Separation anxiety in older dogs – Part 1.

dog sitting, pet sittingHolidays4Dogs has written on this subject in the past; but a recent situation with Floss the collie, who is now ten years old, made me decide to re-visit this issue with particular reference to separation anxiety in the aging dog.

Floss, the working sheepdog, has always been a somewhat nervy and anxious dog, but we have never really had a problem with leaving her home alone for a few hours while we visit friends or do the shopping.

However, after an evening at a relative’s house recently, I came home to a note from the neighbour which read; “I don’t wish to complain, but your dog has been barking for hours”.

It was, in fact, just three hours actually, but needless to say I was mortified and went round the very next morning to apologise to the neighbour who was thankfully, reasonably understanding.  Over the past previous months I had sometimes come back from a shopping trip to hear Floss rhythmically barking, but I just put this down to her hearing the car pull up – even though that in itself was unusual for her.

dog sitting, pet sittingHowever, it turns out that Floss has, in the last six months or so, becoming increasingly nervous about being left alone and I now know this, because I set up a camera to record the evidence.

What I saw was probably not what you would call serious separation anxiety; but there was a lot of pacing and whining and throwing herself down behind the front door – only to get up again a few seconds later to pace around again.  On some recordings she barked for several minutes at a time and one particular occasion when I shut her in the living room, (to avoid the loud echoes of her potential barking from reverberating into next door’s), she barked consistently for around thirty five minutes.  The barking was accompanied oddly by a wagging tail and rather cheeky growls and garuffs – indignant at being confined to one room; she really was having a major paddy that day it seemed!

dog sitting, pet sittingI had a suspicion that this was potentially due to old age – wondering if she was suffering from the doggy equivalent of early on-set dementia.  Indeed, while researching the subject – separation anxiety is actually a situation that can arise in aging dogs, even if they have not previously suffered from the problem.

As a dog ages the hormones responsible for managing stress diminish and coupled with any level of hearing or sight loss and any number of degenerative aspects of the aging body, means that the older dog can find it difficult to cope with situations in the same way he might have done in his younger years.

As well as the issues around being left alone, I had realised that Floss had also become much more ‘clingy’ – always following me and monitoring my every move.  The dulling of the senses in older dogs can create a pet that relies more heavily on its owner and finds extra comfort in being around their human companions in a familiar place.

For Floss, who has always been a nervous dog her breed type is probably also a factor in her new worries over being left alone.  Working sheepdogs are bred to work hard alongside humans and as such, can be very dependent on direction and guidance from people.

So how do we address separation anxiety in older dogs; particularly if this is a new development in an aging dog who did not previously have an issue with being left?  We will discuss this in part two of our Holidays4Dogs article – ‘separation anxiety in older dogs; How to help – Part 11’