Have you ever owned a dog who’s suffered from separation anxiety? It’s hard isn’t it, knowing how best to help them. I haven’t until recently and it does change how you act.
Danny, our rescue dog is brilliant and his personality is such that all he wants to do is fit in. But he has terrible anxiety set off by fireworks, dogs barking nearby, in fact almost anything which disrupts his quiet state is met with a reaction. I’ve given up counting the number of times my cup of tea has gone flying in any and all directions as a result of an unexpected noise.
How much of this connects to his background we don’t know.
So, our home life has adapted and while we were working out how to help him cope I learnt about 5 of the most common myths about separation anxiety in dogs (and how if differs from separation distress) and hope what I learnt, with the help of Darren Baker at Pettura will help you too.
'There is no solution to a dog's separation anxiety, some dogs (or dog breeds) are just predisposed to it'
Darren tells me this is a common misconception, although some dogs or breeds might be considered ‘more likely’ to have such anxiety.
He says "There are lots of solutions out there that can really help your dog to keep calm during times of separation. As well as lots of handy hints and tips, calming aids for dogs can act quickly to help alleviate anxiety, much in the same way humans might take chamomile to ease stress.
"Our own Pettura Calming supplement for dogs, for example, helps to reduce stress and anxiety. It is a drug-free, vet-formulated liquid which combines valerian, chamomile, L-Tryptophan and ginger root to soothe our canine friends. It’s extremely easy to use too – just add a few pumps of the liquid to your dog’s food - and the best part is that it can get to work within just 15 minutes!"
We used this last year around fireworks season. We’re on our third bottle now, keeping handy for those ‘just in case’ days.
'You can't leave a dog with separation anxiety alone'
I am lucky that my three dogs, Danny, Christopher and Mia rarely spent lots of time alone and are often found roaming our offices enjoying any attention, or food, that comes their way. But when I do have to leave them alone, even for short periods of time I do feel guilty and I am not alone in this, I know lots of dog owners feel the same.
Darren tells us about some of the most common behaviours dogs can exhibit if they’re suffering from separation anxiety or distress. Identifying the difference between them could be crucial in how you help your dog to cope.
"Separation related behaviour can occur in the form of destructive behaviour, or barking for example, and can be distressful for both dog and owner alike. But it isn’t true that you can’t leave your dog alone.
"“Clearly every dog’s behaviour and actions are different and because of this there isn't a ‘one-size fits all’ solution, but the easiest way to avoid this behaviour occurring is to start leaving them for short periods, and gradually increase the time your dog is left alone over time.
"This helps to teach them that being alone in fact isn’t scary at all, and is simply a time for them to rest during your absence. You can also reward your dog when they are relaxed and calm, let them know and learn that this is good behaviour. As with anything when training your dog, it’s important to reinforce what you want.
"It should be noted that if separation anxiety is a real issue for your dog though, we would always recommend talking to a vet who can advise the best solution for you given your dog’s particular behaviour and needs."
'Building a close bond with your dog will cause separation anxiety'
Building a close bond with your dog is one of the best parts of sharing your life with a dog. Darren told us about some studies he’d read on this myth.
"There are numerous studies out there that have confirmed that such activities as sharing your sofa or bed were not associated with separation anxiety, so you absolutely shouldn’t be concerned about building a close bond with your dog!"
He continued, "It is worth noting though that this can depend on your dog’s existing behavior though. If they already suffer from such anxiety, then helping them learn to feel relaxed when they’re alone will be harder if you’re not even separated from them when you’re both sleeping!
"As a result, some experts recommend that you consider having a separate sleeping space, even if this is next to your bed initially. Try and get them used to not climbing onto your bed, gradually moving their bed further away from yours, and eventually ideally outside of the room altogether."
'Getting another dog will solve your dog's separation anxiety'
Not necessarily true.
Darren tells us it really depends on where your dog’s anxiety stems from as to whether or not this will or won’t be true for your dog.
When we adopted our rescue dog, Danny we already had two dogs. An older girl, Mia and a puppy, Christopher. We knew he had lived with another dog in kennels while in rescue but we hadn’t quite expected the close bond he and Chris would build. It’s the closest bond I’ve witnessed between any of my dogs. Ever.
Pettura’s expert Darren tells us there are different types of anxiety for example; ‘separation anxiety’ which we consider as our dogs being separated from a particular person(s), and ‘isolation distress’ which is where they simply don’t want to be left alone; and therefore could be comforted by another dog.
"The myth that getting another dog will solve this issue, however, is risky unless you are already 100% committed to having a second dog in the family. What if one of the dogs, for example, has isolation distress, but the other has separation anxiety? What if the presence of another dog actually distresses your dog more? It is certainly worth some experimenting before considering this as a solution to your problem!"
Our rescue dog, Danny definitely falls into the latter category and luckily Christopher and Mia have no similar issues.
'Always crate your dog when you go out if they have separation anxiety'
It may be your personal choice for other reasons but there are other options you might consider.
Darren tells us, "This is a method that has been used by some dog owners for many years, but there are various alternative solutions that we’d recommend you trying.
"These could include building a ‘doggy den’ for your pet for example. This can be an area of the house where they can feel protected and retreat to if they are feeling anxious. This could be their bed, or even behind the sofa; wherever they feel most comfortable.
"It’s also important owners remain calm, so as not to stress their dog further, and to not disturb them once they’ve found a safe spot. You could also try ensuring that your dog is exercised and fed before you leave them alone. This will naturally mean that they are in a more peaceful state, and will be more likely to rest and be relaxed during your absence."
Many thanks, Darren.
We hope these tips help you. It was through reading advice from experts and how other dog owners have helped their dogs, that we've been able to help Danny making sure he feels comfortable, safe and secure.
Alongside some of the tips above, such as creating his own den and making sure he knows his 'safe' places to go to when needed, we've also got a pet treat cam which alerts us if he's ever barking when we're out. We can check in, talk to him and give him treats. More for our benefit than his generally, it does give a bit of extra peace of mind to know that if he's ever upset we can check in on him.