Dog lovers know that there is no one more faithful than their pet: the bond that is established between humans and their dog is extraordinary, unique and genuine. But, sometimes, that strong and powerful connection can weaken due to behaviors of the dog that we do not know how to understand or that we believe has no solution, when it is not.
“My dog can’t stay home alone: it cries, barks, destroys”, “every time I come home, I don’t know what I’m going to find”, “I feel like I can’t do anything in my life: I have to take the dog everywhere”, “the neighbors want to report me because my dog howls and cries when I am not there”. These are the phrases most heard by canine behavior specialists around the world when they are faced with a case of separation anxiety (PSA), a dog’s distress response when separated from the person or people with whom it suffers from hyperattachment.
Separation anxiety in dogs: a disorder aggravated in a pandemic
When a dog manifests an obsessive dependence on the person and experiences fears, phobias and insecurities that it transmits when left alone, it usually suffers from separation anxiety. The most common symptoms are barking, crying, scratching surfaces, howling, salivating, and attempting to flee or self-harm. Ingrid Ramón (Barcelona, 1975) knows this well, one of the most experienced dog trainers in Spain, with more than 20 years of experience educating dogs positively.
Recognize that separation anxiety is one of the great songs star, one of the problems for which he receives the most calls. And now, after the confinement due to Covid-19, a moment in which we have taken the opportunity to strengthen ties with our furry ones, an increase in dogs with this disorder has been noticed.
“I call them ‘pandemic dogs’: they have grown up at home during confinement and can present this and other problems, for example the lack of socialization with the environment. Separation anxiety has increased not only in dogs raised in a pandemic, but also in those that already had separation anxiety, even in those that had already overcome it”, indicates the expert. This is something that the pet parents: according to the study by the Affinity Foundation ‘Together at home’, 40% of families with a dog were worried during confinement whether their dog would know how to adapt to normality again, and 40% were worried that the loss of routine could affect the behavior of the dog.
This disorder has two background factors: the hyperattachment of the dog towards the person and that it does not feel safe or comfortable in space”
And it is that the dog is an animal of customs, social and group that is used to living in company and, also, with freedom of movement. “By living with us, they can create a hyperattachment to the next best thing than a dog: a human,” says the expert, who assures that neither age nor race influences separation anxiety, nor does the dog come from a different family. protective.
What cases can respond to separation anxiety
What is really important is knowing how to differentiate that the dog really has separation anxiety, since its symptoms may respond to another problem, and that is that each dog is unique. For example, beyond the classic book problem of separation anxiety, we can see the symptoms in puppy dogs that do not know how to stay alone yet, in adopted dogs that have never had physical limitations or the obligation to stay alone in a specific place, dogs that live with high levels of stress, dogs with a lot of energy (due to age, desire for research, lack of exercise…), dogs that are going through some illness with pain that have created a hyperlink with the caregiver, or in any dog who has suffered a traumatic accident such as a robbery, works, an attack by another dog and only feels safe with his human.
All these cases may or may not be APS: a good diagnosis is important in order to have a good treatment. Because yes: even the most serious case can improve. “This disorder has two underlying factors: the dog’s hyperattachment to the person and that it does not feel safe or comfortable in space,” says the trainer. “When you associate the space with the positive and solve the hyperattachment with the person, you advance a lot.” Normally, they are solutions with exercises, with practice, like the basic exercise that we present in this video, where the idea is to convey to the dog that he is fine alone, because even great things happen to him. Sometimes you have to resort to medication, but we are talking about the last alternative, very extreme cases. There is also natural medication.
Everything we do wrong when trying to solve separation anxiety
In any case, there are a series of attitudes that we should never adopt if our dog cannot be left alone at home, such as spending more hours with him or taking him to another place so that he does not bother us. “If your neighbor harasses you with complaints, it is normal for you to want to take the dog to a nursery, to a friend or to your retired parents. But you don’t solve the underlying problem: it’s a patch and the problem is still there”, says the dog trainer. Another of the typical mistakes is to scold the dog and punish him for those damages that we find when we return home. Big mistake: “that increases the animal’s stress and breaks the bond of trust,” says Ramón. “If they are anxious because you have left, and when they return it is also a stress for them, they enter a spiral that only leads to more behavioral and even health problems,” he says.
Nor is it a good idea to lock him up all day in a different room: you have to minimize risks, but without taking him out of that room where he is normally relaxed and calm when you are. Another of the behaviors in which people are very confused is that of “passing the dog”: if we ignore him when he leaves and when he returns, we will worsen the symptoms, the dog will be very confused. “It is a social animal that has greeting rituals for its friendship or play relationships. If the dog does not have that reunion with you, it will escalate more in its behavior. You have to say goodbye and say hello light, without excitement, but do it”, says Ingrid.
And lastly, will giving the dog another dog for companionship solve the problem? Swampy terrain: “if the root of the problem is that, if the dog has APS because it is used to living with other dogs, or if it has a very strong bond with another dog, it can be a solution, although one would have to look very carefully at which dogs; But if the dog is hyper-attached to the human, you can already bring 30 dogs, which will not solve anything. And it usually happens that then the two dogs can have those behaviors (the other, by imitation)”, comments Ramón.
The key is to favor the well-being of the animal so as not to reach extreme cases, such as dogs that try to flee, putting their lives at risk by jumping over windows or balconies. In the end, what every dog should experience when left alone will be achieved. “A little bit of frustration because the dog would go with us everywhere, but then he calms down and accepts the situation,” the expert concludes.
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