One of the most common behaviour issues that dog owners seek help for is separation anxiety problems. When working in veterinary practice we are often told by an anxious owner that their dog doesn’t like to be left and its then quite obvious once the dog is taken away from the owner. However there are some dogs out there who become stressed and anxious once they leave there owners side but no one is aware of this. What does your dog do when you leave them in the house to go and do your shopping?? Are they relaxed and comfortable and secure in the knowledge that you will return soon? Or do they continuously pace around watching and waiting for the keys to jangle back in the door. Sadly some dogs are so distressed that they may vocalise, urinate or defaecate, chew up objects or even try to dig their way out. As you can imagine this is a self-perpetuating problem that can cause stress and heartache to the owner as well as put the dog at risk of injury. The sad truth is that many owners actually make the problem worse by never leaving the dog on its own and so it never gets to learn how to cope with being away from them.
So what can we do to help our canine friends when it comes to feeling secure when being left alone? The most obvious time to start to help them with this process is when they are young. Puppies have a phase when they are between 6-13 weeks of age when they need to be slowly exposed to different people and environments. This must be in a controlled manner as to not over do it!! So this is the ideal time to give the puppy something to do ie chewing a food filled puppy kong whilst you venture to other areas of the house. When your puppy sees you returning soon after they will soon realise that you are coming back when you walk away. Slowly start to increase the time you are leaving them but try not to make a big thing about it. Hopefully soon you will be able to extend it to going outside and into the car etc. Don’t be tempted to start taking your puppy everywhere with you as to not leave them on their own. Start as you mean to go on and get them used to spending time away from you.
Sadly many of the common behaviour issues that dogs have problems with manifest from them reading our body language and signals. When it comes to separation issues your dog will read your signs way before you’ve even left the house……the first signal maybe you putting your shoes on, or picking your bag up. The switch then turns on that means…’oh no my mum is going out, I hate being on my own!’ and so their anxiety levels start to rise. Then by the time you have walked out of the door there is nothing that can be done to help, your dog will remain in that high anxiety state until you return home. It is never too late to help a dog who has these kind of issues and so never feel ashamed to ask for help. You can slowly work together with them to help them feel more secure and accepting of being left alone. My latest rescue dog Dylan was an ex street dog and he sadly had separation issues when I got him. I worked closely with several local trainers/behaviourists and fortunately with my time I put into helping him he is actually fine now. Sadly it isn’t an overnight fix but it certainly can be done with time and effort
Unfortunately some dogs out there who have been mistreated may have developed separation issues through no fault of their own. These will always be harder cases to help and so it is important that advice is received through the correct channels. I am happy to give some basic help & advice relating to separation problems and I can also put you in touch with local trainers.