Separation Anxiety


This is a problem that should only be dealt by a positive, scientific-based behaviourist, working on vet referral only. There is a great deal involved and a complete history needs to be addressed.

It may help an owner to understand this behaviour problem better by reading ‘Attachment Theory’ by John Bowlby. There is also an experiment entitled “strange situation” carried out by Ainsworth that will assist in understanding.

It has been found that puppies weaned from mother before 11 weeks of age do not do as well as those weaned later. Puppies learn a lot from their mothers, such as communication, species identity, safety, social skills, recognition, emotional toughening, and attachment. Most wild canids share ‘baby sitting’ duties, so the mother and other pack members can go hunting. The puppies are never left alone.

In his theory John Bowlby looked at juvenile delinquents in intuitional care and found there were four main problems areas:

  • Physical – did not grow as well, could be too fat or too thin
  • Intellectual – lower than normal communication skills
  • Social – unable to form stable relationships
  • Emotional – sexually more promiscuous.

So the conclusion to this was the puppies are at risk if there is no mother figure. The same risks apply if the puppy is taken away from its mother or weaned too early.

In 1958, Harlow did an experiment with rhesus monkeys. He gave them a choice of a wire mother with a food bottle attached and a similar wire mother wrapped in terry towelling. He found that for 18 hours a day the monkeys cling to the wire mother with terry towelling, so concluded that attachment is not always about food and feeding.

From the above experiment Bowlby came up with the Attachment Theory – “In order to grow up you must have an attachment figure and a secure base”.

Many dogs suffer separation problems and have an abnormal attachment caused by a variety of reasons. Feeling safe and having a secure base is vital for such dogs and a behaviour modification programme should involve them not being left alone in the first stages of rehabilitation.