Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety in dogs – Expert advice on how to deal with it!

The other day browsing through social media I came across a dog group (happens quite often in my feed, as I am sure you can imagine). In the group they were talking about separation anxiety. A person was asking if getting another dog would help her current dog with his/her separation anxiety and to my surprise many of the comments was a profound yes!

So today I want to address this issue that many dog owners struggle with, including myself with my dog Belga.

I have 2 rescues from Portugal, both very different. Chester is more independent and doesn’t really mind people leaving from a group or that I am leaving. If he could he would quite enjoy taking his own walk, I think.

Belga, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. She will do everything in her power to keep a group together. Herding them to stay close if she has to (also breed related). If we are in different rooms in our home she will place herself in the room in between, doing regular check ups on all of us to see if we are still there. Belga, if she could, would like to follow me wherever I go, and is not fond of me leaving at all.

But what is separation anxiety really?

Watch our video about separation anxiety here:

Separation anxiety is when your dog cannot be left alone, and if left becomes highly anxious and stressed out.

A dog with separation anxiety will exhibit behaviors possibly leading to destruction of some form or self inflicted damage. Your dog might urinate or worse in the house. He/She might start chewing on furniture, doors or walls or start howling or barking out of desperation of being alone.

If your dog on the other hand is more dependent on a person and acts like described above when that specific person leaves, we are more likely talking about attachment issues. This is related to separation anxiety, but is not the same. It has nothing to do with your dog not liking to be left alone in your home, but is more about that he/she wants to be with that specific person constantly.

Getting another dog in the household is therefore not always the best solution. Sometimes it helps, but if the anxiety is due to an attachment to a specific person or a fear, then a second dog will have no effect on your current dog’s state.

Dogs, as you might have understood in the intro, are first and foremost individuals. They have their own personality, their own needs and their own way of experiencing the world. Just like we humans do. And getting another dog on the sole basis to get rid of your other dog’s anxiety is not a valid reason for getting a new dog.

Let me tell ya! A multi dog household is a lot of work!

With 2 dogs you have 2 personalities whose needs you have to fulfill. No hands are free when walking. Two minds need to be tired out in order for them not to become the super destructive duo that will turn your house into ruin. Your old dog might also affect your new dog, causing them both to become anxious and stressed.

Separation anxiety

How to work with a dog with separation anxiety?

Get your FREE downloadable tutorial on Separation anxiety here

If your dog has separation anxiety my first advice would be to contact an ethologist/behaviorist (remember I am also available for Online consultations) to help you make a plan for how to work with this. This step cannot be emphasized enough, as you might do more harm than good if you decide to tackle this problem on your own.

Remember each dog is an individual and needs a specific set of training tools in order for the both of you to succeed in getting rid of the separation anxiety.

General advice

  1. Identify the cause behind your dog’s anxiety.

Is it when he/she is home alone in general?

Is it when a certain person or animal leaves?

Is it only sometimes (then it might not be separation anxiety, but something on that day or time that is scary – like the garbage truck or fireworks)?

This is most easily done by putting up a video camera and film your dog while he or she is home alone. Then observe the film afterwards to see how your dog behaves.

Are any triggers in the environment that makes your dog change their behavior?

2. Change the behavior

Next thing to figure out is how to change that behavior.

How to make your dog confident enough so that he or she is comfortable being home alone?

Now, first I want to point out that if you do have a dog that has separation anxiety it will be very hard to fix if you keep leaving your dog alone for 8-10 hours each day. All dogs like to be with their family.

If you do have a long workday and you cannot bring your dog to work with you or come home during your lunch break. Then look into a doggie day care or hiring a dog walker or a dog sitter.

3. Enrichment

The third thing is enrichment enrichment enrichment!!!(Watch our Youtube enrichment series here).

It is super important that you leave your dog with something to do when you leave your house and they are home alone. An activity toy such as a frozen Kong can keep your dog entertained for hours.

If you do this every time you leave, your dog will soon make the association. Mummy or daddy is leaving, then I get something yummy! Making your leaving a positive!

4. Exercise

The fourth thing is to always make sure to give your dog enough exercise before you leave him/her. A tired dog, is a calm dog!

Person attachment issues

person attachment issues

If your dog is very attached to a single person in your household then you need to take another approach. Start getting other people to engage more with your dog.

Give different family members different dog tasks. One feeds, several people take different walks, all play their own game with the dog, all give equal amounts of attention to the dog.

This will not only inhibit the dog from creating a strong bond with only one person, it will also enhance the bond to the entire family leaving everyone happier.

It should be said that some dogs do pick their favorite people. However, by having everyone engaged and involved in your dog, that also makes it easier for the dog when their favorite person leaves the home. Instead of panicking, they know they can go to someone else and get the comfort that they need.

Conclusion

Separation anxiety is not by any means an easy quick fix. It will take time and commitment to get your dog to a place where he/she is comfortable with you leaving. As in all training it is important to break the process down in small steps that both you and your dog can succeed in. Make it a fun journey and expect bumps on the road now and again before you reach success!

Always contact a professional before embarking on this training journey as each dog is an individual and needs their very own specific training steps in order to succeed.

A dog's hearing

A dog’s hearing – The captivating journey into a dog’s ear!

We all know that a dog’s hearing is exceptional, but how does a dog’s ear really work? And how does it affect a dog’s behavior?

The physiology of the dog ear

First let’s look at the physiology of the ear. The outer ear called pinna directs the sound waves into the ear canal. Here, the sound waves are transmitted by the tympanic membrane and the bones of the ear and carried further to the organ of Corti.

The ridges in the pinna helps the dog to better detect where the sound is coming from. This is helped by 18 little muscles that helps move the ear in a periscope-like way to better capture the sound.

In the organ of Corti the final decoding of frequency and volume is done by specific auditory neurons in the basal membrane. The auditory neurons senses the pressure changes from the sound waves with cilia.

Cilia are mechano-sensory cells that transform the sound energy into electric impulses which are then send through the auditory nerve to the brain.

Relateret billede

Dogs can hear in the frequency range between 41-44000 Hertz whereas humans hear in the range of 20-20000 Hertz. This means that dogs hear things that humans don’t. This could be the high-pitched chirping of mice or the high frequency sounds from electronics in our home, which can be rather disturbing for our dogs. Imagine constant tinnitus :O.

A dog’s hearing and behavior

Back in the days the primary function for a dog’s hearing was to locate prey. Nowadays it seems it is to listen to what cues their humans give them. Dogs mainly rely on our body language to read our intentions (Read Do dog’s understand us), but of course also use our verbal cues to figure out what it is we are asking them to do.

It has been found that the beginning of the word is the most significant part to the dog despite hearing everything we say. Try to say “si” instead of “sit” to your dog and see if it makes a difference. Let me know in the comments if it does.

Training experiments have shown that if you want dogs to learn a passive cue, such as sit or stay, in the fastest way possible, the best way to do that is to use a long note with descending frequency.

Whereas if you want to teach them an active cue for them to follow while they are in motion, the best words to use is short notes with increasing frequencies. This shows that the tone of voice pays a massive contribution to a dogs learning and how dogs are hearing us.

Hearing high pitched praise words such as “good boy/girl” activates the reward center of the brain which is something we should always aim for.

The 18 muscles in the pinna doesn’t only help the dog locate where a specific sound is coming from. It also helps them communicate how they feel both to humans and to other dogs. Flat ears tells us and other dogs that a dog might be scared or insecure, whereas upright ears might tell us that the dog might be attentive or excited.

As always one should look at all the body signals a dog is giving, before contemplating what the dog is saying, hence the “mights” above. Dogs with cropped ears are of course limited. Not only in their communication but also the acuity of their hearing is affected along with the ability to rotate their ears fully.

Noise Phobias in dogs

Our world must be rather loud to our dogs and it is our job as responsible dog owners to always give them a quiet place for them to go. We must learn as dog owners to read if our dogs might experience an auditory overload causing them distress. Dogs can also suffer from noise phobias, a common example is fear of fireworks (How to get your dog through the New Year) and thunder. In order to reduce the chance of noise phobias it is important to socialize puppies to hearing many different sounds and avoid exposing them to sudden loud sounds that might frighten them.

If you already have a dog with noise phobias it is important to start working with your dog to eliminate the fear as best as possible. An ethologist can help you with that, writing out a plan for you to follow and help both you and your dog live a noise phobia free life.

Dog vision

A dog’s vision – Do humans really see better than dogs?

Today we will talk about a dog’s vision and if the myth that humans see better than dogs is true. Many people believe that dogs do not see as well as humans, but is it really so? Let’s first dive into the physiology of a dog’s eyes.

A dog's vision

Physiology behind a dog’s vision

Just like humans, a dog’s eyes consists of the cornea and lens. The cornea and lens break down the light and bring it to the retina, found in the back of the eye. The retina is the home for the cones and rods, as well as the ganglion cells.

The rod and cones are the photo receptors of the eye. The cones are used during day time to visualize colors while the rods are used during nighttime.

Humans have 3 different types of cones, enabling them to see red, green and blue (Trichromatic). Dogs only have 2 types, enabling them to only see green and blue (Dichromatic). The rest of the colors that we humans see are perceived as different grey nuances for a dog.

In front of the cones and rods in the retina we find the ganglion cells. Ganglion cells are the decision makers for the resolution in the eye and contains a wide distribution of rods. If many rods attach to one ganglion cell you get a very broad resolution. Whereas if only one rod attach to one ganglion cell you get a more specific resolution.

Humans have a round formation of ganglion cells in their eyes, causing them to be able to see more details from a greater distance. Dog’s, on the other hand, have a more elongated visual streak causing them to have 3-4 times worse visual acuity than humans.

This means that the myth is true in this case. When it comes to details, human vision beats a dog’s vision.

However, researchers have now found that this holds true only for dogs with a long snout. Breeds with short snouts (brachycephalic), such as the pug, has a more round visual streak. Similar to the ganglion formation found in the human eye.

This means that brachycephalic dogs has a detail resolution on the same level as humans. They are able to see details further away than breeds with long snouts (read more here about what breeding brachycephalic breeds has done to their physiology).

But the rods in the ganglion cells are not only used for visual detail resolution. They are also used for night vision.

Here, the myth seems to fail, as dogs excel humans when it comes to night vision. This is due to the little thing called tapetum lucidum (the thing that makes your dog’s eyes glow when you take a picture of them in the dark).

Tapetum lucidum is a small tissue layer found right behind the retina. The tapetum lucidum reflects visible light back through the retina. This makes the eye more light-sensitive, as it increases the light received by the photo receptors. Although the image received might be slightly blurred, dogs will still see better in the dark then any human.

But interestingly a dog’s vision also exceed human vision when it comes to perceiving speed. This is due to them having a greater temporal resolution. Meaning that they are able to notice shorter duration between two light flashes coming from the same light source.

An example might come in handy here. Say that you and your dog are watching TV. You are seeing continuous coherent pictures, but your dog sees all the empty black spots in between each picture. No wonder they give up after a while!

Their greater temporal resolution also makes them more sensitive to rapid movements in their environment. This is why they will typically have noticed the hare running over the field long before you even spot it. This is, of course, also helped by their wider visual field found to be up to 250° compared to humans only reaching c. 180°.

dog vision

Does the myth hold true?

Dogs use their vision mainly during hunting and during interactions with con-specifics and humans. Their vision has adapted during the time of evolution to adapt to those needs. They cannot see colors as well as humans. That nice orange cone in the green grass is a plain grey nuance for them.

They don’t care much about patterns, and due to their greater temporal resolution TV doesn’t work for them, as the images simply moves too slow.

Dogs can learn to differentiate between different patterns but prefer to rely on color cues. Whether it is dark or light doesn’t really matter to them, but if something moves in the distance they will catch sight of it faster than you. Of course also due to their advantage of having a wider visual field.

By understanding how your dog works physically you automatically get a better understanding of his/her behavior. You might be able to improve your training methods, or simply increase your understanding as to how a dog perceives the world.

Finally, as you might have guessed from the above, the myth that a dog’s vision should not be as good as human vision is not valid, as it certainly depends on what you are comparing.

Sensitive stomach dog

The sensitive stomach dog! (3 steps to helping your dog)

Do you have a dog with a sensitive stomach?

My little C does too. He has had a sensitive stomach right from puppy hood. The many sleepless nights I have had walking circles around our blog or searching for grass patches to eat. The tons of different foods we have gone through before finding something that works. The cuddles when he needs a belly rub when his tummy hurts. Having to tell people not to feed him with this and that during the holidays, not to mention the many vet visits we have had to try and figure out what was wrong.

Sounds familiar?

Having a dog with a sensitive stomach is definitely not easy. We are now on a tight feeding schedule 4 times a day and finally seem to have found a brand that agrees with his stomach. So today I thought I would share some tips on how to best deal with a dog that has a sensitive stomach.

  1. Visit the veterinarian

Sensitive stomach dog

Having an illness or any kind of physical ailment can affect you mentally, the same goes for dogs. This is why it is so important that you always visit a vet when you have a behavioral problem to always rule out any physical illness first. When that is done you can start working with the problematic behavior along with an Ethologist (Contact me here).

I definitely see changes in Chester’s behavior if he has a day with stomach issues, and it is important to be aware of that with your dog in order to always be able to set him/her up for success. If your dog has an off day, ex. having a stomach ache, then take a shorter walk, cuddle them a little more and let them be without having too high expectations training wise that day.

2. The right food for a sensitive stomach

Sensitive stomach dog

If you do have a dog with stomach issues you already know how important it is to provide the right food for them (Read 10 foods that are toxic for dogs).

However, I think it is important to mention here, that if you are still in the search for the right food then make a slow transfer between the different types of food. Mix the old and the new food slowly increasing the quantity of the new food over several days. A sudden shift to a new food can cause stomach issues on its own.

The vet often has different foods, depending on their sponsors. Sometimes these work and sometimes they don’t. Chester was given a specific sensitive stomach food from the vet. It worked fine but not as good as the food he is given now.

For me I think it is also important to think about how the food is produced. Just like us, having too many E-numbers of different kinds in our bodies is not the best and most likely it would be the same for dogs, so try to go ecological or as natural as possible.

That being said, if you are thinking of switching to RAW food then talk to your vet first and do proper research as RAW food can also cause stomach troubles due to containing different not so friendly bacteria. Specially to an already sensitive stomach.

Treats is a whole other thing that can also cause a lot of havoc, especially when your entire family wants to give your dog a piece of their x-mas roast. Your dog will definitely not say no to that, so you have to be his/her voice and tell people that yes they can give the dogs treats, but they have to be your treats and not a piece of their roast.

3. Listen to your dog’s body language

Sensitive stomach

Finally I want to talk about listening to your dog, and learning how to read their body language (Learn the basics in dog body language here).

Chester has remarkably always been very good to tell me when he needs to go out, running from door to door panting and winning and then I know we have to hurry outside.

What does your dog do to tell you he/she needs to go out?

Each dog shows discomfort and pain differently, so learn how to read when your dog is not feeling well. Is he/she pacing restlessly back and forth? Winning? Sleeping more than usual or being lazier than usual? Does he/she turn to their side with their snout, or licking their paws? All that can be a sign that they are in pain or have discomfort.

Always be aware of rewarding these behaviors so your dog can feel safe telling you he/she is not well and you skip “the scrubbing stains of the floor” part. This will also ensure that your dog will start showing you when he/she needs to go out or are not feeling well, which in general is a very smart trick.

Hope this will help you and let you know that we are many who has a dog with a sensitive stomach so you are definitely not alone.

Fear in dogs

Fear in dogs – How to overcome it!

Behind every behavior lies an emotion

Today we are talking about fear in dogs and I thought I would first share what Chester’s 2 biggest fears are – old men with canes and sewer grates. The fear of old men with canes we have almost beat with lots of yummy treats every time we pass people with canes.

It was easier to conquer then the sewer crates where we have only managed to reduce the fear. We have now reached a point where it is okay to walk past them without throwing a complete panic attack, but walking on them is a no go.

So what can we do to help our pets cope with their fear?

Fear

Fear is not rational – not in humans and not in dogs.

Fear can be divided into 2. The innate fears which are often the good fears such as pain and certain smells that will help the dog to survive.

Then there are the learned fears, which are often the ones that are causing problems. Those could be “I am afraid of the car because the car takes me to the vet and there I experience pain” as an example. In fact 78% of dogs are afraid of going to the vet.

Fear often shows its face in either flight or fight responses. Some dogs freeze up and shows a hunched up bag, tail between the leg, white eyes body language, while others go right into fight mode.

So the first lesson today is learn how to read your dog’s body language. Understand that there lies an emotion underneath, that they are asking you to understand. By understanding the underlying emotional state we can prevent a potential behavioral problem. By creating a better understanding we improve the bond between our dog and ourselves.

Now that we have learned to “read dog” we need to help them through their fears in the best way possible. We start by removing the triggers in the environment.

That is a very hard thing to do with sewer grates or any other none removable thing your dog might be afraid of. We therefor create more distance. In Chester’s situation I simply let him have as much distance as he needs, if that means crossing the street and walking on the other side then that would be what we did.

Secondly we use lots of yummy treats, so every time he sees a sewer grate he gets a treat. Here you can also use praises or a toy.

In this step it is soooo important to be able to see when your dog is showing his “I am afraid” body language. Respect his communication and don’t push any further. Reward for the steps he/she has made so far. By doing that you are giving your dog some control of the situation and he becomes more calm.

Yummy treats and praise is not all you can use. It has been shown that play inhibit fear and that dogs actually prefer places where they have played. Why not use play to turn a fearful spot into something with a positive association.

The last thing you should do in order to prevent fear in your dog is to make as many good positive experiences you can in different scenarios and places. (Read more about how to create positive associations here)

Do this when your dog is young. If your dog has had a positive experience (association) with a certain environment first, they are faster a bouncing back to that happy association should they get afraid. That is not to say that an older dogs fear cannot be changed. It might just take a little longer for your dog to turn it around.

Remember that it is always best to contact a professional behaviorist when dealing with problem behaviors in dogs. You can contact me here.

Happy positive associations to you all!