Separation Anxiety is a label that is often applied to Labradors that get upset when their owners go out.
This distress may be manifested by destructive behaviour, soiling, and noise.
A lot of noise.
Clearly these are two different types of dog, yet the results are often the same. A damaged home, stressed owners and rather irritated neighbours too! The following scenario is not uncommon.
What a mess
The owner returns from some time out to discover an angry neighbour in their driveway, threatening to call the environmental health department over the continuous barking they have been subjected too.
On entering the house with their ears still ringing, the first thing to greet the owner may be the smell of a dog that has messed on the floor.
And the apparent aftermath of a tornado that has passed through the house.
Cushions ripped up, chair legs destroyed, plaster ripped off the walls, these are all possibilities.
Suddenly owning a Labrador does not seem like quite such a good idea.
Separation anxiety in Labradors
Genuine separation anxiety causes great distress, and the labrador will often begin showing signs of that distress in advance of the owner departing.
Just fetching your coat or car keys might be enough to start this dog panting and drooling. Leaving toys or food to amuse the dog is unlikely to be effective on its own, as he may well be too upset to eat or play.
This kind of fear is more common in labradors that have been rehomed from rescue centres. For two reasons. Firstly the dog has no reason to trust you, or to believe that you will come back, after all his previous family abandoned him, didn’t they? And secondly, dogs that end up in rescue centres may be there because they have problems of this nature which make them difficult to manage.
Separation anxiety can be treated, essentially by rebuilding the dog’s confidence that every departure is not a final goodbye.
But this process takes time and you will really benefit from some help.
A professional behaviourist will save you a lot of heartache and support you through a programme of gradually desensitising your dog to being left alone. Starting with tiny short periods of time, and building up slowly to longer absences.
Not all behaviourists are equal. Your veterinary surgeon should be able to refer you to a good one.
Bored and Naughty Labradors!
The dog that gets up to mischief when you are gone, will not show signs of distress as you are leaving. He may be quite happy for some time after you have left. But eventually he will get bored and look for some entertainment.
The answer is to change the way the dog is managed.
A good walk before you leave will encourage him to sleep whilst you are gone, as well as reducing the chance of ‘soiling’.
Remember that lots of puppies will chew excessively, but grow out of this behaviour as they get older.
Managing Your Time
The truth is that we all lead busy lives, and some dogs are left alone far too much.
Dogs really should not be left alone for long periods of time, especially in their early years when bad habits can easily be formed. Even if the dog’s bladder can cope, the potential for mischief and upset is great.
If you have to leave any dog for more than three hours at a time, do ask a friend or neighbour to pop in and let him out in the garden to stretch his legs and provide him with a few minutes of company. If no-one suitable is available you can pay a local dog walker to take him out for an hour each day.
Separation anxiety is a tough condition for you and your Labrador to live with. If you are worried that your dog is becoming distressed when you leave him alone then your best bet is to consult with an experienced behaviourist.
It will take time, but with help, support and committment you will both be able to get through the situation and move on to a happier life. Both together and on the occasions when you have to be apart.
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Does your Labrador suffer from separation anxiety? Why not let other readers know what you do to help him in the comments box below:
This article was first published in November 2011, and has been revised and updated for 2015.