In recent years, loneliness anxiety has become an increasingly common problem. What is it and what does it mean?
Loneliness anxiety or loneliness anxiety is unfortunately a fairly widespread problem in the dog world - as many as 22-55% of dogs have it in one form or another.
Loneliness anxiety is an evolutionarily necessary internal mechanism that actually exists in all of us. This is necessary because it protects a young animal in the wild from being alone or from moving too far from others. It is important that the young remain in a safe environment, because if they move too far from the herd, the risk of death is significantly higher.
For example, if a young dog were to be left alone while living in the wild, he would start crying so that his family could find him more easily. Independence from parents and family gradually emerges only when the animal is biologically and psychologically ready for it.
Loneliness anxiety is like a panic attack. The stimulus that the dog is afraid of is being alone, and this fear can be surprisingly extreme and illogical in some cases, but unfortunately, mostly fears, phobias and anxieties are incomprehensible to an outside observer and have an excessively extreme manifestation. Think about people's phobias - if a person is afraid of spiders, is his reaction always logical and justified to an outsider when he sees spiders?
Myths about loneliness
Myth 1: You can cause loneliness in a dog yourself.
This is one of the most common myths. There is a popular opinion that if you let your dog walk on the sofa, sleep in the bed, cuddle with you, etc., then it is your fault if the dog has loneliness anxiety. These things do not cause loneliness anxiety. Believe me, if it did, there would be many, many more very problematic dogs among us. This is also supported by a study that found that the behavior of the owners with the dogs (whether the dog sleeps in the bed vs only in its nest, or whether the dog can go on the sofa or not) did not matter. (Study cited in: Mcgrave, 1991: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2053248/)
Myth 2: Loneliness is not treatable.
As with any fear, phobia, or anxiety, there are ways to reduce or eliminate them altogether. The reality is that you need to use appropriate methods, be consistent and constantly remember that there is no quick fix (at least not one that won't make your dog's situation worse or cause other problems).
Myth 3: The dog acts this way on purpose and does it to get revenge.
As much as we'd like to hope that dogs are as capable as we are, they're not. Dogs don't have the cognitive ability to take revenge on us and do something on purpose.
Myth 4: Only dogs rescued from shelters have loneliness anxiety.
Unfortunately, even a dog taken from the best breeders can have loneliness anxiety. There has been a study that has shown that genes play an important role in loneliness anxiety, and it does not only occur in those who have had a bad experience in some way. (Study cited in: Bradshaw et al., 2002: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12148601/)
Myth 5: Dogs grow out of loneliness.
If a dog has a very strong loneliness anxiety, it is comparable to depression. When you think about depression in people, can you just grow out of it without consciously dealing with it? If you regularly leave the dog alone and expect him to overcome it on his own, the problem may get worse, the dog will suffer and other behavioral problems may arise that may not seem related at first glance.
Myth 6: More physical exercise will cure loneliness.
Physical movement is necessary for all living things, including dogs. However, even a dog that is tired from running is capable of panicking when it is alone.
Myth 7: You increase loneliness anxiety and need for attention if you go back home when your dog is barking/crying/barking.
Loneliness is really anxiety and fear, which cannot be increased by praise or the like. Think about people - for example, if you are anxious about an upcoming event (for example, an upcoming exam), will hugging you make your anxiety worse and your fear greater? Probably not. Loneliness is feeling panicked. So if your dog is barking and making noises at this moment, it is not directly a voluntary behavior on his part (like sitting when you give him a command and then give him a treat), but it is a sign of panic and a behavior that he himself does not actively control.
However, it is important to remember here that we want to avoid the dog panicking during training, so our actions should always be such that the dog does not panic.
Is it an easy journey to alleviate and get rid of loneliness anxiety?
Short answer - no. This requires a large investment of time, thinking things through, educating yourself and presumably also using a dog sitter service in the meantime. But is it all worth it? 100%, no doubt.
Where to start? It is a very good book to read Malena Demartini-Price "Separation Anxiety In Dogs". It provides good insight and understanding as well as tips on how to take action. In addition, it is always useful to take the help of an advisor who can guide you, put together a plan to solve the problem and support you with knowledge. If you need our help in this, write to email@example.com.