Common Causes Of Separation-Related Problems And How To Try To Avoid Them. Part 2
It is underestimated just how many dogs lack the necessary coping mechanism to deal with being left alone. In the UK, approximately 5,000,000 dogs are left for 3 hours or more and many are believed to suffer from some form of separation-related problem. Increasing our understanding of these problems is therefore essential.
Separation-related problems can arise at any time in a dog’s life. In some cases, the dog may have shown separation-related problems since puppyhood, while for others the onset maybe associated with changes to its lifestyle. Some of the common causes of separation problems include:
- Puppies that do not get used to being left alone.
- Changes in the household, such as different work hours.
- Changes to the family composition, such as the death of a canine companion.
- Sudden removal of company after intense companionship, for example after a long holiday or maternity leave.
- Exposure to a fearful event when home alone.
- Age and illness resulting in the dog becoming generally more anxious and less able to use its coping mechanisms when left alone.
Although some causes of separation-related problems are unlikely and difficult to prepare for, such as a burglary, many of the other causes are more easily avoided:
- One of the most fundamental is getting puppies used to being left alone. Dogs that receive constant companionship, may fail to learn to how to cope with solitude and this can lead to distress and inactivity, or panic, vocalisation and destruction when left alone. Once a puppy arrives home, it is therefore important that once they are settled, they are left for gradually increasing periods of time. This should be done slowly from seconds, to minutes, before progressing to a couple of hours. To start with it may help to leave the puppy when it is tired after a walk or play session, ensuring it has had the opportunity to toilet and leaving it with something positive to do such as a stuffed Kong, or treat ball.
- If the puppy is being introduced into a household with other dogs, it is still essential to provide opportunities for the puppy to be left alone. This is to ensure that the puppy does not become reliant on the presence of the other dogs. Even walking the dogs separately (also very beneficial for training a new pup!) and having separate feeding rooms/playing times can help to ensure the puppy develops into a confident and independent individual.
- In order to prepare a dog for changes to their routine, or the length of time they are left, it is essential to try to make these changes as gradually as possible. If moving home, it is often best to think of your dog as a new puppy and once again ensure that they are first relaxed and settled in their new environment, before leaving them. A gradual process of building up the time they are left, should then be put into place.
- To try to avoid dogs becoming fearful of noises when left alone, it is important to expose them to day to day sounds in your presence first, especially if they are either a new puppy, rescue dog or you have recently moved. To do this, introduce the sounds quietly, gradually increasing the dog’s exposure. Examples of this include; allowing a dog to become comfortable with the washing machine before shutting them in a room with one, or ensuring a puppy has experienced the boiler firing up (and associated bangs of the tank and pipes) before leaving them on the first day of colder weather.
- As well as the day to day sounds, unusual or unexpected sounds such as thunder storms or fireworks should also be introduced. This may not be as easy to set up but there specially formulated CD’s to help (www.soundtherapy4pets.com). Ideally if you know that there are likely to be loud or unexpected noises, your dog should not be 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.