A relatively common condition, separation anxiety occurs when the owner or guardian has left or is about to leave. It results in unwanted behaviour such as barking, howling, chewing, digging, urinating, defecating, coprophagia (eating of feces) and attempts to escape. Although all of these can be signs of incomplete house training, with separation anxiety, the dog will also display signs of stress, anxiousness and sometimes simply depression. When the condition is severe it can lead to extensive household damage notably around exit points like doors and windows. Injury to the dog is not uncommon as it makes extreme attempts to escape.
Prior to the owner leaving the dog will often pace, whine and may try and prevent the owner from leaving. Once the owner has left barking often ensues shortly after - often within minutes. Upon returning home the dog will display extreme levels of excitement and may take some time to calm down.
What is the Root Cause of Separation Anxiety?
Although inconclusive, evidence suggests the loss of an important person or persons to a dog early in her life might be a major cause. Research indicates dogs adopted from shelters have a higher tendency to develop and suffer from separation anxiety than those who have remained with a single owner since puppyhood. Other potential causes include: change in schedule, change in residence, and change in household personnel.
When addressing potential behavioural issues it is always important to check with a vet and first rule out any medical problems. For example incontinence, whereby a dog "leaks" or voids his bladder might be the culprit. Possible causes of incontinence include urinary tract infection, bladder stones, weak sphincter, unbalanced hormones after spaying, diabetes, kidney stones, Cushing’s disease, neurological issues, abnormalities of genitalia and certain types of medication.
Before treating for separation anxiety the following behavior problems also need to be ruled out: submissive or excitement urination, incomplete house training, urine marking, juvenile destruction, boredom, excessive barking or howling triggered by fear and guarding.
Avoid the Following
Separation anxiety is not caused by disobedience. Any attempt to correct this by either punishment or scolding will most likely make the condition worse. Anxious dogs find it extremely challenging to grasp what is being asked of them and may not be able to follow commands when stress levels are heightened. The goal is reduce the anxiousness and achieve a calmer state of mind. How this can be done will be discussed in part 2.
At Hong Kong Canine we offer private lessons for dogs with behavioural issues. Lessons are held either in-home and/or at our training facility. We work with all breeds and sizes.