Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Preventing and Curing Separation Anxiety in Service Dogs

Recently, I read an article Cocoa: don't leave home without him. I was horrified to read this little service dog's reaction to a practice run of being boarded with some family friends before the family went on vacation that they deemed not the best for Cocoa to join them. Cocoa was so traumatized at being left he escaped running more than ten miles over two days, "Cocoa's paws were all raw, his hair was matted and he hadn't eaten for days, but when Skyler and his special friend finally reunited it was as if this was a Hollywood movie! With film crews capturing every jumping, yelping, and "piddling" moment, tears of joy were shed." It is very fortunate that Cocoa was not more seriously injured or killed while lose.
All service dogs, no matter what their job need to be comfortable staying home alone, staying with family/friends, and being crated. There are times when having your service dog with you may not be the best choice for you or them, as well as times they can't be with you and it is up to us to make sure that our dogs can handle being with out us. Examples:
  • You are having surgery
  • You are in the hospital and so sick as to not be able to care for your dog yourself.
  • You are going somewhere not safe for your service dog like a loud concert, a bar, a wild animal park, a private event.
  • Your service dog is injured/sick and should not work.
  • Your service dog needs to stay at the vet for procedures.
  • Your service dog is going to be professionally groomed.
  • You have worked your service dog particularly hard for a day, week, or month and decide they need rest.
Many service dog handlers unknowingly create separation anxiety in their service dogs by:
  • Having the dog with them around the clock everyday of their lives together. Even medic-alert/seizure alert dogs need to be comfortable being alone.If the paramedics come to pick you up from your home, chances are pretty good the dog will be left behind.
  • Allowing their dogs to see them anxious about leaving them. If you're anxious chances are pretty good your dog will be too.
  • Believing they are the only one who could possibly care for their service dog. This is a self created problem. It doesn't take that much work to teach a few family members/friends your service dog's basic cues, schedule, and particular care needs. The work pays off in comfort and confidence for both your service dog and yourself should you ever have to be separated. This could be explained to child partners of dogs using human independence examples like why the learn to play alone, learning to sleep in one's own bed, learning to have fun and feel safe at a sleep over/ sleep away camp, or places you don't take your child because it is not safe for them. The child (if able) could be involved in teaching the surrogate doggy carers how to care for their dog, and choosing who/where the dog will stay.
I have no less than five people Shiloh is comfortable with and could stay with if there was a need. I also leave Shiloh behind and go out several times a month and ask her to spend time in her crate regularly. I don't want her injuring herself or getting lost just because I left.

For those of you living with dogs with separation anxiety or looking to prevent I found a couple resources:
  1. Canine Separation Anxiety Workbook
  2. I'll Be Home Soon- By Patricia McConnell, Ph.D (you'll notice her blog linked here and other books by her in my favorites list. I don't know Ms. McConnell but I find her work easy to understand and put into practice.)
Video: Good Dog U: Separation Anxiety (Animal Planet)


Katrin said...

Good post! I agree it is VERY important for any dog, but especially a SD to be use to being left with others or alone in your home. I make it a habit to leave James home every so often just so he doesn't develope seperation anxiety.

Melissa Mitchell said...

Glad you liked it!

thepethealing said...

She walks perfectly next to me when walking, she stops every time I stop, very friendly and so on. I don't believe in making 'baby' sounds to an exited dog when teaching them to be calm because it just makes the situation much worse.Separatiom Anxiety in Dogs