Dog Separation Anxiety

Dog separation anxiety can be caused by many things. It is common in a rescued dog and not easy to cure, but it can be done.

Dog separation anxiety can be caused by spending too much time with your puppy when he is young. You have a new puppy, you have perhaps taken time off from work to settle him in and that is how it should be. But do not make the mistake of spending every minute of your day with him.

When he is little, he will follow you about everywhere, and it is difficult to resist. But you should spend a few minutes a day elsewhere.

Go upstairs, go out for a walk. Make sure your puppy has lots of toys and is in a safe environment, then gradually build up the time you are away from him.

If you are working and have taken time off, it is not fair to spend all your time with the baby, then just expect to be able to leave him.

He has to know that you are not going to be there every minute. Even if you are usually home all day, it is still a good idea to get him used to this "alone" time. Otherwise, when you want to go out for a few hours, you are going to have problems.

If you have taken on a dog from Newfoundland Rescue or any other rescue centre, the chances are very high that you will encounter dog separation anxiety.

Most rescue centres will not rehome to someone who is out all day. Remember these dogs have often been passed around through several homes, they may have spent time in a kennel environment waiting for a forever home, and they will be insecure.

It can take a long time to make a dog feel secure enough to be left, a long time for him to trust.

Just put yourself in his position. He has been to lots of different places and always he ends up somewhere else, often after only a few days. When someone has paid a lot of money for a puppy, unfortunately their first priority is to get that money back, not the dog's welfare. He could have been sold on, together with all his problems, many times. His only expectation when he arrives at your home is that it will not last, and that he will soon find himself in another home, or a kennel.

Patience and understanding is the key. You cannot reason with a dog, you cannot assure him that he is staying put no matter what. That will take time, lots of time.

Sometimes they will never get over it completely, but there are ways you can identify the problem and help.

What are the signs of dog separation anxiety?

Dog separation anxiety is a psychological condition, rather like a panic attack in humans. The dog feels afraid, insecure, scared that you won't return for him.

Reactions to this fear may include:

  • Crying
  • Scratching at the door
  • Destructiveness
  • Continual barking
  • You may have complaints from neighbours that your dog barks all the time
  • Urinating and defecating, even if the dog is fully housetrained when you are there
  • The dog may try to stop you leaving by getting between you and the door, sometimes by dragging at your clothing or even nipping at you

What can you do to help your dog?

A dog will react to your usual habits. When you are about to leave, he will recognise the signs - you will perhaps put on your coat, pick up your keys, start locking doors.

The first thing to do is to change those habits. Put on your coat, then go make a cup of tea or coffee, sit down and drink it.

Pick up your keys, then sit down and read a magazine.

Open the front door, then close it again. Gradually you will be able to step outside for just a second or two, then come back in.

Even start the car if that is your routine, then turn the engine off and return to the house.

It is a good idea to put up a small camcorder whilst you are out for a short time, so that you can see exactly what your dog is doing.

This may all sound like it is going to confuse the dog, but that is the idea. He knows when you are about to leave and his anxiety begins as soon as you start your routine. You need to confuse him a little, so that he knows you picking up your keys, or locking doors, does not necessarily mean you are going anywhere.

This all needs to be done gradually, over a number of days and weeks. And do make sure that your dog has enough to occupy him.

There are some very tough chew toys on the market and a wonderful invention is the Kong. This is indestructable, even for a newfie, and is hollow. You can buy Kong stuffings, or stuff it with anything the dog likes: cream cheese, peanut butter, whatever. It should take him a while to get all the goodies out of it and it will not hurt him. Many people freeze these Kongs overnight so that it takes even longer.

It is very important with a newfoundland that whatever you leave him to chew is indestructable. Little bits of plastic can get stuck down his throat, so don't leave him with anything plastic. You need really tough toys.

I might leave my dogs alone with a raw bone, but never with a pig's ear. Although they love them, pieces can cause them to choke.