There are many myths amongst owners and professionals around why dogs suffer with clinical separation anxiety and isolation distress, none of which have been scientifically proven and in fact researched case studies has now bought to light many of pre-thought notions can be dispelled. Here are a few of the common myths busted

Myth 1: The owner has caused their dog to have separation anxiety

The owner has spoilt their dog allowing him to sleep on the bed and giving him too much love. There is no evidence to prove that a dog that is loved too much will have separation anxiety. If this were true there would be millions and millions of dogs with this issue.  There is genetic research being carried out that there may be some hereditary influences that may contribute to this phobia. This is not a time for blame so please do not reproach yourself for aiding in the issue

Myth 2: This type of anxiety is not treatable

With any phobia, fear or anxiety issues there are methods that can be applied, none of which are quick fixes but certainly can lessen or eradiate

Myth 3: Medications should be a last resort

If medication can help the dog to overcome anxiety with the combination of a separation without anxiety programme then why wait? It makes total sense to run the two side by side and even more so in the early stages of the desensitization without fear programme

Myth 4: The dog is being naughty! The dog has a guilty expression 

Dogs do not think in terms of spite, it is anxiety that causes the behaviours displayed. Dogs do not feel quilt. If the dog does have a look of remorse this is only due to recognizing your mood and the changes in your actions or facial expressions. The dog is scared not bad!

Dog Separation Anxiety

Myth 5: Some breeds are more likely to suffer separation anxiety

There is no scientific bias to proof this, research is ongoing

Myth 6: The dog will grow out of it

This is certainly not true, the more stressful absences there are the worse the dog will react to being left alone and the longer the issue will go on for

Myth 7: The dog needs more exercise

For sure, dogs need adequate exercise for resolution of boredom and under stimulation but ramping up exercise will not cure separation anxiety it simply builds a dog that requires more and more. Adrenaline pumped dogs take longer to calm

Myth 8: Getting another dog will help

In some cases, companionship of another animal may help but it does not eradiate the underlying anxiety but possibly may mask it. The issue may come back and be upsetting for both animals. This should be looked upon by a case -by-case decision

Myth 9: Entering back into your dog when it is barking, whining, or howling reinforces this behaviour

Anxiety is an emotion not a behaviour and the vocalizations are being caused by an emotion, the emotionally state will only worsen by not re-entering, therefore there is only one choice here and that is to return as soon as possible. My programmes are fear/anxiety free so will always be keeping the dog under threshold of any separation related behaviours

Myth 10: There is mild, moderate and severe separation anxiety

How can we gauge the severity of the anxiety in another beings’ inner emotion on just the outward behaviour signs? For example, if there is no destructive or noisy behaviour offered, does this mean the anxiety is any less in a dog not displaying these type of behaviours? The consequence behaviour of the anxiety may seem less or more serious, but we cannot surmise the strength of the inner emotionally state of the individual

Myth 11: Crates will help a dog recover from separation anxiety

 

It has been researched in many case studies that crating does not aid lessening anxiety. The confinement causes a lack of free choice movement often creating more anxiety.   Unless the dog is extremely comfortable in the crate and it is their ‘go to place’ even with the door closed. This would be a rarer occurrence

Myth 12: The dog should be left with a food toy

Some dogs will not eat at all when left alone even with their parent at home in another room. Dogs that will eat may consume the food and then the anxiety starts after. In the early stages of the programme the preparation of and the food being left can become a pre-departure trigger. As the programme moves along this maybe considered to lessen boredom but certainly not until anxiety levels have gone with the actual departure and the duration of  alone time has naturally increased

Myth 13: Leave an item of clothing with your dog so he has the security of your scent

I often think this can make the owner feel better but has no bearing on increasing the chances of lessening the dog’s anxiety, certainly a lovely comfy place to be and blankets are lovely, but they do not need to be items of clothes. The home itself smells of the owners and would be comforting enough. Dogs are very wise they cannot be tricked. They know whether you are in the home or not and no amount of pretend will make them believe otherwise

Myth 14: Leave the TV or Radio on

This has been advised for many years in the thought it gives the dog some company when left alone. This does not stop separation anxiety occurring in dogs but for some noise sensitive dogs it can mask outside noises. Can the owner also be sure that noises that occur on the radio or TV or sights on the TV will not trigger further anxiety. In some cases, varying the sound frequency levels of certain types of music can assist a dog with masking out either high pitched or deeper tones that causes a reaction from the dog when left alone.

Myth 15: You should not let your dog shadow you

Once again research has been carried out with dogs that we term as ‘velcro dogs’ may not necessarily also suffer with separation anxiety as they could just enjoy companionship of their human and this not be an anxiety related behaviour. It can be one of the indicators with dogs that we know do suffer with separation anxiety, as well as over the top greetings.  Care should be given when lessening shadowing in conjunction with the criteria of the programme, as if it causes the dog to have anxiety this will affect the success of the planned tasks within the set criteria

Article by Mandy Rigby Yes! Good Dog – Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer