Easing the Fears of a Velcro Dog: Separation Anxiety Can Constrict the Life of the Pet and Its Owner

February 7, 2019
As a dog owner with over 25 years of experience, I can attest that having a dog is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened in my life. The companionship and joy they bring is incomparable.

Animal behaviorists label dogs too attached to one of their humans as velcro dogs, echoing the Velcro Syndrome that afflicts some insecure people. Small dogs, especially those thought of as lap dogs, are the ones most often affected, but surprisingly, golden retrievers also have a reputation of falling into this category.

These dogs are constantly beside their favored human, under her feet, and if she sits down, in her lap. Often they sleep with their owners. Their quest for attention is unremitting. As an extension of this behavior, they suffer great anxiety when the owner has to leave them for any length of time. Since the period of absence is traumatic for the dog, the returning pet guardian may come home to damage and disorder.

Circumstances That May Heighten Separation Anxiety

Any major changes in the dog's environment may trigger more separation anxiety than usual. This could include someone moving in or out of the household, a move to a different residence, or a schedule change for dog and owner. Also, insecurity may be more pronounced following a vacation, either because the dog has had to stay in a kennel or shelter away from the owner or because dog and owner have been together constantly, without the interference of time at work.

The Consequences of Leaving an Anxiety-Prone Pet

Stress increases as the dog perceives his owner is about to leave. The first 20-45 minutes after the owner departs are the hardest for the pet. Boredom or the chance to engage in some of his favorite forbidden behaviors while no one is around to reprimand him may contribute to his actions.

Chewing, scratching, tearing objects apart, constant barking, and housebreaking lapses are common ways to cope. In addition, he may greet the owner's return with wild enthusiasm, jumping and barking, and demanding attention. Despite what he has done, the owner needs to remember that insecurity and fear has led to his deeds, not an attempt to punish her.

Working Toward a Solution

The first step to solving the problem requires using tough love. When the dog insists on attention, the owner must ignore him till he calms down. Interactions must be on the owner's terms. If the dog gets upset when the owner leaves for even a few minutes, establish a safety cue, like leaving a television playing, to reassure him that it will only be a temporary absence. This safety cue should only be employed for a short stay. Other strategies work better for longer absences.

To ease workday departures, try increasing the dog's exercise - get him tired. Hide treats around the house or in some of the new toys designed for that purpose - keep him busy. Leave an article of clothing that carries his human's smell to comfort him. Strive for a lowkey leavetaking and never draw attention to what he is not supposed to do. If all of these strategies fail, doggie day care can be a consideration.

A Brighter Future

The situation may initially get worse when the dog realizes his demands are not going to be immediately met as in the past, but it will be worth it not to give in. Eventually, the dog's confidence will build, and he will be less insecure and demanding. And that will make everyone in the household happier.

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