Dog’s Eye View: Please don’t leave me

Laura Tyler/For the Steamboat Today

In the first two articles on separation disorder, I touched on a little of the physiology behind it. This was followed by information on the breeder’s influence in neonatal development and the first steps in helping a young puppy learn to cope with short separation from littermates and Mom.

If you missed them, be sure to check out the columns in the online archive for “A Dog’s Eye View.”

In this segment, I want to undertake some explanations as to why and how separation anxiety starts. Genetics can play a part in certain dogs. They are who they are, and we can help this type of dog from the very start.

We get into trouble if we don’t realize how extremely needy this puppy is and make the assumption that “he’ll get used to it.” This genetic predisposition requires a sensitive and progressive approach to introducing “home alone.”

Shelter dogs seem to be more prone to varying degrees of separation distress. It stands to reason that dogs who are relinquished to a shelter have suffered a traumatic separation from their first family no matter what the circumstances.

They then are housed in a highly stressful environment with periods of barking and kennel noise. Consider the stress hormones released in that environment by all the dogs there, which adds to the overall bedlam and confusion felt by each dog. Shelters are not set up for long-term housing, so any time throughout a few days can have a long-lasting impact on the emotional stability of the dog.

This is a generalization, not a blanket description or commentary about shelters or rescue facilities. The genetics and temperament of each dog should be considered unique to the individual.

Dogs that have been abandoned or trapped in an empty home can have extreme symptoms. Imagine that confinement with no food or water and no way to seek or find resources. It stands to reason that when a rescue dog is fostered or adopted, he may carry a previous history as part of his background baggage. These dogs need stability and special care.

It might be easy to assume that because your dog can sleep in a kennel crate for eight hours at night that he should be OK with that same amount of confinement while you are at work. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Our body rhythms slow down after dark and that signals rest or sleep. Daytime hours should include exercise and mental stimulation and a chance for elimination within a few hours of the first meal. Dogs should not be expected to stay quietly in a kennel crate for hours during the daytime. This can signal a very traumatic event. Other single events might include sudden loud or prolonged loud noise. Lightning storms are a very common onset for separation distress, too.

Moving to a new house also can trigger separation problems. It’s important to take a look at the environmental changes from your dog’s point of view.

Moving from the country where your dog could predict who was coming and going and the loudest sound he heard was your car driving down the gravel road is a far cry from moving into an apartment or townhome where there is constant and changing noise and smells. For a dog with limited worldly experience, this can be quite traumatic.

Separation anxiety, distress, disorder, phobia, whatever we choose to call it is an extremely difficult problem with varying degrees of intensity. Modifying this traumatic behavior takes time and a long-term commitment to a treatment plan.

It can take weeks to months to help improve a dog’s life and mental state. For the dogs and their families, this can become a real life-changing crisis.

Planning and prevention is the key. For families who have adopted a dog with separation anxiety symptoms, there is hope, but it takes time, consistency and patience to change this acute ingrained behavior.

If you think your pet is suffering from a type of separation distress, start with a trip to your veterinarian to rule out any medical or nutritional problems. There are resources available so don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25-plus years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado. She welcomes ideas and suggestions for future articles. You can contact her at

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