Dear Sarah, April 17

My dog really stresses when we’re not home. The neighbours say that she barks the whole time we are gone. We think she’s got Separation Anxiety. What can we do?

Mitch M

Hi Mitch,

Dogs who display signs of anxiety when their humans aren’t home are suffering from something known as Separation Distress. In some cases, there can be a medical cause (so make sure that you get a full health check done by your vet). In most cases, Separation Distress can usually be split into two main categories: Separation Anxiety and anxiety about being alone.

Anxiety about being alone occurs when the dog isn’t used to being on its own. This sometimes occurs in puppies who spend lots of time with their humans when they are first brought home (often during Christmas School Holidays), and then at the end of January when everyone goes back to work and school, start to display anxiety behaviours such as barking, digging, howling, crying, escaping or destructive behaviour when left alone. Usually with this type of anxiety, ensuring that the dog has been exercised in the morning, has lots of things to keep them busy and has company at some point during the day can make a big difference. As can leaving the radio or TV going (so that they hear human voices), or utilising a dog walker or doggie daycare service throughout the day. Getting another pet can also be helpful, as well as slowly and gradually desensitizing them to longer and longer periods of time on their own.

True Separation Anxiety is where the animal exhibits anxiety when separated from his/her person(s). With this type of anxiety the dog will still feel anxious even with the presence of other company. This is more difficult to treat and essentially comes from a place of over-attachment. Forcing separation is not the answer, as it just makes the problem worse. In fact, many of these dogs need to be on medication during the treatment process.

Separation Anxiety is distressing for both the dog and owner (and neighbours!). If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from any of these, the best course of action is probably a behavioural assessment to determine the best behaviour modification plan to put into place.

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