On Doggie Separation Anxiety and Socialization in General

Okay, right now I am still in the very initial stages of establishing my new business, getting all the licenses and insurance and preparing for some marketing.  Maybe eventually I will get a separate site up and running just for that, but for now, I think that might be taking too much on, so every once in a while, I may post some dog stuff here.  Here goes.

Lots of dogs follow their humans around the house.  They like to be close, sometimes inconveniently so.  On your heels.  Sitting on your foot.  Or in your lap.  Most humans, for their part, don’t mind and actually enjoy the close bond they have with their dog, even if he is the canine version of a helicopter parent.  So how do you know if your dog is simply a doting canine companion who worships the ground you walk on (especially if you have treats,) or is suffering from bonafide separation anxiety.  What’s the difference?

  Dogs with separation anxiety tend to bark, howl, whine, or even yelp while the owner is not home. They tend to be destructive, and will chew up just about anything, including door frames, clothing, couches, pillows, or even their own crate. When they chew their crate it is usually in attempt to escape, which dogs with separation anxiety are good at doing.  (source)

Sometimes, a dog who chews furniture or tears up the house when the owners leave him home alone may be simply bored or possessed of excess energy (due usually to the owner underestimating the amount of physical or mental stimulation their dog requires.)  Or he may be suffering from the more insidious separation anxiety.  Now that I know a little more than I used to (I still have a lot to learn, but who doesn’t?) I think people take it for granted when they have had an “easy” dog.  They have maybe had a dog that had no behavioral trait that they considered problematic.  Then they are surprised/dismayed when they get a dog that has behavioral issues they don’t like or have never encountered with their previous dogs. Some people, even people who have had dogs before, don’t always realize that a lot of the things we expect of dogs (like long periods of isolation/separation from their “pack”, which would be their human family in this case) are not a natural part of doggie genetic make-up, and sometimes need to be taught or socialized into the dog.  If you think your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, you may want to contact a vet or trainer for help dealing with the issue.

To sum up, the best thing a dog lover (owner) can do for their dog is to get them used to all types of people, places, things, and circumstances as early as possible.  This is your best defense against not only common behavioral complaints, but also against more serious issues like separation anxiety and even unexpected dog bites!

Also keep in  mind, dogs typically don’t generalize well.  Often, when someone claims their dog doesn’t like a certain “type” of person (a person of a particular sex, race, age, etc.) it is simply because the dog was simply not exposed to this type of person enough, especially during the most formative socialization period.  Take your puppy or dog with you whenever you can, and try to make the experiences he has with new people, places, and things good experiences so he can build good associations.  This is a very basic tenet of Learning Theory (Behaviorism) and how dogs learn.

Puppies are not only widely believed to be in a sensitive period, biologically, but are encountering many very important things – people of all types, dogs apart from their littermates, sights, sounds etc. – for the first time, which, from a Pavlovian conditioning perspective, is noteworthy, as significant experiences of both negative and positive variety are sometimes indelible. So it behooves us to “pad” puppies with good experiences regarding things we want them to like, because inevitably life will throw them bad experiences. (Jean Donaldson, source)

So just bear these things in mind the next time you see your dog do something you may not like.  He was not born with a built-in set of rules for living with humans.  He may need to be taught what you expect of him, (and to do that it helps to have a basic understanding of how dogs learn.)  And it bears repeating: socialize, socialize, socialize!

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2 responses to “On Doggie Separation Anxiety and Socialization in General

    • More the second part than the first. You can gradually overcome fearfulness, but if there is not enough people and different demographics to practice on, it’s so much harder. And you know how they say “use it or lose it?” To an extent, that can be true even of dogs who were socialized to certain groups but then didn’t get exposure to them enough after that.

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