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We are stronger together than we are alone!

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SADOGPHOTOSeparation Anxiety is the second most cited reason after aggression for putting a dog to sleep. It is a complex behavioral issue to deal with and requires a lot time and patience to re-pattern the brain but it is possible to reduce the severity. The foster I had with this issue was an older girl who was in my foster care until she went to the Bridge. We knew with her age and this behavior that she could not be adopted out.

So what is Separation Anxiety and why does it happen to dogs?

“Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit distress in the form of behavior problems when left alone. Typically, they'll have a dramatic anxiety response within a short time after their owners leave them. Common distress symptoms include one or more of the following: scratching and digging near doors and windows in an attempt to escape and find their people ... chewing door frames or other items in an attempt to channel their anxiety ... barking, whining and howling in an attempt to summon their person ... excessive salivation ... chewing on or licking themselves ... and sometimes even urination and defecation due to the immense physiological effect of prolonged stress.”

My old girlie didn’t show many symptoms initially. She was very laid back in every way – had no trouble with other dogs, cats or noises nothing like that. Very life savvy. It crept up little my little. Pacing when I got ready to leave the house – rushing to the living room window to see me leave. When I got home she would be panting and exhausted from pacing and I’m sure if I had crated her or tried to confine her the anxiety would have caused her to start scratching and chewing. I knew she was not “being bad” she was having anxiety attacks and couldn’t deal with it. So, I started researching and dove into what I soon realized was a really difficult thing to get a handle on. What causes this to develop? Here are some of the things we know –

“Separation anxiety can develop in dogs who have previously not spent much time alone ... who have been abandoned at key points in their psychological development ... who were not properly integrated into their first home and got relegated to a basement, garage or yard ... who were removed from mother and littermates too early (prior to 8 weeks of age) or too late (after 14 weeks) ... who have endured a traumatic event, such as a frightening experience at a shelter or kennel, or a significant change in their household, such as a new person joining the family, a move to another house, or change in the owner's work schedule. Some dogs tend to become extremely attached to their new person, and then insecure when that person leaves, as a result of losing a previous home and person to which he was attached.”

The fact that some dogs do not become super needy speaks to a possible genetic pre-disposition or perhaps it strikes dogs who are particularly sensitive. One thing is very very clear – NEVER PUNISH THE DOG for SA. Worst thing you could ever do.

I have a saying in Rescue – “doing the right thing is seldom the convenient thing” and so it is with helping a dog with SA. I didn’t have a lot of experience with my girl – okay, I had none in dealing with this but I knew her base temperament was not neurotic so I felt I could train her mind to take a different road than the super highway to anxiety. The fact that I have had my own issues with anxiety made me more empathetic and committed to try and help her deal with it.

What I did that made a difference. I wanted to deepen the bond between us so I signed up for basic obedience puppy classes to introduce structure into her life. The focus of the work plus “look at me” to re-direct her brain gave us a place to start. I introduced some of the other protocols suggested. I would “practice” leaving. I would leave without telegraphing anything that she could recognize as a routine to leave. I would just go and come back for no reason. I did this over and over again until I could see her starting to ignore me. I increased the times for longer and longer and made NO FUSS when I came back like it was the most normal thing in the world to go out and come back in.

I got a “white noise” machine that I would turn on so that she wasn’t listening attentively for sounds of me leaving or coming back in. I connected with her through some basic tellington touch, Reiki and massage in a quiet way. I signalled very definite times for play and then to wind down.

Just like with people who suffer from anxiety – it creates a chemical cascade in the body. Since dogs can’t practice meditation we try to create an energy offset that their brain will go too – with Trust – rather than being triggered into anxiety. I did a lot of research at the time but found this article the most informative and it is what I have based my article on.



Here is a picture of my sweet girl who taught me about an aspect of love that is not about the standard kinds of things. For Tabitha, love was patient. Love was kind and love would, indeed, come home again.