Monday, May 25, 2009

Separation Anxiety: Theirs, not Yours

By Ruthie Bently

I just got back from a vacation shortened by weather. But I was pining even the week before I left – I was already missing Skye and she hadn’t gone anywhere yet. You see, she was going to spend her time at the breeders, as I could not take her with me. I was having separation anxiety before the fact. Did you know that animals can also have issues with separation anxiety? Not only that, I discovered after this recent trip, that there can be separation anxiety issues between animal species.

I had a client, “Mrs. Jones,” whose daughter went away to college, and their Golden Retriever began to misbehave. Mrs. Jones came in and asked what she should do because she was baffled. This was a dog that had gone through obedience classes and was a wonderfully behaved dog. So what was going on, why was her superbly trained dog misbehaving? Any time anyone comes in to see me about a specific issue, whatever it is related to, I always ask what has changed in the pet’s environment. We don’t necessarily see changes in our households as major changes, but our pets can and often may. Any changes we make in our lives can affect our pet’s lives as well.

Mrs. Jones mentioned that her daughter had gone off to college, but was home recently for the Thanksgiving break and to do laundry. The dog followed her daughter all around the house and would not stop. If they crated the dog, she whined the whole time. It took me a bit of time to figure it out but I did; the dog loved the whole family, but had apparently bonded to the daughter. Her owner asked me what I thought she should do. “Laundry” was the key word for me. I asked Mrs. Jones if her daughter came home with laundry on a regular basis. “No” was the answer, so I suggested she give the dog a pair of her daughter’s dirty socks and see what happened. That solved the problem, because since the dog had grown up with their daughter and she went away to school, the dog was pining for her. All pets can suffer from separation anxiety, though some may have more issues with it than others.

Some obvious signs of separation anxiety are pets following you around the house or yard and not wanting to let you out of their sight. Our animals are smart enough to know that something is going on; they just don’t have the particulars yet. Your pets may want to go outside and then want to come right back in, because of their fear that you might leave and not let them in again. Sometimes the same pet will stay outside so you can’t leave, because they realize that if they delay your time of leaving that gives them more time to spend with you. (These issues can arise either before or after you actually take your trip.) Your pet may start pacing around the house or yard; they may start whining and crying for no apparent reason.

I explained to Skye before I left why she could not go with me, and told her when I would be back to get her. The last time Skye went to the breeders, one of her cousins was an agitator and would get Skye going. But Skye did fine – I was the basket case!

Some things you can do if you are leaving your dog in a kennel while you are gone are to take a few of their favorite toys or a favorite blanket from home to help them settle in better. Some kennels offer extra exercise for a fee, which can help keep your dog’s mind off your absence. You could also speak with a homeopath about using an herbal remedy for calming your pet while you are away.

I even learned something new after I got home – the cats missed Skye as well. How do I know? They wouldn’t let Skye out of their sight, and followed her around the house whether she was inside or outside. Two of them, Munchkin and Mouse, actually put their front paws around her neck and began kneading her fur, and then they began giving her love bites. Munchkin even spent the first night we were all home together sleeping on Skye’s back with her front paws wrapped around Skye’s neck to prevent her from moving without Munchkin knowing. Skye being the long suffering dog she is, took it all in stride.

The most important thing to remember is that your pets love you and can’t always understand why they can’t go along. Have patience when dealing with their “acting out” and try to be a bit more understanding of their possibly odd behavior after you get home; it will pass in time.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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