Dogs which are very attached to their owners and tend to follow them constantly, may develop the so-called separation anxiety. This is a complex problem caused by a number of factors. The factors can occur both individually and in various combinations. For the sake of full transparency, we define separation anxiety as a state based on the emotional system resulting from the loss of contact with who the dog feels safe. The dog feels scared of being away from the group, e.g. its owner or another animal companion. In gregarious and social animals, separation from the group can cause a very strong emotional response resulting in the release of cortisol (stress hormone). In short, the release and synthesis of catecholamines, GABA, glutamic acid and serotonin is disturbed. This may also result in absorption disorders, diarrhoea, and mucosal inflammation. Moreover, behavioural changes, such as apathy, biting and licking body parts or hair, pointless movements or even self-aggression, may occur.
Your dog may also experience other problems, not resulting from the classic separation anxiety, such as boredom, frustration, lack of activity or too much activity, and simply the stress of being left alone.
These anxiety states may have internal causes (hormonal imbalance, genetic predisposition) and external causes (sudden changes in rituals and changes in everyday life.
The most common symptoms accompanying the separation problems include:
- Destruction – may occur in dogs which do not have enough physical and mental activity. Dogs often bite objects with a specific texture, from specific materials they prefer, or show too much attachment to their owner, try to get out of the room in pursuit of their carer and, characteristically destroy doors and windows.
- Vocalisation e.g. barking, whining, squealing and howling, is usually caused by external stimuli and social interactions.
- Environmental contamination, e.g. urinating or defecating in the house – if other factors, such as medical problems, dog’s lack of awareness of the need to keep things tidy and age-related imbalance, can be excluded, the reason for that can be attributed to stress and fear.
- Compulsive behaviour – in some cases, excessive and persistent licking, biting, wriggling may occur. This includes any activities the dog does not want to interrupt or immediately goes back to after interrupting.
- Aggressive behaviour – occurs occasionally; a dog is aggressive, sometimes even bites and grabs things with its teeth, trying to prevent its carers from leaving the house.
- Self-injurious behaviour – licking or biting oneself.
To precisely identify the cause of the problem, it is a good idea to record your dog’s behaviour while you are absent. Based on the recordings, the behaviouralist can determine whether your dog’s behaviour is due to anxiety, fear, or frustration, or simply it does it to kill boredom.