How To Deal With Separation/Isolation Anxiety In the Siberian Husky (Written by Sandy Hudspeth)
One of the most common (and most frustrating) issues dog owners can face is "separation anxiety." We've all experienced it with a dog at some point, or known someone who has. Some dogs are visibly panicked any time their owner leaves the house - chewing through drywall, tearing crates apart, or shredding couches until their favorite person comes back inside - while others may seem unbothered but yet exhibit odd behaviors that only occur when they are alone, like howling, pacing, or chewing their own fur.
We have all seen the videos or heard the stories of Siberian Huskies who shred their owner's couch, or howl all day and night while their owner is at work and drive the neighbors crazy. Northern breeds in particular seem to suffer from these issues more often than the "average" dog, and in order to avoid or lessen the distress your dog feels, it is important to understand the difference between "separation anxiety" and "isolation distress," as well as the root causes for both.
Separation anxiety is the name for when a dog becomes visibly distressed as soon as their owner is out of sight. Other humans can be present and try to comfort the dog, but it usually makes little difference - they are zeroed in on one person and often will not settle down until that specific person returns. This type of anxiety is less common in Siberians, due to their fairly independent nature, but can still happen, especially in a dog who has only lived with or been raised with one person and is not often separated from them.
Isolation distress, on the other hand, is not tied to one specific person or pet, but is a reaction to being left completely alone (or without any human company) for an extended period of time. Siberians tend to suffer from isolation distress much more often than they do separation anxiety - they are a social breed, born to live and work around multiple other dogs and humans throughout their lives, and often do not know what to do with themselves when left without a companion. This one can be just as difficult to deal with as separation anxiety if an owner lives alone and has no other pets, as obviously they cannot stay home with the dog at all hours of the day if they have work obligations as well.
So, what can be done to prevent or ease the symptoms of separation/isolation distress?
As with anything, there is no "one size fits all" answer. Each dog is unique, and different ideas will be more effective with some than with others.
However, here are a few things we have learned in our years of experience with this breed (and dogs in general) that can help keep your Siberian happy and content even when you are not home:
* Exercise - Make sure you are walking your dog at least 30 minutes a day, preferably twice a day if you are able. Mature dogs (2+ years old) can also be walked using weighted backpacks in order to up the workload and make the walk a bit more physically satisfying for them. A tired Siberian is a well-behaved Siberian, and if they're ready to nap by the time you leave the house, they are much less likely to fret.
* Toys - Mental stimulation is just as important as physical when it comes to keeping a Siberian happy. A dog left alone with no energy outlet will find one for himself, and it is often NOT one you would like him to find! There are many toys designed as "boredom busters" for dogs, and they are very effective! For dogs who are left in the house or kenneled during the day, we recommend: a) Kong toys (filled with a small amount of peanut putter, water-softened kibble, fruit, etc. and then frozen to make them last longer) b) Nylabone or other similarly durable chew toys (no rawhide or cooked bones!) c) If your dog is not prone to eating the stuffing or squeakers, a stuffed squeaky toy can be very comforting d) Puzzle toys that require the dog to pull, roll, or bounce the toy to get treats or kibble out of it
* Comforting Sounds - If your dog has issues with being alone (or suffers from any kind of noise phobia) it can be helpful to turn on the television at a low volume, leave the radio playing, or even play some classical music.
* Companionship - In cases of isolation anxiety, one solution may be getting a companion for your dog. Siberians in particular thrive in the company of other dogs, particularly other Siberians, and symptoms often resolve themselves almost immediately when in the presence of a four-legged friend if isolation distress is truly the cause. If adding another dog is not an option, doggy daycare or hiring a dog walker may also be good ideas.
* Rescue Remedy - This product is made by Basch, and has been found to be very effective in alleviating anxiety in both people and animals. It is neither a drug nor a sedative, so it does not interact with other medications and cannot be overdosed, and is a go-to for many owners before events that may stress their dogs, like long trips or visits to the veterinarian. It can be given every day or as needed.
* Medication - While this should always be a last resort, a small minority of dogs are so distressed by the idea of being left alone that none of the above ideas are effective in resolving their anxiety. In this case, you should visit a veterinarian, preferably one who is well-versed in behavioral issues, and ask them if behavior-modifying medications might help your dog. There are many drugs on the market that can aid in blocking or rerouting the chemical signals in a dog's brain that cause panic and anxiety, allowing them to relax when you are gone.
Separation and isolation distress are very unpleasant to deal with, and are not unique to any specific breed or type of dog. However, there are ways to combat these issues, and more is being understood about them every day. Knowing and working with your breed's unique needs is a great first step to preventing issues - and of course, should you have questions, never hesitate to ask your breeder. Odds are they have been through something similar a time or two and can give some great advice!