Pets with Problems

Three Common Dog Separation Anxiety Myths

As a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, I specialise in working with dogs who cannot cope with being left alone in the house. In almost every case I see the owner, at some level, feels that they are to blame for their dog developing separation anxiety. They want to know what signs or events they might have missed whereby they could have prevented their dog becoming so frightened when alone. Additionally, they have all done “online research” about dog separation anxiety and its treatment, which in itself can be confusing and problematic. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of misinformation online about dog separation anxiety. These myths have been perpetuated for years which makes it hard for owners to know how to separate what is true and works and what doesn’t. Often owners will try things that they have read and end up finding the whole situation both frustrating for themselves and worrying about their dog’s welfare, believing that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. In this article I will address some of the most common dog separation anxiety myths to try and set the record straight!

Myth #1 - Getting a Second Dog Will Help

Dog Separation Anxiety Myths

I put this myth first on the list because it can be the most challenging and frustrating myth to owners who are just trying to do the right thing. It is thought that dogs have been domesticated for around 40,000 years – they are amongst the earliest of domesticated species and possibly among the earliest species to have been kept purely as companions. It is hardly surprising then that studies have shown that most companion dogs are more bonded to their ‘human’ than to other dogs. Think about what happens when you are walking in the park – other dogs come along and your dog wants to play but at the end, when you walk away, more often than not your dog will follow you, not stay with the other dogs. Dog separation anxiety is not just about being left alone, but rather about being separated from the dog’s ‘person’. Adding a second dog into the mix will have no positive effect when the person your first dog is attached to, leaves the home.

Unfortunately the opposite may happen. The second dog may in fact pick up on the first dog’s anxiety and develop separation issues themselves, sometimes mimicking the first dog’s panicked behaviour such as –barking and howling or destroying items. I know owner’s hearts are in the right place with this myth, but unfortunately it is simply not effective and the second dog is often returned to the breeder or shelter and the owner is left feeling even more guilty and frustrated.

Myth #2 - Ignore your Dog at Home 

This particular myth tugs at my heartstrings because, of all the myths surrounding this disorder I feel that it is the most detrimental to the emotional wellbeing of both the dog and owner. The myth implies that if you ignore your dog when at home then the dog will not miss you when you are out as he will not be so bonded to you. People own dogs as companions and become very bonded to them. In most cases the dog is an integral, important and loved member of the family. From the dog’s perspective, his owner is the centre of his world both emotionally and physically. Think about this in human terms as if it were you – how would you feel? Let’s say the love of your life with whom you have lived for years, comes home one day and for no apparent reason, ignores you completely, simply pretending that you are not there. No matter what you do or how hard you try, they completely blank you, not just for a few minutes but for days on end. How would this make you feel? I’m guessing that you would feel more stress and anxiety, not less – in fact I bet you would feel utterly confused and completely devastated. The same is true for the dog. If a loving owner suddenly changes behaviour and ignores their dog, the dog’s anxiety will increase, not decrease and this often makes the separation anxiety worse as the dog is now utterly confused and miserable and is constantly stressed. This in turn causes more panicked behaviour, because the dog’s stress levels are high even before anyone leaves the house.

Dog Separation Anxiety Myths

Myth #3 - Don’t Let your Dog Sleep on the Bed or Furniture

I hear this one a lot – and often not just from owners, but from dog trainers as well. There is no known correlation between a dog sleeping on an owner’s bed and developing separation anxiety. My dog sleeps on my bed all the time and has never suffered from separation anxiety. If you want to let your dog sleep on the bed or the furniture, let him– it won’t do any harm. I don’t know where this myth started but let’s look at a common scenario where it might have developed.

Let’s pretend that you are single and have lived alone with your dog for several years – you are the centre of your dog’s world. One day, you meet someone special and fall in love. Before you know it, you are getting married and buying your first home together. When you move into your new home, you and your new partner decide it’s best that your dog no longer sleeps on the new bed and is put in a crate in another room for fear of accidents on the new floor.
All of a sudden, it seems, your dog develops separation anxiety and you think that it is because he can no longer sleep on your bed but look at everything else that has happened –

Dog Separation Anxiety Myths
  • The owner has been spending progressively less time both at home and with the dog after they met their future spouse.
  • A new person has been introduced into the home and they may treat the dog in a different manner.
  • The dog has to share the owner’s attention and affection for the first time in his life
  • In moving house and the dog finds itself in a totally new and unfamiliar environment
  • And just when the dog thinks that it cannot get any worse he is no longer allowed to sleep on the bed, and is locked in a cage at night alone, without any interaction.

Once you break it down it becomes clear that it may not even be the bed that is an issue at all, but rather the development of the separation anxiety could be linked to one of many things, or the combination of it all. 

How to Avoid All of the Myths

If you believe your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it is best to consult an expert as soon as possible. As a CSAT, I am trained to look for and identify behaviour that determines whether your dog has separation anxiety. From there, I can help you and your dog on the path to getting relief from this terrible condition.

It’s certainly great to want to educate yourself about this devastating condition but be aware that a lot of the information you find on the internet may be out of date or written by untrained individuals and if followed can actually make things worse rather than better. If you suspect your dog may be affected be sure to talk with a trained professional who specialises in this disorder. Separation anxiety is a specialist field and not all trainers or behaviourists are equipped with the knowledge to know the best way to resolve it.

Contact Me For Help

If you are struggling, I cannot urge you enough to contact me for help. The expertise I can offer is priceless when helping your dog overcome his anxiety and knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel – your dog CAN be happy at home alone.

Please, contact me with any questions you have.  

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