Distress calls are thought to be a mammal’s earliest communication behaviour. This vocalization is developed to maintain close contact with their parent as a means of protection against predators, cold, hunger and physical discomfort.
The presence of an adult generates a sense of security and calm for the pup as their basic needs for warmth, food and protection are met. At the other end of the spectrum, separation stimulates a strong fear response to keep them from straying too far from the safety of their mother.
The effects of separation heavily depend on the individual dog’s; degree of social drive, development of stress coping mechanisms, stress threshold, arousal threshold, level of attachment formed and level of exposure to separation.
Dogs that are raised in environments where they are not exposed to separation, or are exposed to separation in a way that produces a strong fear response, fail to develop healthy coping mechanisms which leaves them vulnerable to developing separation distress.
The degenerative effects of chronic stress, decreases the dog’s ability to problem solve, which can greatly impede their ability to learn healthy coping mechanisms. This can lead the dog into a vicious cycle of falling into a state of helplessness when left alone, which can lead to acute fear and anxiety. So, what can you do to help your dog learn healthy coping mechanisms?
Encourage independence by ignoring attention-seeking behaviours (as cute as they may be) and offer affection only when your dog is displaying calm and relaxed behaviours.
Form a positive association with social distance by using positive reinforcement training to condition your dog to rest in a location that does not allow them direct contact with you.
Dogs crave predictability, just as a young child does. Keeping to a meal schedule in addition to a solid routine of daily physical and mental exercise is key to building a sense of security for your dog.
Don’t slack in the morning! A strong morning routine containing physical and mental exercise, in addition to healthy attention and interaction with the owner, will provide your dog with the ability to feel relaxed and calm throughout the day while you are gone.
Mental stimulation through the use of food puzzles and positive reinforcement training is an excellent way to encourage learning and the development of problem solving skills.
Expose your dog / puppy to various degrees of short and long intervals of separation as soon as you bring them home.
Make their time alone enjoyable by providing them with a food treat when you leave, such as a; stuffed Kong, tricky treat ball or some other problem solving toy that releases food rewards.
Play soft music in the room your dog is housed in to help drown out outside sounds that may be over stimulating or perceived as stressful to your dog.
Avoid making a big fuss over your dog for 10 to 15 minutes before you leave or enter the home. Long, drawn out good-byes and over the top hellos may send the wrong message, causing your dog to misinterpret your behaviour as a cue that something is wrong.