The information on this page is for
educational purposes only and should never
be used as a substitute for seeing your
own veterinarian, with your pet, for a
complete examination and individually
WHAT IS IT?
Sometimes our pets love us too
much - the fear of being separated from us becomes overwhelming.
Some people believe it's because they feel responsible for our safety and
when we are not in their sight, we might be in danger. Others believe it
is the sadness of separation.
Whatever the underlying cause, dogs
suffering from SA have a dramatic anxiety response usually within 30 minutes of
the owner's departure. Dogs can cry, chew furniture, tear down blinds,
urinate, defecate, self-mutilate, dig, and scratch at windows, doors and walls.
They do this out of a sense of panic, NOT out of a conscious effort to punish
the owner for leaving them.
Typical dogs suffering from SA
display the panic with every departure - short or long. These are
probably the dogs that follow you room to room around the house when you're
home, and that watch you carefully as you prepare to leave. When you
return, they are likely to greet you with an exaggerated excitement. Many
of these dogs dislike being outside unless their owner is out with them.
WHY MY DOG?
Some of the predisposing causes
of SA are thought to be:
- Spending time continuously with your dog,
not leaving the pet alone for some time each day from the beginning of
- A reaction to an unsettling event such as
boarding, rehoming, being lost.
- Changes in the family’s routine such as a
change in work schedule, a move to a new home, or the addition of a new pet or
person in the home.
- Behaviors by the owner that foster
dependency - you must be alpha!
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Milder cases of SA often respond
well to the techniques discussed below. Severe cases can take time and
patience, and can be quite challenging. Remember each dog is an individual
and you must try different things - some might work, others might not.
Avoid eye contact or
interaction with your dog for 30 minutes before leaving him and for the first
30 minutes after you return. Basically, that means IGNORE him.
Even if he's jumping up, wagging hard, bumping you... IGNORE him. Pay no
attention to him until he is calm, quiet and no longer trying to get your
attention. If he's in a crate, let him out but ignore him.
Analyze your own departure
routine - gather keys, put on coat, check the kitchen, pick up purse, say
something to your dog, walk out a specific door. Then perform these
things in front of your dog without actually leaving. This sends
confusing signals and will begin to defuse some of the building anxiety they
feel as they watch your preparations. For example, pick up your keys and
purse but then sit down. Leave the house through a different door.
Certainly ignore your dog. Doing this over and over should relieve your
dog of a lot of the initial apprehension.
Stage very short departures
(literally seconds long, in some cases) so you return before any anxiety is
manifested. Walk out the door and immediately return. Continue to
ignore your dog. Gradually - very slowly - extend the length of your
absence as you see acceptance of your absence. If there are regressions,
you have to shorten the departure time again. If you can leave for 30
minutes without signs of anxiety, you can usually then increase your departure
time in longer increments. If you can get to 90 minutes without a panic,
then you can very likely leave for any length of time.
In very severe cases,
anti-anxiety medications can help a dog transition into accepting your
absence. Check with your vet. These medications are not to be feared. If
your dog's problem is not responding to the behavior modification techniques
mentioned here, adding an anxiety-relieving medication may make a tremendous difference.
WHAT SHOULDN'T I DO
Don't impulsively adopt another
pet. It may or may not help, depending on the origin of your dog's
problem. If the problem is loneliness, it might. If it's true SA,
it probably won't help.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Most dogs can be helped through
this issue. If you persevere, you will probably make significant progress.
If you get discouraged, you can also seek professional help. I recommend
the Appalachian Veterinary Specialists practice in Knoxville. Dr Shull and
her associates are excellent and fully qualified to help both with SA and
with other behavior issues such as aggression, noise phobias,
obsessive/compulsive disorders, etc. You will need a
simple referral from your veterinarian. There are only 37 veterinarians
certified in animal behavior in the US, so we are fortunate indeed to have one
haven't already read it, a book worth reading (several times) is The
Dog Listener by Jan Fennell, available online through Amazon and other
retailers. This insightful book guides you through a non-violent
peaceful method of training and relating to your dogs, and the techniques
described have been very helpful for many SA dogs.
very helpful is another book called Leader of the Pack by Nancy
Baer and Steve Duno. Again, the emphasis is on understanding why
dogs behave the way they do and what behaviors WE do that send the wrong
signals to our pets resulting in dominance issues, SA, barking, etc.
This book is available through Grassmere Animal Hospital, as well as on
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