How to Help My Labrador Retriever with Separation Anxiety
We were really surprised to learn that among the top 10 dog breeds most likely to exhibit signs of separation anxiety, the Labrador was at the top of the list! Especially in the world of Covid, Labradors and other dogs have developed an over-dependency during lockdown and are struggling to cope.
Labrador Retrievers are more likely to develop separation anxiety because of their temperament. They are devoted animals that like to spend a lot of time with their owners. They crave love and attention and will feel anxious when this is taken away. They don’t have any real concept of time or understand your reasons for leaving and have no idea if you will be back. The anxiety that you won’t return can then get out of control.
This issue can be worse for rescue dogs than for puppies because of abandonment issues. If you recently brought your new dog home from the shelter, you might find that separation anxiety is a big problem. Given a second chance with people that show them affection and give them a nice home, they don’t want that taken away again. If you then leave them on their own all day, they might worry that you won’t come back. They have previous experience with being abandoned or left at a shelter. How do they know that you won’t do the same?
It is also important to remember that your Labrador pup can develop separation anxiety issues later in life even if they were previously fine. Labradors are sensitive to changes in their lives. For example, some dog owners will notice increased anxiety in their dogs after moving to another house. Your pet merely needs time to get used to their new surroundings and will find comfort in your presence. A change in routine, such as a new job, could also have an impact.
The first step in addressing your Labrador Retriever’s anxiety, is identifying it! Here are some of the most common symptoms of a Lab who is suffering from anxiety:
- Nuisance barking especially when you are not home
- Panting and pacing (even when it’s not hot)
- Running away or cowering in the corner of a house
- Digging either inside or outside
- Escaping and running away
- Destroying furniture
- Self-harm, including excessive licking or chewing
- Loss of appetite
- Urinating more frequently
- A general inability to settle.
- Lip licking
- Whites of the eyes are visible
- Looking away and avoidance behavior
This issue can be worse for rescue dogs because of the potential for pre-existing abandonment issues. If you recently brought your new dog home from the shelter, you might find that separation anxiety is a big problem. Given a second chance with people that show them affection and give them a nice home, they don’t want that taken away again. If you then leave them on their own all day, they might worry that you won’t come back. They have previous experience with being abandoned or left at a shelter. How do they know that you won’t do the same?
It is also important to remember that your Golden Retriever can develop separation anxiety issues later in life even if they were previously fine. Labrador Retrievers are sensitive to changes in their lives. For example, some dog owners will notice increased anxiety in their dogs after moving to another house. Your pet merely needs time to get used to their new surroundings and will find comfort in your presence. A change in routine, such as a new job, could also have an impact. Sometimes just getting older can mean a newly developed case of separation anxiety.
The behavioral symptoms of separation anxiety in Labrador Retrievers:
The symptoms that you will be most aware of as a dog owner are the more destructive behaviors and their impact on your home. If your dog has the freedom to roam around the house and take out their frustrations, damage may occur. Dogs can become more inclined to chew to comfort themselves, often legs of chairs, corners of couches…even walls!
You may also find that your dog’s separation anxiety causes them to soil the home. You might find unfortunate accidents on the floor when you get home, as though your dog forgot all about their house-breaking training. Stopping your dog from destroying things when you aren’t home can be a major challenge. (Click here to learn safe, effective, and positive techniques to stop destructive behavior when you aren’t home)
You may also find that your dog’s separation anxiety causes them to soil the home. How should you react when your dog pees or poops in the house while you are away? You might find unfortunate accidents on the floor when you get home, as though your dog forgot all about their house-breaking training. When this happens, your dog should never be yelled at or punished.
Many pet parents will say “she knows she did something wrong because when I get home she cowers away or looks guilty”. Your dog connects the accident to your behavior. So, if you normally would yell at your dog when there is an accident, then your dog would relate the actual accident to yelling, not that they were the cause of this accident. Studies have shown, even if you place another dog’s “accident” on the floor, your own dog will behave guilty or cower, knowing that an “accident” leads to getting into trouble. Instead, don’t react negatively, this is a behavioral issue, and won’t be corrected by punishing your dog. Don’t worry, there are proven techniques and strategies that work and don’t involve punishments. (Click here to read more about effective and positive strategies to help your pup with soiling the house due to separation anxiety)
Another symptom of separation anxiety is that your pup may also become more “vocal” as a way of releasing their feelings or calling out for you to come back. This could mean that they start whining a lot more as they pace the home looking for you. Or they might start barking. If the latter is the case, you might find your neighbors knocking on your door complaining about the noise. (Click here to learn about how you can stop your dog from barking when you aren’t home)
The physical symptoms of separation anxiety in Labs:
What you might not see so easily are the physical symptoms. That is because they might not manifest themselves until you leave home. Some Labradors will start to drool excessively, while others may pant and shake. There can be a big difference in the symptoms exhibited, with some dogs becoming quite active in their anxiety and others more lethargic and depressed. (Click here to learn more about the signs of separation anxiety in dogs)
What can you do to prevent separation anxiety in Labradors?
If you’re concerned that your dog exhibits signs of separation anxiety, or you simply want to stop the problem from ever emerging, here are some tips that you can use. The impact of these tools will always depend on the personality of your dog, the severity of the condition, and your effort in using them consistently. Therefore, some dog owners will see results with greater speed and ease than others.
PROVIDE THE RIGHT SCENTS
The scent of Lavender essential oil has long been used by aromatherapists to reduce stress. Renowned as the Queen of Calm, it relieves anxiety, helps with sleep and lifts moods. Lavender can help de-stress and calm your anxious dog safely.
One of the gentlest pet-safe essential oils, lavender oil could quickly become your dog’s new BFF (and yours). It can not only quiet a nervous and agitated pooch, but also help them sleep better, and can even cheer up a depressed pet. One of the gentlest oils around, lavender is well-known as a natural sedative, calming and soothing the nerves, easing anxiety and depression, and promoting deeper and more restful sleep.
Lavender's calming sedative-like effects were confirmed in a 2006 study (Pubmed article Link) with dogs who had a history of car ride anxiety. The study found that dogs spent significantly more time resting and sitting and less time moving and vocalizing when exposed to the scent. Another study (Shelter Dog Study link) on diffusing lavender in a dog shelter showed similar results.
Your Scent. Yes, that’s right, your scent happens to be your dog’s favorite scent! Neuroscientist Gregory Berns and his team at Emory University's Center for Neuropolicy used advanced brain-imaging to demonstrate that dogs recognize scents even when the source isn't present. One of the most interesting findings of his study published in the journal Behavioral Processes is how canine brains responded differently to the odor of unfamiliar dogs and humans compared to their own family. You are your dog's favorite smell. (DR BERNS STUDY)
Berns summarized his findings as follows:
"Not only did the dogs discriminate the familiar human scent from the others, but they also had a positive association with it. While we might expect that dogs should be highly tuned to the smell of other dogs, it seems that the 'reward response' is reserved for their humans. Whether this is based on food, play, innate genetic predisposition or something else remains an area for future investigation."
In other words, dogs prefer the smell of pet parents over other pooches. They don't call man "dog's best friend" for nothing.
(Click here to learn more about the powerful effects that your smell has on your dog)
SPACE: Give them space where they can be happy and entertained while you are gone.
If you want to stop your anxious Labrador Retriever from exploring the home in search of you or destroying things out of boredom or worry, make sure that they are secure and entertained. Train your pup to be safe in a crate or a pen. Give them a safe designated area that is all theirs where they can sleep and play. A crate can become a cozy little den with their blankets and toys. A nap here in the afternoon can be soothing.
EXERCISE: Take them for a long walk before you leave.
The destructive side of separation anxiety can subside if your dog is tired and would much rather have a good sleep. You can enjoy some quality time together and get plenty of exercise on a long walk. Then, when they are settled back at home and content, you can leave without a fuss.
CONSIDER A PRODUCT THAT COMBINES YOUR SCENT WITH ESSENTIAL OILS:
K9 Comfort Spray’s CALM TRANQUILITY combines your scent with steam distilled Therapeutic Grade Lavender essential oil. How do we get your actual scent into our products? When you order, we send you a scent collection kit in the mail. When you mail back your collected scent in the prepaid envelope provide, our labs extract your scent molecules in a highly concentrated format, which is then blended to create the ultimate calming spray for your dog. It is all natural, drug and chemical free. It doesn’t cure all anxieties, but it certainly takes the edge off of the stressors your dog can experience.
(See the full line of scent infused products from K9 and Kitty Comfort Spray)
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