Does Your Dog Suffer From Separation-Related Problems?
A range of separation-related behaviour problems, including destructive behaviour, vocalisation and house soiling, are the most common behaviour disorders that prompt owners to arrange a behavioural consultation. They may occur in partial, or complete absence of their owner and can have different underlying motivations such as fear, anxiety, over-attachment or a lack of appropriate stimulation.
In some cases, these problem behaviours, although similar in presentation, may be completely unrelated to separation from the owners. The dog may be bored and use the owner’s absence as an opportunity for mischief, or the dog may be reacting to outside stimuli, which becomes more salient when home alone.
Separation-related problems generally fall into 3 categories:
1) Separation Anxiety
This may develop if a dog forms a very strong bond to a family member(s). The dog is likely to experience distress when access to their attachment figure(s) is prevented and are likely to follow the attachment figure(s), frequently asking for attention and becoming distressed if the attachment figure(s) shows signs of leaving. In most cases, distress is seen as soon as the owner leaves, or within the first 30 minutes of the owners departure.
2) Separation-Related Anxiety
This may develop if a dog becomes fearful of an event that occurs when at home alone e.g. thunderstorms, fireworks and burglaries. The dog then becomes anxious that the same fearful event may occur again, when it is left at home alone.
3) Other Separation-Related Problems
- Boredom e.g. The dog may be relaxed and settled for the first few hours but then start to look for things to do for entertainment. This can lead to behaviours such as chewing and scavenging. It is therefore important to try to provide mental stimulation for the dog and avoid leaving it for long periods of time.
- Reactivity to outside stimuli such as passing people and dogs e.g. The dog may have been heard barking and when you return the dog may have scratched at windows/doors. It is therefore important to remove access to the areas of the house where the dog can either hear, or see outside stimuli. Leaving a radio on and providing mental stimulation can also help to reduce the salience of the outside stimuli.
Taking video footage will help you to determine what your dog gets up to when it's home alone and whether it is coping. If the video footage shows your dog displaying any signs of stress such as barking, pacing, toileting, panting or trying to escape, or the dog seems more withdrawn and doesn’t want to eat or drink, then it may be unhappy about being left alone.
If there are any concerns that your dog is unhappy about being left alone, a consultation with a companion animal behaviourist should be made.
Please keep your eyes out for Part 2, 'Common Causes Of Separation-Related Problems And How To Try To Avoid Them.'