How long does it take to solve Separation Anxiety?
Treating Separation Anxiety is about changing the dog’s emotional response, therefore, the same as a person who is working in overcoming a phobia, there are no rigid timelines to changing the emotions that are felt when left alone. The same as humans, each dog will respond to the training at different speeds, displaying unique setbacks and progresses along the way.
Even though progress may take from weeks to several months depending on the dog, revealing itself slowly especially during the first stages, it can go faster after a solid foundation has been built. Progress will always be influenced by each dog’s plasticity, environmental factors, and your dedication to the program.
Is it my fault that my dog is experiencing Separation Anxiety?
It is very easy to take the blame for your dog’s Separation Anxiety, when you see her experiencing such pain when left alone.
You wonder, “Was it because I never taught her to be alone when she was a puppy? Is it because I love her too much and I’m too close to her? Is it because I found this new full time job, or because I moved? Is it because I never taught her to accept more people than me and now my house is crowded with more people than just me?” These are fair and common questions. But no, it’s not your fault.
Separation Anxiety is a syndrome, a group of signs which occur in response to a phobia or panic from being left alone. That phobia doesn’t have a known cause, but there is the belief that a genetic predisposition takes place in this condition, and traumatizing factors, or big changes in the dog’s life can help to promote this condition to set in.
It is more important to know that it can be solved by making changes and following an appropriate protocol, than knowing the reason.
Is my dog taking revenge on me for leaving him?
A widespread belief is that when dogs bark, urinate, defecate or destroy objects in the household, is because they are mad at you for being left alone and are taking actions to get their revenge. This is another myth we can now dispel. There are different reasons why a dog can misbehave when left alone, from boredom, to lack of house training. But when they are experiencing Separation Anxiety, they are not in control of the signs they are displaying. So in that case, all those signs are only an expression of their underlying panic, and not a voluntary reaction to you leaving them.
People have told me that my dog’s display is normal and he is going to eventually get used to being alone. Is that true?
Sadly, the signs your dog is displaying aren’t normal. It would be tempting to believe – even more when the signs you see look somewhat “mild” – that he is just adjusting and only needs some time to get used to being alone. Unfortunately, the truth is often that he won’t be able to overcome the problem if he is continually exposed to his worst fears on a regular basis. This constant exposure will promote continuous stress, that will not only be evident in his displays, but also at a physiological level, undermining his general health and also inhibiting his learning. Moreover, he will get better at anticipating when you are leaving, increasing his signs of stress on a regular basis. So even a problem that may look “mild” will be able to escalate in time and become progressively more dangerous to the dog.
Is using a device to stop barking a good idea?
Tools such as citronella collars, shock collars and ultrasonic sound products, which attempt to decrease or stop the barking, are not recommended tools to treat this syndrome. Barking is just a sign or expression of the underlying anxiety that the dog is experiencing when left alone, so even if the barking itself is addressed using tools like these, the cause of the problem will still be there and it will have to find another way out, sometimes by displaying signs that are even worse or more dangerous to the dog, like hurting himself or escaping.
Are food and a confinement area helpful for the treatment and required when my dog is left alone?
In some cases, using a confinement area where the dog feels safe and there is no danger to him or the house might be helpful. However, in most cases, due to the nature of the program, there will be no need for confinement, because the protocol will prevent the dog from raising his anxiety levels, and therefore displaying signs that could cause accidents or destruction if free in the house. Sometimes, blocking certain areas which could be dangerous using x-pens, baby gates or enabling a specific room can be a good idea.
This program doesn’t require the use of food during it’s development, so don’t worry if your dog doesn’t accept food when left alone! Having said that, food can be a good tool to keep your dog mentally healthy if used in the right way on a daily basis.
Each dog is different and will benefit from a different scenario, that’s why assessing what’s best for each situation is appropriate.
If I get a dog to keep my dog company, would that solve the problem?
There is a lot of information out there that would make you think that getting a new friend to keep your dog company when left alone might be a good idea. However, only a few dogs don’t display signs of anxiety when another dog is present, and some only feel relaxed with one specific dog, which is not transferable to other dogs. Worse than that, the second dog might be affected by this anxiety display too.
Is medication and/or holistic options a must when treating Separation Anxiety?
Some cases can benefit from these options as a complement of the behavior program. However, keep in mind that they won’t solve the problem by themselves,
and that the most important component to treat this condition is the behavior protocol itself.
Making the best choice regarding medication and/or the use of holistic options will depend on you and your veterinarian, who will guide you in the process of deciding what would be best and most beneficial for your dog.
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