gsdpup2Separation Anxiety seems to be the “go to” diagnosis for anything undesirable a dog does that happens when you are out.  It isn’t always the cause of barking, messing, chewing, digging or self harm.  Lack of exercise, stimulation, shouted at instead of trained, all of these can be the real cause.  True SA is a dog who has serious insecurities, apparent even when you are there.  These dogs struggle with life in general, are afraid and insecure.  Sometimes it’s the owner that actually created it.

You must first look at your dog’s food, routine, what it is left to occupy it and the balance of your relationship. Expecting most young dogs of working breeds to stay alone long periods is probably going to cause a noisy destructive dog.  In true SA, desensitising, sometimes homeopathy or Adaptil use is the way forward, but your own relationship must always be examined.  In others, employing a dog walker, leaving interesting and challenging toys, getting professional help can effect a cure.

(The rest of this article, written by Debbie Connolly, first appeared on London Dog Forum “Debbie Connolly Bites Back”)

Does your dog love you?  How can you tell?  Is your dog ecstatic every time it sees you or fairly laid back? Are either of these greetings a way of determining how much your dog really loves you?  Some owners seem to think so.

What sort of a life do you want for your dog?  I’d like to think my dogs choose my company over digging holes in the garden most of the time and follow me around just to be able to be in my company.  I’d also like to think that they would rather come with me when I go out but are happy to stay at home if they can’t.  If I came home to find that they had been barking and howling all day or had trashed the house or chewed up my best shoes I would be horrified that I had somehow helped them to lose their self confidence.  I wouldn’t think they loved me so much they couldn’t live without me, but there are owners do think that.

Are you the sort of person who needs a physical manifestation of love?  Maybe you are someone who doesn’t relate to humans well and needs the love of a dog in place of human love because it isn’t as much of a risk.  Maybe you need a dog throwing itself at you in desperation when you come home because you need to be shown how much your dog needs you and wants you back.  But is that really what is happening?

Lots of owners tell me their dog has Separation Anxiety (SA).  It is often diagnosed by vets and behaviourists and seems to be the diagnosis for every case of barking, chewing and messing in the world.  Some owners have even been proud of the dog having SA because they truly feel it shows how much their dog loves them.  They couldn’t cope with a dog who just ran up, showed a bit of excitement and walked off happily once acknowledged.  Instead of seeing that as a well balanced pet who was pleased to see them, they would think the dog didn’t really like them.  They would take it as an insult that the dog didn’t scrabble at their legs, and leap all over squealing and follow them around the house clinging to them.

My friend is a very insecure person and has 3 children.  Her husband left when the kids were young and they became her whole world.  Every conversation was “what the kids did today…” She told the children the world was a bad place and they shouldn’t go too far.  Not even out with friends.  If they were going out she would pull a face and look hurt and say with a tear in her eye “Well of course if you have to go…”

Inevitably they sometimes wouldn’t go, or came back early or had to phone ten times.  I tried to tell her she was creating kids with no self confidence and that she was doing it for herself, not for them.  She insisted she was doing it to protect her kids who she said were sensitive, nervous children.  But she wasn’t.  She was doing it to feel needed and have her children around her proving her worth and it meant she created kids who were nervous and sensitive but who wouldn’t have been had she been different.

You probably know someone like this.  Someone with a dog that they carry around and pick up as soon as they see ruby1marksmlranother dog or scary person.  Someone who constantly touches their dog, reassuring it and protecting it from imaginary foes.  An owner who judges themselves solely on how much their dog shows it desperately needs to be with them.  Is this fair?  What are they really doing to their dog?

A few months ago I treated a client with a small, nervous, worried dog.  She couldn’t go out because the dog would literally scream all day and spent all its time when she was in panting and leaping at her to be held.  When she came to see me, her dog was running around the room fairly happily until one of my cats walked in.  When this happened she grabbed the dog up from the floor screaming “Oh my God, don’t hurt my dog”.  My cat looked disgusted and left.

When asked what she was doing she said her dog was afraid of cats and needed to be on her knee to feel safe.  I made her put the dog back on the floor and called the cat back in and made her promise not to touch the dog.  Cat came over to dog, dog sniffed cat and was perfectly happy, wagging his tail until his owner, who could contain herself no longer squealed. He then growled and leapt onto her knee, shaking.  “See”, she shouted, “He is terrified”.

No amount of persuasion would convince her that she was the problem.  When I explained to her that we could help turn her dog into a calm, well balanced pet happy to be alone and not need as much attention, I thought she would cry.   What she was really telling me was that she wanted to stop the noise and the things that annoyed the neighbours, but didn’t really want to change the dog’s behaviour.  She wanted a dog that leapt on her all the time and wanted to keep the dog as an insecure, nervous wreck with no quality of life.  She left when after trying all other tactics I told her she was a cruel owner.

My dogs never liked my ex-partner.  Once when working in the park with a client I asked him to walk one of my GSD’s who was getting a bit bored.  She was a special dog and I put a slip lead on her and off they went.  I remember she looked back forlornly and pulled a bit but they disappeared off down the path.  A minute or so later my client looked over my shoulder and said “Isn’t that your dog?”  I turned to see her running back across the grass with a big smile on her face and no lead.  Several minutes later partner turned up with the lead.  I confess to a moment of joy when I saw her running back to be with me over going on a lovely walk around the lake.  I did think it meant she loved me more.

I can understand the need to feel your dogs have a special relationship with you, maybe to be able to say you think your dogs love you.  There has to be balance though.  Your dog should be the best it can be.  It should be confident, secure and loved.  This means there will be times when, like leaving your child for the first time at the school gates, we have to walk away for their own good.  Don’t create insecurities because you find it too hard to watch your dog being independent.  Instead be proud of your dog and yourself for creating an animal that can cope with life and enjoy it to the full.


See also “Rage Syndrome in Dogs, Beware of Misdiagnosis”

About Safepets UK

Expert Witness behaviourist assessing dogs for court, treating cats and dogs. Covering Midlands to London and other areas.

One response »

  1. […] See Also “Separation Anxiety in Dogs, Did You Cause It?” […]

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