Separation anxiety; it is one of the most common behavioural issues we see these days and one of which is present in most dog’s but to extremely different extents. It can develop because of many different factors such as the development of a very intense bond, unstable living conditions or rehoming, never being left alone or simply because some doggies breeding genes mean that they have a tendency to be more anxious in general. It manifests in so many different ways - vocalisation, destruction, soiling and escaping are some examples and when you think about it, it is such a horrible thing; a dog feeling anxious in its own home, the place in which everyone is supposed to feel their most comfortable.
My husband Dave and I have unfortunately have seen dealt with a dog with what may have been considered quite a severe separation anxiety. And that brings us to our sweet boy Leo; ur little dog in a big dog’s body, our cuddly fur child, our destroyer of all things expensive… I have shared Leo’s story with many of my client’s over the years as it gives hope that some anxieties that are so major, can be relieved. For those who haven't heard it, here it all is.
So I met Mr. Leo when he was about 12 weeks old. He was living with an absolutely lovely lady who absolutely adored him and his sister Minnie. Now, these two pups were provided with everything, and more, than they needed to be healthy and happy pups and I came on board to help out with training and walking, so life was great for them! Minnie was a super confident gal who you could almost see was embarrassed by her goofy brother, Leo and because of this, she tended to pick on him a little bit. He was a shy boy and just wanted nothing more than to snuggle into his sister. When I started taking them out walking, I realised he was dealing with some major fear as when we stepped foot outside of his driveway, he would just freeze and shiver in fear of the outside world. Long-story-short, he was terrified of people, cars, spray bottles, other dogs, basically anything that lived outside of his backyard. After taking him on as a foster dog (LOL - obviously that didn’t work out as expected), we worked our way through a lot of these things, in amongst a lot of cleaning of dog vomit out of my car, through exposure in a positive and fun manner and our other doggy Tanzi taught him that life ain't so bad!
The one thing that was a little bit harder to shake was this destruction of items around the home. Now with puppies, you come to expect that there will be some kind of destruction along the way so really we put it down to being our fault and not ‘puppy-’proofing’ well enough. Then he started to get older and the chewing got worse and the list of things got more and more expensive (multiple bluetooth speakers, my branded hair straighteners, sooooo many new shoes, Dave’s brand new wireless ‘Beats-By-Dre headphones…. ). Literally every time we came home after being out, a sense of dread would fill us before we stepped inside, wondering what it will be this time. So at this point, I thought right, let’s step up our exercise routine, but after exercising him for two to three hours a day and the destruction not improving, I discovered there must have been something more sinister at play.
Separation anxiety made sense. He had always had human company home with him for the first five months of his life before he came home with me. So, off I was to buy some Adaptil - I had brought Leo two Adaptil collars when he was younger to help him through his fear of outside life and I believe they helped us in leaps and bounds so I was not hesitant in purchasing (nor am I ever hesitant about recommending) a bottle of the spray. For those who are unfamiliar, Adaptil (formally D.A.P) is a synthetic pheromone, mimicking the pheromone that mumma dogs produce for their litter of pups to feel safe and secure. Basically, it helps relieve stress/anxiety and helps a dog relax. The spray form is more of a temporary fix; you spray it in the area that you wish to dog to feel relaxed in (whereas I sprayed on a bandana that was around his neck) and it lasts for 2-3 hours. Anyway, the next few months were carefully planned; we were going to slowly give him freedom of the house after adequate exercise and post-exercise down-time. If we were going to be any longer than two hours, he would be in his crate and then slowly build on that. He loves his crate so we didn’t feel bad leaving him in there but there was a long period of time there where I couldn’t be out of the house for long at all (goodbye social life!) because we never wanted to induce this feeling of anxiety after a duration.
I also had a different kind of spray that helped us limit the chewing; a bitter-tasting spray. I sprayed this on pretty much everything. For a while there, all of my sandwiches or anything I ate with my hands tasted horrible! I couldn’t touch anything in the house without my hands having a nice coating of a taste that I cannot even describe but made me gag sometimes... Which means I can definitely vouch for those sprays!! This discouraged the ‘follow-through’ process of him anxiety which when used in combination of everything, was very effective. Leo soon progressed from a shoe-chewer to simply a shoe-relocator and then further again.
It has been a couple of hard years but Leo turns three in April and I honestly can’t say that we never have any destruction these days, BUT it is limited to a pen or a couple of tissues out of the tissue box and the biggest thing of all; we can trust him to have free reign of the whole house when we are out! Woohoo!! Lucky he is so darn adorable….
If you think your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, please get in touch. As I said above, it’s not nice being anxious at all, let alone in your own home.
If your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety, count your blessings that you don’t have that problem (although I’m sure there will probably be something else haha).