Q&A – Separation Related Behaviour

Question:

Hi. We have a 4 year old purebred Kelpie that has started barking when we leave the house, I.e. Separation anxiety. We have had lots of changes recently, we moved from 80 acres in Queensland to a suburban house in Victoria in January and we lost our 9.5 year old Rotty in March (he was barking prior to this though). He gets a lot of exercise (walking, dog park, playing with other dogs and running on our rural property where we are building) but makes no difference. Can you suggest anything?

Answer:
This is certainly a common behaviour change when a dog’s environment is turned upside down. Moving house and losing his best friend can certain trigger separation anxiety. Where are you currently located? My personal suggestion for dogs in this situation is to allow them access to the house when you are not home (doggy door? or leaving inside) so that he is in a familiar surrounding (your scent is everywhere in the house). It may also be worth looking into some natural calming supplements to help him relax. Something like Phuds Inner Peace¬†¬†has helped other clients when their dogs have been stressed or anxious. Do you still have the belongings of the rottie? If so, make sure they are accessible to your Kelpie so he has that to help calm him also. Have a read of this blog. Perhaps if you are not doing some of these things already, you can incorporate them into your dog’s day. This will help wth any residual stress he may be experiencing due to the loss of his mate.

Is your Kelpie only barking when you leave or does he keep barking once you are gone? There are different types of separation related stress behaviours. Separation anxiety is the removal of a particular person. Isolation distress is a general stress from being alone. Separating distress is when the action of you leaving causes the dog stress but that once you are gone the dog can relax a little as they realise you are gone and can’t hear them anymore. The last one is barrier frustration where it doesn’t matter if the dog can see you or not, if they can’t reach you it causes stress. You will need to determine which of these your dog is exhibiting as they can have different approaches to dealing with each emotion.

Separating distress is probably the easiest one to treat as it is as simple as giving your dog something to do to distract him as you leave so he doesn’t work himself up seeing you leave. Giving them a toy or tasty treat to occupy them or scattering food to create a scavenger hunt are ways to help with this. Isolation distress can be overcome by getting your dog another friend so he is not alone but I don’t advise this unless you are prepared for another friend and you have made sure this is definitely what he needs as if it is separation anxiety, the second dog will make no difference and can even learn the behaviour from your Kelpie. Barrier frustration would involve teaching the dog it is ok to be away from you, that they don’t have to be attached to your leg 24/7.

It is also important to make sure your Kelpie is getting enough physical and mental stimulation as having excess energy can result in a problem barker, especially in a working breed such as a kelpie. Making sure he has plenty of toys to interact with when no one is home will help keep him relaxed.

I hope this has given you some ideas to work on your Kelpie’s issue. If you have any further questions or would like to arrange a consultation, please feel free to contact me.

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