Claustrophobia and terror, a dog’s tail
When I was 18, a requirement of marriage was the delivery of a Rottweiler. We got a gorgeous 6 month old male Rottie to fulfill my dreams.
We brought him home, he loved us, he bonded and then when we left him he broke out 3 windows, ate 4 batteries (among other dangerous items) and shredded 2 sofas. He cut his nubbin/tail in one escape and he even ate Joseph and the baby Jesus in our nativity scene that had been handed down throughout generations…
He definitely had some separation anxiety issues. Thankfully most were cured with a secure aluminum K9 crate, a dark room, and a loud radio.
I have been asked a lot lately to help people that have dog’s with separation anxiety, the severe kind of separation anxiety where there is a fear of a dog injuring himself by hurling his body out a 3 story window, or eating through a door to get out!
Most dogs just need to have their confidence built and they need to be taught some self-reliant “alone” skills. Independence is sometimes a talent that has to be influenced and taught. And, some people think that the boredom and destruction their dogs show is automatically separation anxiety when really it is probably just boredom. I will address that in a separate article.
Dogs with severe separation anxiety truly disregard everything including damaging their bodies in an attempt to get out of their confinement.
I would assume for the dog it feels like perilous claustrophobia and terror.
Imagine being buried alive; this is how these dogs act when left alone. Extreme fear and a phobic response, I can’t imagine how these dogs feel.
It is certainly not normal.
Put yourself in your dog’s paws for a moment. What kind of fear would cause you to do bodily harm to yourself? Would cause you to urinate or defecate where you normally wouldn’t or would cause you to damage your things?
It must be horrible to feel this way, but the problem is that most people HAVE to leave their dog at some point…
- Change of owners
- Relinquishment to a shelter
- Change in residence
- Change in schedule
- Change in family dynamics
- Medical problems
Recognize the Signs
- Defecating & Urinating
- Howling, Screaming, or Monotonous Barking
Most of these behaviors start the moment the dog’s owner leaves and often continue until their return. And are behaviors that are not typical for the dog normally and are extreme.
Is it Medical?
If your dog is not new to you and these behavior problems are new, the best thing to do first is to make sure that your dog has a clean bill of health.
Frequent urination, defecation and even destructive behaviors can be a sign that something is medically wrong. Do your dog a favor and take him to your vet first!
Helping Your Dog Feel Better
Counter conditioning can be effective in some mild cases. Counter conditioning is a process that changes the animal’s fearful or anxious reaction to a calm and relaxed state by associating the sight of the trigger (perhaps you grabbing your keys or walking out the front door) with something good or something that he loves.
For instance you can leave a puzzle toy, a stuffed bone or a stuffed KONG to give him something to do while you are gone. Make sure to take these toys away when you get home so that he associates your leaving with the appearance of his favorite things.
I recommend leaving the radio on LOUD so your dog can’t hear every little noise and become more panicked.
I also like safe crate training and crate games to keep dogs safe. Aluminum K9 crates can be safer and almost impossible to break out of. For more on crate training click here.
Moderate to severe cases need lots of desensitization training (for more on that click here) and short separations that DO NOT induce anxiety. These sessions will gradually increase over several weeks or months as your dog learns to deal with his anxieties.
Fear must be avoided or it can cause the dog to backslide to his previous state.
I have heard that the “Thunder Shirt” or similar products can also help.
While you are working on desensitizing your dog, a pet sitter, dog walker or even doggy daycare can be invaluable in helping to rehabilitate your dog.
In severe cases where self-injurious behaviors are a problem medications can help give your dog some relief. Talk to your vet about he or she recommends.
Before you say you would never want to put your dog on meds, imagine for a moment being exposed to your worst fear and having no control…would you want medication? I am guessing you would, at least until you got a handle on the behavior.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.