Separation anxiety – this term gets tossed around casually, it is a very serious matter not to be taken for granted.
What exactly is separation anxiety? Separation anxiety is your dog’s panicked response to being left alone.
The results? The usually calm, collected, and seemingly contented Chester turning disruptive or destructive when left alone. Dogs experiencing separation anxiety might urinate, defecate, bark, howl, chew, dig or try to escape.
Separation Anxiety, Or Just Misbehavior?
Unlike misbehavior, separation anxiety is a very real, and serious condition. While misbehaving pooches and pooches under distress (in particular, separation anxiety) may exhibit similar behavioral traits (turning disruptive or destructive), they are not, and should not be dealt with in the same measures.
Separation distress or anxiety means the dog is “hyper-bonded to one specific person, and continues to show stress behaviors if that person is absent, even if other humans or dogs are present”.
Separation anxiety can also impact a dog’s physical health, such as a lower immune system.
When stressed, dogs (and humans alike) produce more cortisol (an anti-stress hormone).
When the stress hormone is higher than normal, it adversely impacts the dog’s immune, and in this case, results in the return of this dog’s demodex mange problems whenever he is stressed or experiences separation anxiety:
Example of a dog struggling with separation anxiety, with heightened levels of cortisol.
The reddish-pink skin is testament to the dog’s weakened immune system due to stress.
(Photo credits: https://www.facebook.com/jacquelyn.r.lim)
Separation anxiety is a very real condition that can be destructive to your dog’s mental and physical health (and your belongings too), hence it is important to accurately recognise and diagnose separation anxiety.
Here are some tell-tale signs that your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety:
- The behavior occurs every time you leave.
- The behavior occurs only in your absence.
- Anxious behaviors begin even before you go. For example, your dog knows that when you put on your jacket, you’re about to leave the house. The minute you reach for your jacket, he begins pacing and howling.
An example of a dog who has separation anxiety chewing through a door
(Photo credits: Photo credits: http://www.australiandoglover.com/)
Here’s a typical scenario:
You’re getting ready to leave for work, like you do every weekday, and like clockwork, Chester is pacing up and down, following you around the house, and even whining.
You give Chester his favourite treat, but he pays no attention to it.
You say goodbye to Chester, and close the door behind you, and Chester starts howling, and scratches at the door. You think, maybe today will be different, maybe today, he will behave, and you go about your day…
It’s the evening and you’re tired from a long day at work.
You come home, hoping for a puppy-love fix, you open the door, and you step into what seems like a tornado.
Your favourite couch cushion is ripped to shreds, the front door scratched up and chewed through, and a pool of saliva, blood mixed with shards of wood chippings litter the floor.
And laying in the corner, looking worn down, and downright exhausted, is Chester, his paws bloody from what can only mean hours of scratching / pawing at the door.
Granted, this is one of the worst case scenarios / aftermaths of a dog experiencing separation anxiety, yet such instances are common-fold with dogs who have separation anxiety.
The first step to alleviating your dog’s separation anxiety is to determine whether your dog has mild, moderate, or severe separation anxiety.
Does your dog destroy doors and furniture, trying to escape or break down whatever barriers that separates him from you, or is he just nibbling on your personal belongings like your shoes or pillows to relieve a mild anxiety? Is your dog licking himself a little, or biting and scratching himself obsessively, to a point of baldness? Does your dog seem to miss you just a little, or is he so co-dependent that he can barely function when you are gone?
Depending on how severe / the varying degrees of your pooch’s separation anxiety, there are several ways to ease or even eliminate separation anxiety in your pooch (Extrapolated from the ASPCA):
“If your dog has a mild case of separation anxiety, counter conditioning might reduce or resolve the problem. Counter conditioning is a treatment process that changes an animal’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to a pleasant, relaxed one instead…
Moderate or severe cases of separation anxiety require a more complex desensitization and counter conditioning program. In these cases, it’s crucial to gradually accustom a dog to being alone by starting with many short separations that do not produce anxiety and then gradually increasing the duration of the separations over many weeks of daily sessions.”
Besides counter conditioning, there are several products that can help ease your pooch’s anxiety, like oral medication, or a less invasive product: Jackson Galaxy’s Separation Anxiety Spirit Essence, now available on Ah Beng Pet Store.
For “the pet who gets anxious or upset when you’re getting ready to leave, or acts out or becomes destructive as soon as you are gone”, Jackson Galaxy’s Separation Anxiety is specially formulated by no other than Jackson Galaxy (hence the namesake), and holistic veterinarian, Dr. Jean Hofve.
We found Oliver, a pooch with separation anxiety, and his human Annie, who were willing to give the Galaxy elixir a try!
Reviewers: Human Annie and her dog Oliver (the white dog)
Oliver suffers from separation anxiety. He is constantly under stress and is not at ease whenever his human Annie is not around. He tends to howl when he is experiencing separation anxiety.
Prior to application / use, Oliver’s separation anxiety manifested in the form of his howling, and desperate attempts to escape:
Here is a much calmer, composed, and collected Oliver after application of Jackson Galaxy’s Separation Anxiety:
“Instead of howling and scratching the door, Oliver is able to fall asleep while waiting at the front door with his siblings. He will also occasionally play with his brother Chester too!” says Annie.