How do you prevent dog separation anxiety?
It’s a question that a lot of dog owners will ask a breeder or research online before they pick up their puppy to bring home.
Alternatively, you may have a dog already and you’re eager to prevent any separation anxiety issues coming to the fore.
Before bringing home my first dog, I’d never encountered separation anxiety in dogs. It was a shock and a struggle to cope with (initially).
Separation anxiety occurs when you leave your dog at home alone. Just like any human phobia, separation anxiety can leave your dog in a state of panic.
The condition can manifest itself in a number of different ways, including incessant barking, howling or whining, destructive chewing or digging, and defecating or urinating.
A quick search on Google yields a staggering 5.2 million results for “How To Prevent Dog Separation Anxiety”.
But can dog owners actually do anything to prevent separation anxiety in their precious pooch?
I spoke to separation anxiety expert Malena DeMartini to learn more about the chronic disorder.
In doing so, Malena was eager to stress that it’s not about ‘preventing dog separation anxiety’ but rather ‘optimisizng a dog’s chances of alone time success’.
Based in San Francisco’s Bay Area, Malena has dedicated the past 20 years to dog separation anxiety.
In the sixth part of this interview, Malena addresses whether it’s possible to “prevent” separation anxiety in dogs.
Part One: What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Part Two: Dog Separation Anxiety Myths And Misconceptions
Part Three: Should I Crate My Dog With Separation Anxiety?
Part Four: Do feeing toys help dogs with separation anxiety?
Part Five: How long does it take to break a dog’s separation anxiety?
Part Seven: How To Help New Puppy With Separation Anxiety
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How do dog owners prevent separation anxiety?
Maybe you can’t! I’m very sensitive about the word ‘preventing’ when it comes to separation anxiety.
I would encourage people to use the phrase ‘optimizing their dog’s chances of alone time success’ rather than preventing separation anxiety.
We will do everything we can do to make it the best possible world when the dog is alone. Help them to be comfortable with that from the get go whether it’s a new puppy or it’s a recently acquired dog.
Having said that, you can do everything right from the start and there is still the potential that separation anxiety pops out. It is definitely worthwhile doing everything right nevertheless because you’re a couple of steps ahead if separation anxiety does occur. Please be very careful about saying ‘here’s a separation anxiety prevention programme’ as that is technically inaccurate. We cannot prevent something which we don’t have a succinctly defined cause for.
If you’re an anxious person, could your dog be anxious because of you?
I think to an extreme, if you’re displaying really anxious behaviours, stuff can travel down the leash, so to speak, but I am really talking about tremendously overt anxiety behaviors.
I don’t think most people’s behaviour is causing separation anxiety and it is most likely not affecting negatively on a dog that does have separation anxiety – again that is within reason.
We recently sent out a questionnaire for a research study I am doing with a University. We received 2,300 solid responses. We distilled that down and learned one thing that will made some sense. We asked: “Does your dog follow you from room to room or shadow you relentlessly?” In those 2,300 responses, we had approximately 50 per cent who were separation anxiety dog owners and approximately 50 percent who were non separation anxiety dog owners.
We were quite pleased to discover that the number of velcro dogs in both categories (separation anxiety dogs and non-separation anxiety dogs) were quite similar. This result allows to see that shadowing an owner is not a diagnostically significant component or symptom. We have worked with many dogs who are sleeping in the owner’s bed, following them from room to room or cuddling them really closely. With most of those dogs, once we get them completely over their separation anxiety we see that they will still shadow and sleep in the bed – what a relief!
The attachment issue is actually something that we need to be very careful of lumping into the separation anxiety problem, however, I will state that it is a commonly debated topic so you may see lots of contradictions about this.
Who is Malena DeMartini?
Malena DeMartini is an expert in separation anxiety in dogs. With nearly 20 years of experience working exclusively on separation anxiety, Malena has encountered hundreds of cases. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Malena continues to be innovative to find better ways to treat the condition and support clients.
What is Malena DeMartini’s background in separation anxiety?
In 2001, I was doing all manner of behaviour work – everything from aggression to recalls and so forth.
Very early on, I got my first separation anxiety case. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a very green trainer so I don’t know if I should take this on’.
The dog owner said she had talked to seven different dog trainers and all of them had refused to take her on so she didn’t know what to do. I said I wanted to be fully transparent with her and that I do understand the principles of separation anxiety but I haven’t done it before. So I said I’d help her but if I was in over my head, I’d call someone else.
We worked on the separation anxiety with her dog Guinness. After a short bit of time, we were very successful with his separation anxiety. Word spread like wildfire that I had success with a separation anxiety dog so I started to get a ton of referrals. People didn’t like working with separation anxiety.
The second case I took crashed and burned. From that point forward, I set out to research, trial and error and was very transparent with every client, letting them know that I didn’t have the perfect solution but I’d work with them in every aspect to make progress.
It went on for several years as I learned what works and what doesn’t work. Over time, I found a successful direction to go. It quickly became my passion! But I do always say that separation anxiety chose me, I did not chose it!
If you would like to learn more about Malena, you can visit her website malenademartini.com.
Do you suspect your dog is struggling with separation anxiety? Malena is offering helloBARK! readers the chance to avail of a special discount code for her online self-paced course for dog owners. For more information, contact [email protected]