Separation Anxiety And Your Dachshund
Anyone who has ever owned a dachshund will most certainly agree that they are one of the most loveable, affectionate and loyal breeds to own- but with these desirable traits, comes a serious disorder- separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can be likened to a panic attack. Long before dogs became a part of our lives, they were pack animals. Regardless of the time that has passed, this behavioural tendency has been ingrained into your dog. Top this off with an already ‘needy’ breed, and what can result is a dog that when left alone can become destructive, to not only your house and garden, but to itself as well. Separation anxiety is not a form of misbehaviour- it is a disorder. It can happen to any breed, at any age. It may be brought on by a traumatic experience e.g rescue dogs from pounds are more susceptible, change of ownership, change in job hours (working from home to full time job outside of the house), moving house, a death in the family or simply a breed disposition. Dachshunds LOVE a structured lifestyle, they do not appreciate isolation and change, unless of course they are accompanying you on your trip to the squeaky chew toy factory.
Symptoms of separation anxiety
These symptoms can become evident prior to departure, if they know your departure routine.
- Crying, howling, constant barking or whimpering
- Relentless digging (garden, doors, carpet)
- Uncontrollable urinating/defecating
- Attempting to escape
- Excessive panting/salivation
- Self mutilation
Before proceeding with any training and separation anxiety treatments, you must determine whether your dachshund is in fact suffering from separation anxiety, a behavioural issue or an illness. Many of the symptoms for separation anxiety can also be causes of other conditions.
Below are different symptoms with considerations to be made and investigated. All dachshunds exhibiting the following symptoms should have a veterinary consultation to determine any underlying medical issues.
- Symptom: Crying, howling, constant barking or whimpering- this can be a sign of pain, or you may have a frustrated and bored dachshund.
- Symptom: Digging- Digging can be a sign of boredom. You should determine whether your dachshund is bored, is there something on the other side of the fence that is appealing or tormenting them e.g mailman, passers by, another dog ( especially if the opposite sex and neither have been desexed). Dachshunds may also dig when they’re frightened. This is usually due to a thunderstorm or loud noises. Ensure your dachshund is never left alone outside during a storm.
- Symptom: Chewing- Especially evident in teething puppies or bored dachshunds.
- Symptom: Uncontrollable urinating/defecating- This can be a sign of urinary incontinence, or a gastro intestinal problem. Things to consider are- whether they only do it prior to your departure, do they do it in their sleep, do they do this multiple times a day, are they overexcited, are they housetrained, are they on any medications which can cause incontinence and if an undesexed male are they scent marking. If your dachshund suffers incontinence you should have a veterinary consultation to identify any underlying medical issues.
- Symptom: Self mutilation- Dachshunds can self mutilate due to frustration or skin conditions.
* Important* If your dachshund exhibits any of these symptoms you should investigate the cause with your veterinarian before beginning separation anxiety treatments, as training can take months to resolve, and this is too long to leave an unknown medical condition.
Tips to help dachshunds with separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is a complex and serious condition not to be taken lightly. Treatments can come in the form of behaviour modification and medication. Behaviour modification takes time and perseverance. You must be patient, as all dachshunds are different, with different upbringings and different living conditions. Treatments can take days, weeks and even months! The longer your dachshund suffers separation anxiety, the more damaging it can be (to your household, to you and to themselves). If your dachshunds separation anxiety is moderate to severe, you should seek treatment from a certified behaviourist and/or veterinarian. If your dachshunds separation anxiety is mild, you can try the following tips:
- Avoid your dachshund becoming a ‘velcro’ sausage. A ‘velcro’ pet is a dog that you may as well be giving a piggy back. They go with you EVERYWHERE and they depend on you for EVERYTHING. This can lead to a very needy dog. Imagine the stress they are under when their whole world walks out the front door. Of course they will have an overwhelming fear of the unknown. Your dachshund should be a strong and independent little sausage!
- If taking your dachshund with you is not an option, and you’re leaving for an extended period of time (+4 hours), you can ask a family member, friend or hired professional who can stay with them, or just check on them to feed/take out for toilet trips etc. These are a good idea if your work hours are irregular.
- Before leaving your dachshund, you should provide physical and mental stimulation (e.g a long walk/playtime) to tire them out. An exhausted dachshund is better than an anxious dachshund.
- Leave a piece of clothing with your scent on it to comfort them, leave the tv or radio on and provide toys for them to distract themselves with.
- To keep it exciting and unpredictable for them, you can switch up the toy selection. E.g only give them a favourite toy when you’re going out. You can train your dog to associate your departure with them being reunited with their favourite chew toy/treat/delicious food.
- ‘Hidden treat’ toys are a great idea in keeping dachshunds occupied. You can fill them with delicious treats, low fat peanut butter, frozen banana or kibble. Bones without supervision are discouraged. On hot days, you can make them an ‘ice block’, which after licking/melting will reveal a treat or new toy.
- Dachshunds love to hunt, so why not hide your dachshunds morning feed rations or treats around the house for them to find while you’re gone. This will be ineffective if your dachshunds separation anxiety is severe, as they can become inappetant during this time.
- Provide a ‘comfort space’ for them to go to while you’re gone. Crates can be helpful as long as your dachshund was trained to believe the crate is a place to relax. Otherwise they may see this as a form of punishment. You must never lock them in a crate, as then can hurt themselves while trying to escape. NEVER punish them or force them in to stressful conditions as this will only make the situation and condition worse.
- Keep your greetings and departures low key. Don’t make a fuss of your dachshund before you leave as this will only trigger anxiety. When you return it should be no big deal. Once in the door, you should continue your tasks e.g unpacking the groceries before greeting your dachshund.
- Don’t give attention to a whimpering dachshund, as they will only associate this action with them receiving attention. Tough love can go a long way in the future behaviour of your dachshund in this situation. If your dachshund goes in to panic mode, do not attempt to restrain them. This can not only hurt you, but themselves.
- Some dachshunds benefit from ‘thundershirts’, which can provide comfort. Think of it as a big hug. Contact your local veterinarian or pet store for availability.
Training techniques for separation anxiety
If your dachshund is suffering mild separation anxiety, you can use desensitization training. Basically, replay the same actions repeatedly until it becomes boring to your dachshund. You should always be patient and never train while in a bad mood- your dachshund will sense this and training will only be counterproductive, and a waste of time and effort. Be sure to NEVER punish your dachshund, this will only make the anxiety worse.
Desensitization Training- The idea of desensitization training is to repeat the action of leaving so much, to the extent that your dachshund becomes bored of the process. By repeatedly performing this training, your dachshund will learn that you will always return to them, and in turn eliminate their fear of separation. Training should be done in small timed increments, several times a day. As discussed earlier, this training can take months until your dachshund no longer suffers separation anxiety.
To begin desensitization training, choose the last actions you would as if you were leaving the house e.g putting your shoes on and grabbing your handbag. You will carry out this routine over and over again, slowly adding another action to your training, without actually leaving.
Desensitization Training Example
– Put your shoes on, grab your handbag and then sit down and watch tv
– Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, lock the front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door (ensure they are not next to you and cannot escape during training), close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door, keep open for 5 seconds, close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door, keep open for 10 seconds, close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door, keep open for 1 minute, close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door, go outside for 10 seconds (ensure they cannot see you), come back inside, close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door, go outside for 1 minute, come back inside, close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door, go outside for 5 minutes, come back inside, close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Put your shoes on, grab your handbag, unlock the front door, open front door, go outside for 10 minutes, come back inside, close front door, sit down and watch tv
- Repeat and slowly increase your time, until you can leave them for extended amounts of time.
Remember, you should not take a further action or extend time limits until your dachshund is unconcerned with your behaviour. Ensure you listen, if your dachshund does not respond anxiously, you should reward them. But again, when you see them do not make a big fuss. Desensitization training can be ineffective for dachshunds suffering severe separation anxiety.
Medicinal treatments for separation anxiety
Medications can aid in the treatment of separation anxiety. However they should not be the only form of treatment, instead they should be used in conjunction with behaviour modification, desensitization and training from a certified dog training specialist. If you wish to avoid prescribed medication, you can try the ‘Adaptil’ products. The Adaptil range (collars/diffusers) are an easy to use synthetic pheromone, which is a replica of the naturally omitted pheromone by the mother dog to her puppies shortly after giving birth. This pheromone has been proven to help comfort and calm even stressed adult dogs. It can be used for a range of behavioural issues and can be purchased at your veterinary clinic.
If the above do not help in any way, prescribed medication from your veterinarian can help treat separation anxiety. Prescribed medication can be given short term and long term. Sedation medication can be vital, if your dachshund self mutilates or accidently hurts itself during their anxiety attack.
Prior to the first prescription, and if medication is needed for an extended amount of time, your vet will perform a blood test on your dachshund, in order to check that your dachshunds liver and kidneys are functioning adequately, as medication of this nature can (if not used correctly and long term) damage these organs.
If your dachshund has been prescribed anti anxiety medication and they have learnt to become accustomed to isolation and being left alone, you can discuss weaning your dachshund from the medication. But this should only be done under veterinarian approval, as some medications can be damaging if stopped suddenly.
Separation anxiety is a serious condition, which if left untreated can be dangerous and can have a damaging effect on your dachshunds life. Never ignore the need for help and treatment.