Here's the second part of our myth-busting blog. If you missed part one, with numbers 1 to 4, you can read it here.
#5 If you let him bark it out, he will eventually stop
Barking can be a means to an end, or it can be an emotional response. Think about a child who uses “crocodile tears” to get you to buy her an ice cream versus the child who cries when she trips and cuts her knee. These are distinct types of tears. You might ignore your child's crocodile tears, but give her a hug when she falls over.
When your dog uses barking to get what he wants, letting him bark it out does work. The dog thinks: “Hmm, this isn’t getting me anywhere. I guess I’ll give up.
But barking which results from fear of being alone doesn't die out. In fact, such barking can spiral. Your dog isn’t barking with an end in mind. It might start out as “Hey, where did you go? Come back!” But as long as the fear remains, the barking will continue. Anxious dogs don’t think straight. So, the longer you leave a separation anxiety dog, the more fearful he gets and the more he will bark.
If you left your dog to bark it out, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s easy to assume your dog tried it on and not realize he panicked.
How can you identify different types of barking? It can be tough. Video is our friend here. The dog’s body language gives us clues as to whether he’s upset or not. If in doubt, film your dog while you’re out and enlist a professional to help you work out what’s what.
#6 Give your dog a food toy. That will stop the anxiety.
A common sign of stress in dogs, as in all animals, is a decrease in appetite. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Stress is a response to a threat. Out in the wild, when the gazelle spots the lion, he’s thinking about survival, not snacks. When fear hits, the body needs to channel energy into dealing with the threat. The digestive system takes a back seat.
So, for a good number of separation anxiety dogs, food isn't the answer. If you own a separation anxiety dog, you might recognize this. You go out, leave the most delicious Kong or the stinkiest bully stick; and when you return, he hasn’t touched the food. But soon after you’re back, he gobbles it down.
That said, not all separation anxiety dogs lose their appetite when alone. In fact, sometimes we see dogs eat more, and with greater intensity. These dogs are still upset. They just have a different way of showing their stress. And, as soon as they’ve finished their food, they begin their repertoire of home alone behaviours.
With these guys, food hasn’t made them less anxious, it’s distracted them. It’s better to help a dog become comfortable on his own than to use food props. After all, is a Kong going to last all day while you’re out at work?
#7 Your dog soiled the house/chewed the floor to get back at you for going out
Dogs don’t have motives they way we do. They don’t think like us, and they don’t think about the same things as humans.
Dogs are motivated by “safe or dangerous” and by what's in it for them. They are innocently selfish. Hence, the notion of “getting back at you” isn’t something that could be in your dog’s head. When you go out, a separation anxiety dog is in a panic, feeling unsafe and fearful.
Chewing, defecating or urinating in the house help anxious dogs, the way nail-biting helps some anxious people. Your dog did what he did because he couldn’t help it. Not because he’s mad or bad.
#8 Puppies don’t have separation anxiety
We used to think puppies don’t get separation anxiety. When puppies barked they were barking for attention – or so we thought. While lots of puppies do demand bark, experts believe genetics might a part in separation anxiety. Research is ongoing, but it's fascinating to consider some puppies could come hardwired for separation anxiety. And early life experience can bring on separation anxiety too. In other words, your puppy may have had separation anxiety even before you picked him up.
If you’re not sure whether it’s normal puppy stuff or home alone distress, reach out for help. Catching separation anxiety early can make all the difference to treatment.
If you want to discuss any of these issues, book your free 30-minute consultation.