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Unleashed: Don’t leave me!

Many people are often quick to say their dog suffers from separation anxiety, when in reality the dog’s response can often be conditioned over time by our activities.

PetsUnleashed
By Russell D Russell

Sunday 14 June 2020, 02:00PM


Separation anxiety can make its mark as we start to return to our  post-lockdown ‘normal’ lives. Photo: Dominik QN / Unsplash

Separation anxiety can make its mark as we start to return to our  post-lockdown ‘normal’ lives. Photo: Dominik QN / Unsplash

In true cases of separation anxiety, your dog will typically anticipate the separation from associated cues in his environment. Your dog learns these cues, many of which are subliminal, from your pre-departure routine. The main things can be: Alarm clock ringing, kids getting dressed, you picking up car keys etc. 

The minor details however, are shown in your body language, things that we don’t notice we’re doing. The anxiety begins with the initial cue and steadily grows until you actually leave the house. To round it off, we can often exacerbate the situation by trying to pacify our dogs and tell them “I’ll be back soon, you’ll be ok.”

Your dog, however, cannot control the situation so his frustration level rises and the distress grows steadily, peaking usually within 30 minutes from the time you left. From there the anxiety levels slowly decline at a variable rate but as a dog slowly recovers, any stimuli may re-sensitize him, such as another dog barking, a car driving by, or a delivery man coming to the door.

There are numerous signs and symptoms exhibited with separation anxiety such as excessive barking or whining, scratching or digging, chewing furniture, doors, window frames, etc or frantic pacing. An increased frequency in urination, wet footprints from sweaty paws, drooling or a highly exaggerated greeting routine are all symptoms to look for.

Does your dog follow you from couch to fridge, to kitchen counter and back to couch? Scratch the door of the loo whilst you’re busy and then follow you to wherever you’re heading next? Some owners think it’s “cute” but this acute awareness of an owner’s every step, could be the genesis of a problem that needs to be addressed.

One of the reasons separation anxiety seems more prevalent today than a few decades ago is that it is often misdiagnosed by the average pet owner. However, just because the symptoms are there, doesn’t mean your dog is suffering from it. For sure house soiling can be related to anxiety, but there are many other potential causes such as incomplete house training, lack of access to appropriate elimination areas, unreasonable owner expectations (expecting the dog to “hold it”), fear, excitement, marking, submissive elimination, or physical incontinence.

Also, dogs are masters of routine, so things like changing jobs, moving house, girlfriend moving in, are all things that can upset their routine and trigger things like separation anxiety. And should we react in the ‘wrong’ way in these instances, we can very quickly make the problem worse. 

A good example of this, is getting a puppy during the holidays, or more prevalently, during a lockdown –  which can be a very BIG mistake. The first few days and weeks is amazing, where the pup is the centre of endless attention, and everything is fun. And then almost overnight, the puppy is very much pushed to the outside as we’re now busy getting ready for school, work, and real post holiday / lockdown life.

Such a change can be quite dramatic for a dog, especially a young pup – and as events unfold, it can quickly spiral into serious anxiety if we’re not careful and end up reinforcing the wrong behaviours.


If you would like some more information on canine training, or behavioural issues, then please to contact us on 091 654 1960, email info@k9pointacademy.com, or check our website www.k9pointacademy.com. CPA is accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), and as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator.

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