Some say it’s a government conspiracy. Others say it came from bats, others from cats. Anyone who has ever lived with a dog knows who had the most to gain from spreading covid-19!
This article explains why I’m anticipating a pandemic of separation anxiety and how to prevent it.
WHY IS THIS RELEVANT TO ALL DOG OWNERS NOW?
Have you ever had a needy lover? The relationship started off great, couldn’t get enough of each other… until you did. When you then wanted to revisit other interests in your life, they wouldn’t let you. They felt anxious at being apart and had become co-dependent on you.
Just like it doesn’t serve people to be in co-dependent relationships, it doesn’t serve dogs either. Dogs are more prone to separation anxiety than humans because they have a greater yearning for company -and proportionally, suffer all the more from the anxiety when unable to cope with being alone.
The bad news is, there’s no satiation point, where your dog will have ‘had enough of you’. Instead, attention and companionship gradually take the nature of a drug and eventually create an addiction that’s entirely suffocating and life debilitating for both of you.
Now that we are all doing our best to stay at home to stop the spread of covid-19, our dogs’ expectations to companionship will grow and they could forget all about how to be alone. I fear the repercussions, when we all return to our usual lifestyle and need to leave our dogs home alone again.
Severe separation anxiety often plays out as the dog barking, chewing up doors and window frames, escaping from their yard or self harming. It’s extremely hard to treat and it is one of the most common reasons why people surrender their dogs to shelters. Let’s not let that happen to you.
AVOID THESE COMMON MISTAKES
Anxiety is commonly the end product -but rarely present at the start. This is why it is much easier to prevent it than to cure it.
Typically it all starts with just the puppy’s innate preference for being together -a little whimper when mama-dog leaves the litter. She wouldn’t dream of running back and giving up feeding herself, just so the pups won’t whimper and get distressed. She needs to take care of herself so that she can in turn take care of her pups.
When we get our puppies at typically 8 weeks of age, they are still only just learning how to be alone. If we won’t allow them to feel the discomfort and continuously provide them with the opportunity to practice, then they won’t learn it. They miss the lesson of how to self soothe and trust that you’ll be back in your own time.
Instead, they will learn that they can avoid their discomfort by whimpering and calling you to come back. If it works, why wouldn’t they do it again next time? And next time again. Inadvertently, you are training your puppy to cry by rewarding it with your return and ensuing company.
The point where the problem truly escalates, is when you finally decide that this is an unsustainable situation and you choose to ignore the whimpering…. but then cave in after all. Your puppy will deduct that a little whimpering used to work, but from now on, it takes a lot more. It must cry louder, perhaps even bark and definitely carry on for a lot longer in order to see success.
After you caving in a few times -or many- your dog’s faith is strong: a big tantrum will work, it just has to carry on long enough. As your dog throws the tantrum, the adrenalin in it’s body surges. With time, it will learn to rev itself up so much that the adrenalin gets so high that your dog will legitimately have a meltdown and arguably a traumatic experience. That’s when you can legitimately call the condition Separation Anxiety and when you can argue that separating from your dog really does make the problem worse. It is also somewhat a point-of-no-return or at least a very difficult situation to bounce back from without drugs and an almost inhumane effort from you to reschedule your day and build up your dogs resilience to being alone in very small increments.
Do you see why I want you to be 10 steps ahead in preventing this monstrous condition? It creeps in so easily, grows bigger right under your nose while still undetected and then BAM! Suddenly you can’t close the door behind you to the bathroom, put the dog outside in the garden while the kids are baking in the kitchen or go to the cinema without dropping your pooch off at your mum’s place.
HOW TO PREVENT SEPARATION ANXIETY
Regardless of where your dog is at in the scenario described above, right from a fully fledged attention addict to a completely healthy and asymptomatic dog- the answer is the same: Keep your dog’s expectations and sense of entitlement down to a sustainable level.
Of the following steps, take ALL the ones that are possible for you:
- Only give your dog attention when it doesn’t tell you to. Attention includes eye contact and palm touch.
- After every separation, wait to greet your dog until it is not telling you to. Then you can greet your dog as warmly and playfully as you like.
- Whenever reasonably convenient, make a point of barring your dog from entering the space you are in until you have given an invitation. Only invite your dog in, when it is not telling you to. For those who need a little help to implement this, watch this video.
- Only allow your dog up on the couch when… ? You’ve got it, when you issued an invitation and your dog didn’t demand it.
- Ideally make your dog sleep in a separate room at night, all by itself. Very few dogs, who can do this, develop separation anxiety.
- Leave your dog alone in the garden, the laundry, a pen/ crate or any other suitable space, so that you have several options for where to put him/her in different situations.
- Leave your dog without any elaborate goodbye ritual.
- Even if you are at home all day, create frequent separations from your dog. For most dogs, 3-5 separations per day would be enough to keep separation anxiety at bay.
- If your dog throws a tantrum, NEVER go back until it is calm and accepting of the separation.
- Note, if you get ‘stuck’ in a situation where your dog is throwing a tantrum and you have to undo the separation before your dog has become quiet and accepting, barge into your dog’s space acting very preoccupied with anything else than your dog (ie weeding, poop scooping, watering the plants). Don’t pay your dog attention until it has stopped trying to get a greeting from you.
-Feeling overwhelmed and thinking you’ve already got yourself in a bit of a pickle? Call Kira on 0400 354 092 for a private session to work out the best strategies for your dog and your specific situation.