Separation Anxiety is one of the most common complaints pet dog owners have about their dog. Whether it is destroying the house while the owners are gone, howling for hours on end, or urinating and defecating in the owner's absence, separation anxiety can be incredibly difficult and hard for pet dog owners.
In our latest podcast, Emily and I discussed the latest research concerning separation anxiety, as well as what we have seen in personal cases.
As a definition, Separation Anxiety (SA) is hard to pin down, and many are now looking at the behaviors associated with separation anxiety as a complex that needs further work to drill down to cause. I agree with this assessment, since, as we shall discuss here, and on the podcast, actual separation anxiety in dogs (where the dog actually fears the owner leaving, and is stressed by their absence) is actually rather rare. This is fantastic news for those who may have believed that their dogs were experiencing SA, because the only way to address this kind of behavioral issue is slow desensitization to the owner's absence. this is incredibly difficult to attain because of work schedules, and can end up becoming a lifelong struggle that includes extensive training, day care provisions while the owner is away, and behavioral medications.
In the podcast we discussed the findings of a recent study, titled, Developing Diagnostic Frameworks in Veterinary Behavior Medicine: Disambiguating Separation Related Problems in Dogs, by Luciana De Assis, et al. Here's the link.
The paper divides the behaviors seen in SA (barking, destruction, destruction aimed at exits, destruction aimed at windows, generalized destruction, urination, and defecation, etc...) into four primary causes, only one of which is a primary attachment to the owner and fear of their departure and absence.
All four groups are described to be exhibiting signs of frustration, caused by various external sources. The bulk of dogs found external sources (noises, people seen through windows, etc...) stressful and frustration provoking, and either sought to escape the house to be outside with them, or acted in a manner that indicated frustration with their inability to escape the outside stimuli, which they found aversive.
The dogs exhibiting stress due to their inability to escape or confront external stimuli formed the bulk of the dogs showing signs normally associated with SA.
the last group had simply learned that being home alone is aversive, often due to boredom.
To get the full details, please read the full study mentioned in the link above.
What is important for pet owners to realize is that there is a genetic component to SA, a behavioral component, and possibly, in some cases, a relationship component.
For those who have dogs that show any of the signs described above, it is important that you contact a professional to assess your dog and help your dog learn to cope with frustration, and deal with their related anxieties. SA is never going to be an easy fix, and excluding those dogs that were simply bored, in most cases, each of the four clusters described in the article will need different levels of counter conditioning and inoculation against frustration, as well as more clarity in the human-animal relationship.
SA is never a quick fix, but it can be fixed with work.