complete note of the situation after gauging at it and studying the dog’s behaviour for a few days. Here, mark the smallest changes in the dog’s behaviour.
You will need a combination of bringing in a trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques so that your dog is given a base for the expected positive behaviour and then you need to follow the same.
For example, you know that your dog whines every time you leave the house. So start with keeping him away from you in the same space by simply blocking it and giving him a bone to chew so that his mind is distracted. Do this for a short period of time like 5 minutes. Repeat for a week or two until you find this a success. Slowly increase the time of being away from your dog from 5 minutes to 10, 15, 20, and so on. Now after a couple of weeks, do that same thing, but go out of sight from the dog, perhaps in another room. Build on this routine with a small period of time to a bigger period like in exercise. Slowly shift this to you going outside the house for a short period and gradually for a longer period of time. Keep in mind, separation anxiety can be triggered if it’s not handled properly. So make sure to have a good trainer who uses only positive reinforcement techniques.
In many cases, your dog may have a serious anxiety problem. The vet in this case may have to prescribe medication to help reduce it.
Get your dog to perfect his home obedience. A dog takes time to build trust with the owner and establishing a good and positive bond is imperative to have a confident dog. Work on home obedience and establish rules with your pooch. This will go a long way in reducing problems.
Avoid the trigger problems. For example, if you know that there is a particular dog that your dog doesn’t enjoy being around, don’t force it to do so. Avoid that dog. Encourage it to make new friends.
Exercise your dog. This goes a great deal in working on mental and physical stimulation, thereby reducing a lot of stress related problems.
Socializing your dog from an early age goes a long way in curing stress related problems. It’s fun for them too.
Make sure that your dog is given a healthy and balanced diet. A diet deficit in nutrients can lead to a dog with problems.
*A Canine Expert and Trainer of Trainers.
**A Canine Behaviourist and Trainer.