Seeing a dog suffering from Separation Anxiety and/or Hyper Attachment is a pretty distressing thing to witness but surprisingly many people don’t recognise distress in dogs. The other day I was nipping into Tescos when I noticed a dog tied up outside. It was clearly distressed, repeatedly shifting weight between her two front paws, panting, ears right back flat against their head, crying and looking for her guardian to return. I decided that I would wait with the dog and speak to her in a kind reassuring tone telling her that her owner would be back soon. Of course, the dog did not understand a word I said but from time to time she’d look at me and stop crying for a few seconds.
As I stood with her, I witnessed people walking past smiling and laughing at her in a way that suggested they thought it was funny, in a cute way, that this dog was making an odd crying noise as it looked with hope at every person coming out the shop to see if that was their guardian. The only people that showed any kind of compassion or understanding were another local trainer who stopped and waited with me and a child, who in all fairness may have just wanted to pet the cute dog rather than understanding that she was distressed (she did not pet the dog as the adult that she was with called her away – you should never pet a dog without the express permission of their guardian whether they are present or not).
As you might imagine, it absolutely broke my heart to watch these people laugh at this poor dog. Some of you reading this might be thinking, well why did the owner leave a dog tied up outside a shop in the first place, and now here’s where I explain how difficult it can be to live with a dog that suffers from this kind of anxiety. It’s easy to judge but it takes a beat to think about what might have been going on here.
The dog’s guardian had clearly walked to the shop with their dog. When they came out of the shop, they only had one small bag of shopping, suggesting that they hadn’t been in there for very long (even though it may have felt like an eternity). If this dog had been left at home alone, she would have been left for a much longer period of time in a distressed state and so while I would strongly advise against leaving your dog tied up outside a shop, for this person and this dog, this was likely the lesser of two evils. I didn’t get the impression that the guardian didn’t care about their dog. They thanked me for waiting with her when I explained that I had noticed how distressed she had seemed, and they acknowledged that their dog did not like to be parted from them.
So why hadn’t the guardian addressed the problem, you might ask? Honestly, I wouldn’t presume to know. Many people don’t fully understand the level of distress their dogs are experiencing and just think that’s how their dog is, some interpret behaviours like house soiling and destruction as their pet doing it to spite them for having left them alone. Some believe if they just ignore a howling or barking dog they’ll eventually get bored and stop. In some cases, people do understand that their pet is distressed but the cost of seeking professional help is a barrier.
If you think that your dog might be suffering from Separation Anxiety the first thing to do is to speak to your vet to check your dog's health, explaining that you believe your dog may be suffering from Separation Anxiety. Pain or health issues can often contribute to or exacerbate behavioural issues. The vet may refer you to a Vet Behaviourist or Clinical Behaviourist. If this isn’t something that you can afford it’s worth checking to see if your pet insurance covers behavioural work. If they do that’s fantastic news but if not, all is not lost. Some behaviour consultants and trainers like me specialise in niche areas of behaviour like this and will happily work with you and your vet to resolve your dog’s separation anxiety.
If you would like help in resolving your dog's separation anxiety, please get in touch. The work we do is done remotely so you don't need to be local to benefit from my services.