Nearly all dogs freak out in one way or another when owners leave, typically barking or scratching or destroying or otherwise going bananas. For decades, owners have been responding all wrong.
Researchers studied 2,757 dogs from over 100 breeds, filling in 243-question surveys for each. They found that our perception of “separation anxiety” is myopically focused on, uh, owners, and not actually what fuels problematic pooch behavior.
“Labeling a dog who is destructive, urinating or defecating indoors, or vocalizing when left alone as separation anxiety is not very helpful,” says coauthor Daniel Mills, a professor veterinary behavioral medicine at the U.K.’s University of Lincoln.
The key is to figure out why your pet is frustrated. There are four types of frustration:
- reactions to external noises or events
- wanting to get to something outside
- desire to get away from something in the home
Once the specific frustration is identified, it is much easier to address. This is totally different than the current standard treatment of concluding that a dog has separation anxiety because you have left. In reality, the dog’s behavior is not triggered by an owner’s departure but caused by an underlying frustration. Surprise: It’s not about you.
The study doesn’t prescribe specific solutions, but if you have, say, a bored dog, you might alleviate his frustration with more exercise before you depart, and engaging activities, such as treat-dispensing toys, while you’re gone.
These work-from-home pandemic weeks are an excellent opportunity to narrow down which frustration is bugging your pet, and test out solutions while you take brief walks during the day.