Separation-related distress - do owners really know how their dogs behave in their absence?
Separation anxiety in dogs is characterized by behavioral signs related to physical, psychological, or behavioral distress in the absence of the dog owner. This absence does not need to be long – many separation anxiety related behaviors occur immediately and can be heard by owners, such as vocalizations. Some of these behaviors leave evidence – like house soiling or destructive behaviors, but other behaviors such as pacing, restlessness, whimpering, yawning and withdrawal (among others) are less evident. Since owner-reports are often used in clinical diagnoses, understanding the accuracy of owner-reported separation anxiety is important!
Researchers from the University of Sydney placed video cameras in the homes of participants to observe the behavior of 31 dogs for the first 25-minutes of separation from their owner. The behaviors observed in the videos were then compared to the results of each owner’s Canine Behavior and Research Questionnaire, which asks detailed questions about their dog’s separation-related behaviors. The data showed a positive correlation between the provided responses on the survey and some of the actual behaviors seen through the videotapes. This association was stronger for observable behaviors like destruction and weaker for unobservable behaviors including restlessness, agitation, and pacing. Overall, the owners in this study seemed to have some understanding of their dog’s behaviors when they are away. Recognition of these behavioral problems is the first step in helping a dog suffering from anxieties related to their owner’s absence. If you think your dog might suffer from separation related distress, reach out to your veterinarian, behaviorist, or certified separation anxiety trainer to discuss how to improve your dog’s quality of life.
Source: van Rooy, D., Arnott, E. R., Thomson, P. C., McGreevy, P. D., & Wade, C. M. (2018). Using an owner-based questionnaire to phenotype dogs with separation-related distress: Do owners know what their dogs do when they are absent? Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 23, 58-65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2017.10.009
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