CONTEXT

July 25, 2013

Home alone

Came across a very nice book on dogs by British veternarian John Bradshaw (no relation, as far as I know, to self-help guru John Bradshaw)  called Dog Sense (Basic Books, New York, 2011).

thoughtful dog

thoughtful dog

After skimming the Table of Contents, I went right to page 148 and started reading Chapter 6, ‘Does Your Dog Love You?’

As I had surmised, it dealt with the emotional life of dogs, a subject about which I know very little, but suspect I assume quite a lot.  I was prepared to face some harsh truths, but Dr. Bradshaw surprised me.

Of course your dog loves you, he declared.  Dogs have been bred over the centuries to be companions, to bond with their owners in a unique way, so why wouldn’t your dog love you?  That’s why we keep dogs as pets, rather than cows.  And will always have low expectations of cats.

But a dog has a relatively elaborate emotional life vis-a-vis humans and one of the most important areas concerns anxiety.

Some thirty years ago, before he’d ever heard the phrase ‘separation anxiety,’ Dr. Bradshaw recalls, he acquired a Labrador retriever with a bad case of it. (The doctor now had my full attention – this is a big issue in our house, She has a meltdown when I leave and my guilt is equally intense. Is it my fault? Am I not being stern enough? Nice enough? Detached enough?  What?  What?)

worried dog

worried dog

Bradshaw details his dog’s behavior when left alone (gnawing the furniture), describes efforts to amend the situation (kenneling made it worse) and admits that in the end, the Lab could only be left with someone it knew well.

But because he is a scientist, the good doctor became curious about how common such behavior might be and much later he got the chance to find out.  He and his colleagues studied some 700 dogs (both mixed and purebred) and found separation anxiety in about 17% of them. (The doctor calls it ‘separation distress,’ btw, because it involves a whole lot of behaviors.)

In short, it’s safe to say that of America’s 110 million dogs, about 10 million of them are in some stage of separation distress at any given time.

Well, it’s nice to know we are not alone.

But what to do, what to do?

First, many dogs outgrow their distress.  But for those that don’t, Dr. Bradshaw has some tips and you can find them on page 175.

 happy dog

happy dog

Most involve desensitization – like putting on your coat, walking to the door, returning, taking off your coat and praising your dog. Pick up your keys, walk away, then return the keys and praise the dog. Go out and come right in again.  Then gradually lengthen the time, etc. The idea is to prevent your habitual behaviors prior to departure from becoming triggers for anxiety.

But above all, don’t punish your dog for eating your shoes while you were away – it only increases anxiety, since the dog doesn’t get the connection between the punishment and what it did half an hour ago.

(I do not cite eating shoes as a theoretical example – I lost four pairs in two months, and innumerable socks. Also three leashes, two harnesses and a collar.)

But now we’re on to dog memory and I’ve barely started that chapter.  More later.

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2 Comments »

  1. awww! lola rocks 🙂

    Comment by ninachat — July 25, 2013 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  2. Agreed, Lola rocks. Met a DD -Darling Dog this past week that seems just perfect but all-seeing granny (me) sees early trauma has had some effect. We’ll talk.

    Comment by Carol — July 29, 2013 @ 12:09 pm | Reply


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