In one of my recent posts, I described Phoebe’s strides from being overly dependent to becoming independent. While she does great when people are home, it is not as rosy when I leave the house, even if others stay home with her. It is a quirk that has all the ear marks of low-grade separation anxiety.
Phoebe is more sensitive to my coming and going than she is to anyone else, by far. It does not matter if I leave for five minutes or several days, the frenzy factor upon my return is the same. She goes ape-shit (jumps, runs, rolls, and pees). I swear she is going to scramble her brains. Even if I follow the doggie text book and ignore her, the frenzy can go on for up to twenty minutes. She does go into a similar frenzy with the other family members, only to a lesser degree.
I read an article on the Animal Planet Web site, “Do dogs understand the concept of time?” that touched upon dogs’ idea of time. According to the article, dogs do not have a concept of time as we understand it (i.e., minutes, hours or days), but that does not mean that a concept of time is completely absent. According to the article,
“There is…research evidence for dogs’ understanding of the concept of time based on changes in their behavior when left alone by their human companions for different lengths of time. Studies show that dogs display greater affection toward their owners if they’ve been separated for longer periods of time. As the amount of time away increases, so does the dogs’ excitement… this research is…important because it shows that dogs are capable of recognizing and responding to different spans of time.
For dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, the difference between one and five hours can mean the difference between mild agitation and a full-blown panic attack…”
I think the only reason why Phoebe’s tendency towards separation anxiety has not spiraled out of control is because she is rarely left home alone. We did not make a conscious decision to make sure she is not alone; it is just turned out that way.
On the rare occasions when Phoebe will be completely alone, we put her in her crate. She whimpers a bit but does not do anything extreme. Her issues manifest when we come home; she goes spastic. I do my best to ignore her until she quiets down, and then I let her out. It kills me, but if I handled it differently I would just feed the madness.
There is one thing I am curious about is why Phoebe does not go into a frenzy when I am inaccessible for a long time while on premises (e.g., locked in my room on conference calls). She does get excited and jumpy when I emerge, but nothing like the reaction I get when I actually leave the premises. I guess it will remain a mystery. For now, I am not going to put too much focus on the separation issues. I hope over time she will accept our absence from home just like she has adapted to leaving a room.