Imagine coming home after a long day at work, only to be met with piles of pillow stuffing scattered throughout the house, or your mother’s priceless quilt torn to shreds, or a confused and yelping dog. Your dog rushes to the door, grateful his human parent has finally returned – until noticing the dazed expression on your face.
Why is your normally happy pup behaving this way? What can you do about it?
What Exactly is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Separation anxiety in dogs is exactly what the name implies: anxiety caused by being separated from a handler. You can define it as ‘your dog begins exhibiting extreme stress from the time you leave to when you return’ with behavior such as crying, howling, hiding, scratching, cowering or chewing. Some symptoms can include:
- Destruction of furniture or clothing
- Increased pacing or jumping
- Continuous barking, whining, or howling
- Attempts at escape with evidence of scratched door, carpet or flooring
- Increased vigilance such as circling you prior to leaving home
- Urination or defecation due to extreme stress (rarely done as an expression of revenge)
Separation anxiety can become a problem in any dog breed but usually is more common in dogs that feel strongly attached or dependent on their owner. This behavior is frequently exhibited by Xolos. This is more often a question of ‘What did I do wrong when raising my dog (or what didn’t I do)’ than ‘Is this breed going to have worse separation anxiety than that breed?’
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Where did my human go? What could have happened? Did they leave me to die alone because they are upset with me? Why is my human so mad at me? What if she is injured somewhere, and I can’t save her? Who will feed me?
Dogs are not intellectually capable of stringing such complex human thoughts together, but this is the general gist of what they are feeling. Your dog is anxious when you are absent.
In extreme situations, dogs have chewed holes through wood flooring in order to reunite with their owners again, destroyed doors, and even caused drastic damage to their mouths and paws trying to escape a metal crate.
It usually won’t get that bad, however. Overall, separation anxiety results from either a lack of training, unfamiliarity with irregular human behavior, or incorrect training techniques.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety
Xolos like to be around their ‘person’ and tend to develop a close bond with one particular individual.
With a dog characteristically integrated into a family or “pack” and raised as a companion animal, it’s common for a Xolo to express anxiety, unusual behavior, or even anger upset when isolated or alone.
You might be thinking ‘My Xolo is absolutely impossible to train!’ You’ve heard the breed is especially notorious for developing separation anxiety. Yet the same basic training principles apply to all domestic dog breeds including Xolos.
The entire principle used by nearly all of the most experienced animal behaviorists in the world amounts to one basic idea: let your dog adapt to your absence slowly over time. Let him ‘dip his toes (or pads)’ into this new idea first; don’t force him to deal with hours of away time immediately.
The “Ideal” Training Method for Separation Anxiety
Start with very short absences. You might shut your dog in a room for 5-10 minutes, or walk to the neighbors. You always want to start small, and gradually build on the familiarity of time without you. The ideal training method here is actually very similar (nearly the same) to crate training.
You want your dog to realize it is safe, natural and regular to be alone, and that you’ll return every single time, unharmed and happy to greet him. In your initial re-encounters, don’t acknowledge any kind of problem, or presence; instead, act normally and naturally without excitement, touching or exclamation.
Note: Screaming and/or punishing your dog for any destruction caused while away will only reinforce the fears and anxiety that you’re trying to prevent.
Let’s simply agree to call this method “ideal” because it is effective but doesn’t always work in real life.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety
Preventing separation anxiety involves the same method as the “Ideal Training Method” above. Gradually introduce your Xolo to alone time, and remain calm and consistent; absolutely never simply go from being with him all day to leaving him alone for several hours at a time.
There are additional considerations and/or causes to consider in identifying and treating separation anxiety.
- Shelter dogs or rescues may need extra counter-conditioning work, since they are already in a completely unfamiliar environment and likely to grow overly attached to a human parent ‘rescuer’ in a ‘protective and safe’ environment.
- Never punish your dog for anything done when you arrive home. This could actually increase his fear of being left alone, or fear of punishment when you arrive home after such a long absence.
- Do you have two dogs? Consider raising another for a companion to the first.
- Avoid creating a dramatic show of leaving or arriving home. Our human rationale may make this seem like a good idea, yet an Alpha wolf exerts dominance over his subordinates through constant calm control, not excess emotion. They don’t become emotional at every encounter.
- Other vets and owners recommend specially-formulated products (some with CBD) to help a dog reduce its physical anxiety.
The Blissful Dog Relax Roll-On Aromatherapy for Dogs – Consider aromatherapy. Apply the treatment before you leave in combination with proper dog training.
FurroLandia Hemp Calming Treats for Dogs – Made to help your dog cope with excess stress, these soft chews are a fantastic tool for prevention and care.
Separation anxiety occurs in many dog breeds, yet is easily recognizable in many Xolos. To overcome this behavior, try a simple approach to help your Xolo “understand” that you will return, starting with very short moments away and gradually increasing the time and distance to improve your dog’s calm. Consider your Xolo’s physical needs such as regular feeding, periodic urination and ongoing positive reinforcement. Stay calm and consistent. You can also test several products to see if they help to reduce the physical stress of your Xolo.
Photo Credit: Jacqi Xolo Dinis