When I was living in a student apartment in Madrid, we had a lovely cocker as neighbor in the apartment next door, there was only a problem for him, its owners and us: he could not bear to stay at home alone and constantly barked when its owners were not home. So the pharmacy lady knew us as “the earplugs people”, just imagine what the situation was …
My canine neighbor suffered from “Separation anxiety syndrome”, when a dog has it, it can even enter a state of anxiety when the owner is away from him only a few minutes. So, it has its origin in an overreliance on its owner or other family members (sometimes it only occurs when the dog is completely alone).
The symptoms that may lead us to think that our dog has separation anxiety are the following that occur when the person or people whom the dog is excessively attached to, are not around him:
- Continuous barking or crying.
- Nervousness and destructive attitude towards objects, furniture, etc.
- Urinating or defecating in inappropriate places
- Stop eating or vomiting following meals.
May even fall ill or their hair may fall, a friend told me that this last problem happened to her Bichon maltes when she was away on her honeymoon.
Since it’s a very common problem, prevention is recommended always, dogs since they’re Puppies must be very well socialized, must have lived different experiences and learned to spend time alone. It may be useful to provide such a place in the house for them, where they feel safe, have toys to be entertained and to rest. If they get used to spend time alone in this place, we can entertain them with a toy, etc. as we prepare to leave.
Once the problem takes place it can be quite difficult to treat and is always advisable to seek help from a specialist (veterinary and canine educator) and rule out medical problems; but if you think your dog may be having it or being prone to it, taking the following measures, being consistent and keeping the over time can help them:
Do not encourage the anxiety before your departure:
- Don’t hint the dog that you’re going to leave the house, changing habits like saying “I’m leaving” and then grabbing the keys, purse, etc. Plus not paying attention to the dog for a while (half an hour or so) before leaving.
- It’s also important to observe which are the signs that make the dog nervous
- Before leaving (could be grabbing the keys, changing shoes, etc.) and these signals should be repeated throughout the day without actually leaving.
It is important for our behaviors to focus on motivating their independence, thus:
- When you get home, the dog will be very excited, will bark, jump and chase you, however it is advisable not to pay attention to him or to give him tokens of affection until it stops being so excited, thus we will not support a negative behavior. Also if the dog barks, you should not enter the house because he will associate the barking with what he wants to achieve: the arrival of its owner.
- You must encourage the dog to rest, play, etc. away from you. If our dog is calm in a separate room than ours, then we can get closer and reward him for being there either petting him, with games or food.
- You can start having him working on accepting your absence by gradually separating from him. This means to leave and come back in a short period of time before the nervousness and barking arrives and go gradually increasing the period in which the dog is alone. It is important that we come back before the undesired behavior begins because if we do otherwise, he might associate our arrival with his negative behavior. This can be very difficult to do because for various reasons we cannot go back in time that is getting marked progressively, in order to not take steps backwards, we could use the help of others to stay with him in our absence, taking him to houses of family members, etc. but never go from staying away from him 10 minutes and immediately jump to 8 hours away from home.