When we think of our companion animals today, it’s hard to believe some people thought they did not have feelings. It boggles my mind to run into people who still feel this way! Our canines are extremely intuitive creatures; seeming to know what will happen long before it does.
Well, we know our furry best friends too well to let their mental health suffer with any type of anxiety, but separation anxiety, specifically, will be covered in this article. They usually let on to their worries about being alone or separated from their human well before we listen and take action. There are multiple factors every owner must understand in order to truly recognize and implement a plan to help treat and reduce separation anxiety in your dog.
With the true nature of “separation” anxiety, we are usually not home to visualize the anxiety in our pups as we head off to work, run errands or just daily life activities. Given the way your dog displays its worries, you may not know he/she is suffering from anxiety; on the other hand many people come home to see the destructive behaviors that took a toll on their home. This may be misconstrued as simply “misbehaving” or “acting out” but too often we do not take the time to understand why these behaviors are occurring.
If you are not aware or certain if your pup is suffering from separation anxiety; the best way to find out is through observance of body language and behavior. How do we “see” that when we are not home? you ask. The best solution I can offer involves putting up cameras to view firsthand what your dog does when you are not home. There is also a very easy-to-use app called “presence” to make this much simpler. Besides being curious about your pups daily activities this can also help diagnose behavior problems such as separation anxiety.
After setting up whatever “spy” materials you choose to use, you should watch the footage on a “normal” day for you as well as your pup; this will give you the most accurate understanding or your dogs behaviors and responses. Separation anxiety in dogs usually consists of them barking as you are walking out of the door and may continue even after you leave the driveway. Dragging out the process of saying bye to your dog for the day may give them more to worry about and enable the separation anxiety and its associated behaviors. Having a camera can help you determine how long your dog is distressed for, a couple minutes? half an hour? all day? how long would you be able to stand the worry and anxiety with nothing to do but wait? You will notice that your furry best friend may not be able to relax, they may even pace or “guard” the door.
Many dogs will look for ways to ease their anxiety; whether this is a behavior that seems mild like pacing or more extreme like destroying the couch, your pup is experiencing panic within their minds. This is torturous to many humans, yet the vast majority of animals exhibiting this behavior are just written off as being bored and may even be punished! I want to provide people with an understanding of their anxious pup the same way we have brought the necessary attention to mental health illnesses in human medicine.
It is up to us to promote health and happiness! We must first understand how our dogs are feeling and what they are trying to tell us. The four basic principles to help us help our pups include, watching their body language, listening to what they are trying to communicate, learning what these actions or postures mean and gaining an understanding into why our dogs feel this way. Only then can we begin to truly understand what our dogs need and how to help!
Giving your dog something to do while you are away will help to stimulate them mentally as well as distract them from focusing on your absence, soothing some worries. My dogs personally love peanut butter filled Kong toys, I fill them up and freeze them, this will help keep them busy for longer. Having a set of spare Kong is a great way to keep a rotation going, so no matter your rush or time sensitive activities your dogs feelings and worries will not be dismissed.
Providing stimulation will also help to keep your pup from finding other things to stimulate him, like chewing on your favorite shoes or in some cases destroying furniture and parts of your actual house like door frames. Some dogs are highly intelligent and will not be distracted for long with things that are too monotonous. Variety as well as challenging your intelligent canine will be key to keeping them busy.
By providing toys, treats and challenges you are creating things for your anxious dog to do other than wait for you and feel panicked all day. You are also providing mental enrichment that is critical to our pups, well, any creature with a brain really. This in turn promotes a happy and healthy dog and thus your well-mannered, relieved dog can greet you with confidence and pleasure rather than anxious energy.
What really is “professional help?” Where do I go? Who do I ask? Is this more than I can handle on my own? These are all recurrent questions for owners with dogs who suffer from separation anxiety. There are many people and professions that qualify as professional help. When you feel that your dogs anxiety is causing too much distress for your canine or your household, you should seek professional help.
The first professional you should see will be your primary veterinarian, you will want to rule out any medical conditions that may be the cause or contributor of your pets separation anxiety. If there is anything underlying you will want to treat and then reassess your pups behavior. If nothing is found or it is determined to be a behavioral issue you should talk to a professional dog trainer. Your primary veterinarian may have some great recommendations for knowledgeable, reputable trainers, as there as many that claim to be. This is not an area where every “professional” should be trusted or is an eligible candidate for help.
As I mentioned in my first paragraph, there are people who still do not believe our companion animals have feelings, behavioral health in the veterinary or animal field is relatively new, we still have lots to learn! Learning a professionals morals or motto will help determine if they have what is best for your pup and their mental health in mind. I, as well as all of the amazing veterinarians I have worked with never promote forceful training or “flooding” of fears as this could create worse and even broader anxiety disorders. Positive reinforcement training is always #1!
Another professional you may seek for help could be a counselor for animal behavior, this is more for us owners. They help us to understand what our dogs behavior is telling us. The biggest thing they do to help, which may make us feel guilty or even defensive, but is necessary, is point out what we are doing wrong. Of course its difficult to communicate between languages but often times our body language is portraying very different emotions than what we actually mean. Our dogs are intelligent and pick up on tone of voice, body language and actions to determine what we want or mean. This may not always be conveyed correctly and a counselor can help remove that barrier.
All in all, it is up to us to create a lifestyle of mutual respect to ensure health and happiness for both companion and owner. Our furry beasts that we allow into our family depend, wholeheartedly on us to ensure they remain or gain, in the case of rescues, physical, mental and emotional security and health throughout their lives. We must be considerate and provide a home of stability and kindness so we can live comfortably and peacefully among each other. I believe this is what every creature deserves and I believe in speaking up for the ones who cannot do it themselves!
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