Now that the world is slowly opening up, we are receiving more requests from desperate pet parents who want to address their pet’s over-dependency on them or the pet’s inability to stay alone at home. Words like “separation anxiety” and “isolation distress” are now part of the common pet parent parlance.
So, what exactly is isolation distress?
Isolation Distress is the dog’s stress/anxiety of being alone and is manifested through misbehaviours that your dog usually does not do when you are around him/her, but always does when you step out of the house or leave him/her alone in a room or in a place inaccessible to anyone (such as a closed balcony, locked out in a garden, etc). A few examples of such misbehaviour during isolation distress are barking/whining, chewing/destructing stuff, urinating/defecating in the house or digging in the yard.
Is this the same as separation anxiety?
No. Separation anxiety is a legitimate panic attack a dog has when separated from a particular human(s). Even if left in a full house and their human is missing, these dogs with separation anxiety have an inconsolable meltdown. Not all dogs with isolation distress have separation anxiety, but all dogs with separation anxiety will have shown signs of isolation distress early on. It is our responsibility as pet parents to ensure that such isolation distress instances are taken care of right away, disallowing it from escalating to worse anxiety presentations.
Do dogs outgrow it?
No, dogs do not outgrow this distress. Would you have outgrown your fear of water unless you had waded in after you realized that you can learn swimming or wear a lifejacket to be safe? Similarly, we need to start training our dogs every day to be more comfortable staying by themselves. Remember not to rush the training...listen to your dog, observe the pet’s body cues and take this forward responsibly. If your dog seems uncomfortable with that day’s training, go back to the prior difficulty level and re-do the practise. You won’t be able to make progress if you rush your pet; in fact they may further regress in their distress levels. Remember that correcting this anxiety does not happen overnight. Be patient and reach out to a trainer or behaviourist who are familiar with this problem and have experience training this away.
Some tips before we leave:
- Ensure your dog gets ample exercise and has access to water, food while you are gone
- Leave the dog with things that smell of you, or mental stimulation treats to keep them engaged
- Teach your dog to relax and rest
- You could leave music or the TV on while you are gone, if it is something that your dog responds to
- Pre-departure cues must be worked on with your dog before you step outside
Remember you are not alone in this. Try to stay calm, confident when you step out of the house and always feel free to ask for help. Many dogs have struggled with this especially with the pandemic, but remember Dr.Google will not be able to help you with this. It takes a trained eye to tell you what the dog is thinking and tailor a plan that suits you and your furry friend. Feel free to reach out to us if you need help with this!