If you have a dog who suffers from separation anxiety you will know it is both heartbreaking and frustrating in equal measures. It is heartbreaking to know they are anxious and stressed when left alone, yet frustrating when you return home to find your favourite shoes or expensive sofa shredded!
Separation Anxiety is a common problem, with varying degrees of severity. It is a hugely complex disorder, with multiple factors culminating to produce the symptoms we now recognise as separation anxiety. Given the complexity of the issue, there is by no means a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
Separation anxiety is essentially when a dog is unable to regulate their emotions when left alone. They develop an inability to adapt to changes in their environment, especially when their humans leave. They become dependant on outside sources of validation in order to feel calm and confident in their own skin when alone. This inability to regulate their emotions internally projects outwards, and as a result their behaviour becomes ‘un-regulated’. The result is most commonly destruction, barking, and in some cases, self-mutilation.
Factors such as diet, mental stimulation and desensitisation have all been covered in depth by dog trainers and behaviourists. There are many great tips and techniques to try with your dog, but my particular interest and contribution to this body of information lies in the relationship you, their human, has with being alone.
Yes, that’s right. How do you feel about being alone?
First, let’s identify the main reasons you had for introducing a dog into your life, and the traits you considered desirable when doing so. Sociable, loving, and affectionate would have rated high, along with the x factor, which is the feeling of ‘connection’. When you feel this connection with a puppy it can be felt strongly because it is a heart connection. It can be almost instantaneous. It is a feeling we have learned to trust because it comes from within. You may even have been prepared to overlook all the other criteria you had set as you follow this feeling and honour the bond you experienced with this dog.
You may have decide to get a dog because you sought companionship. One of your favourite times of the day may be when you relax on the sofa with your dog curled up next to you. During these times, you are emitting feelings of love, ease and peace. Your dog basks in your vibration as you radiate these emotions, and they mirroring them back to you. The physical presence of your dog makes you feel calm.
You may enjoy hearing the joyful, padding feet as your dog follows you around the house as you do chores, and you may find yourself chattering away to them constantly. Your dog hangs on your every word, loving the communication and being in your company. The feeling is of course mutual and the connection makes you feel less alone.
As humans, it seems, have projected our need for companionship, affection, loyalty and connection onto our dogs.
If this is the case, then who has the separation anxiety to begin with?
You, or the dog?
These traits that we pre-selected for our dogs when choosing them, are not traits that are compatible with a dog who is left home alone all day. These are traits that we require because we feel alone, lack connection with others, and seek loyalty, and unconditional love from another living being.
Our need to feel loved and our increasing intolerance at being alone, means we are looking for ways to fill that void. By choosing a dog who needs companionship as much as we do, who is sociable and adoring, we are merely attracting an animal with the same emotions as ourselves. But, a dog has no way of filling that void when left alone, so as they desperately try and self-regulate, we see destructive behaviours are expressed.
“Dogs are a lightning rod for our unresolved emotions.”
Dogs are a lightning rod for our unresolved emotions, and they anchor them. In doing so, it creates stress for them that changes their behaviour.
As an Animal Kinesiologist, I have had success in treating separation anxiety by working with both the dog and their human together. By addressing the human’s feeling of disconnect and need for external sources of validation, we can release the projection of those unresolved emotions to their dogs. The results are quite extraordinary!
Animal Kinesiology doesn’t seek to change the positive, social characteristics of dogs who suffer from separation anxiety. Instead, it seek to increase their tolerance to being left alone. By decreasing their requirement for external sources of validation, and increasing their self confidence simultaneously, new, calmer behaviours are expressed.
These energy techniques compliment training and behavioural techniques, improving the success rate substantially.
If you would like to learn more, or feel this technique would benefit both you and your dog, I would love to hear from you!