Separation Anxiety


Question

I recently adopted a Terrier-cross from our local animal shelter. She promptly stole my heart and settled in wonderfully. She’s an independent little dog with lots of confidence. Although she was a little dominant in her previous home, which I was worried about, she quickly found a balance with my two other rescues with whom she now shares her life with.

The only problem is that she cries terribly every morning when I leave for work. I am all out of ideas; I try to take my dogs out as often as possible for a walk, but working full time plus a daily walk is not always possible. I do leave toys for her to play with, she has my other two dogs to keep her company and I give them all a treat before I leave – sadly none of this seems to help.

This is proving stressful for all of us (including my neighbours) and her behaviour is breaking my heart.

Janet Soloman

 

Canine Behaviourist Claire Atkinson answers…

Adding a new member to the family is likely to cause some disruption, and the early days for the new dog can be very stressful for both dog and owner. Separation anxiety may be due to one or a combination of the following:

The general level of heightened anxiety could be due to her adjusting to her new life and feeling a little insecure. This can be addressed by establishing clear routines for daily activity, and being calm at all times so that she does not pick up on stress from you. As she’s recently joined your family, she should soon work out that all these activities are ‘normal’.

Attention-seeking behaviour is common, especially with rescue dogs (due to past instability). The aim is to establish a warm and loving relationship, tempered with discipline as to when and where attention is given. It’s possible that she’s worked out that you give her attention when she cries – so she will use this to gain a reaction. You mention that you give her treats when you leave, which can motivate her to repeat the activity – you are actually ‘rewarding’ the unwanted behaviour.

If the cause is boredom, it would help to give her a run before you leave in the morning. Even a short walk around the block will help. Instead of treats, use an interactive toy such as a Kong or hoof filled with goodies. You can distribute these to each dog before you leave and it will keep them happy for hours. Adjust regular feeding accordingly so that overall intake remains optimum.

You can also modify your leaving behaviour by breaking it down into small steps and practising these until each becomes stress-free. If, for example, her behaviour increases when you pick up your keys, do this often: pick them up, move them to another place, put them down. Gradually increase each part of your leaving procedure, rewarding her when she accepts it calmly. 

You can also consult with your vet for temporary relief such as a Dog Appeasement Collar (DAP), which releases calming pheromones, or medication.

Note: An email response to behavioural questions can only be given in very general terms. A specific response requires the behaviourist to do a full assessment with the owner and dog before making recommendations. When in doubt, please consult a professional.