Some whippets struggle with separation anxiety. Whimpering, howling, toileting in the house and displaying destructive behaviours are all indications that they might be suffering. There are subtle cues that can be missed too. A dog simply pacing can be an indicator of stress.
Do these things sound familiar? You’re not alone. Our research has shown that a huge amount of whippet owners believe their dogs are experiencing some degree of separation anxiety when left on their own.
Managing anxiety in dogs can feel like an endless battle. Since the internet is full of conflicting advice on how to ‘treat’ or ‘cure’ the disorder, as ever we’ve done the research to help you answer the most googled questions.
Speaking with Canine Behaviourist, Rachael Claire and gathering statistics from the whippet owners of Instagram, we’ve created a helpful resource with practical tips on how to effectively manage and improve a whippet's separation anxiety. The good news, it's not as complicated as it might seem!
Does your whippet suffer from separation anxiety?
Yes, mild symptoms - 48.9% | Not at all - 31.0% | Yes, severe anxiety 20.1%
Of the 755 people who took part in this questionnaire, 69% believed their whippets experience some level of separation anxiety when left alone in their home.
What are three helpful steps I can take to improve my whippet’s separation anxiety right now?
‘Make a contract with your dog that you won’t let them panic when alone again on your watch’
‘The first thing is you have to suspend all absences straight away. In order to successfully ‘treat’ separation anxiety, you have to make a contract with your dog that you won’t let them panic when alone again on your watch, and to do this they have to not be left alone for longer than they can cope with again.’
‘Avoid confining them during separation anxiety training. Confinement only makes anxiety worse, imagine being shut in a cage with your phobia.’
‘Work with a qualified and competent separation anxiety trainer. There are a lot of trainers out there on social media who are perpetuating outdated and disproven training methods that involve allowing a dog to cry until they give up. Separation anxiety requires knowledgeable and experienced professionals.’
Have you worked with a professional to help with your dogs SA?
No - 83.7% | Yes - 16.3%
Realistically, how long will it take to see an improvement in my dog's separation anxiety?
‘The training is not quick…it’s a marathon and not a sprint.’
‘This depends on how long your dog can currently tolerate, if they have any alone time which causes panic, how old they are, and how often you train. However roughly, if you suspend absences and work on their separation anxiety using a training plan you will see improvements in their tolerance of alone time within a few weeks. The training is not quick and it is a marathon and not a sprint. But it is possible to hugely increase your dog’s tolerance of alone time and to reach durations that you dream of.’
How long can you happily leave your dog for?
More than 3 hours - 44.9% | 1-3 hours - 29.6% | I can't leave them 14.2% | Less than 1 hour 11.3%
How do I calm or reassure my dog suffering from separation anxiety?
‘it’s fine to reassure your dog as long as it is in a natural and neutral way’
‘There is a lot of misinformation around separation anxiety. A common piece of advice is that you have to ignore your anxious dog otherwise it reinforces anxiety. It is in fact not possible to reinforce anxiety, you can only reinforce behaviours. So it’s fine to reassure and talk to your dog as long as it is in a natural and neutral way.’
Will my dog’s separation anxiety ever go away? Or is it something I will have to manage throughout their life?
‘It is very possible to ‘cure’ (for want of a better word) separation anxiety. I am working with dogs who initially couldn’t cope with a second who are now into the 1 and 2 hour marks. With dedication the training really does work. There is a big stigma attached to separation anxiety that often really scares people into thinking there is no hope. The truth is, the training is actually really simple when you know how, it is just a long process.’
Do you use a camera to monitor your whippet at home alone?
No - 55.3% | Yes - 44.7%
Top tip - If you can’t see what your dog is doing at home, you can’t know for sure if, and how long, they are happy being left alone for.
Racheal suggests using a camera to monitor what your whippet does when left alone. It’s not as simple as out of sight out of mind. Your whippet could be displaying very subtle signs of stress when you’re out.
So, going back to Rachael's wise words on making a contract with your dog, you need to know the exact amount of time your whippet feels comfortable being left alone for. This way you’ll never break the contract, and your dog will be happy in the knowledge that you never leave them to panic.
In your opinion, do pheromone diffusers work?
‘No medication whether pheromone, herbal or prescription will work without being used alongside a training plan. They are there to support a training plan and to take the edge off of your dog’s anxiety. Pheromone diffusers have been shown to help with some dogs’ anxiety but there is not a huge amount of evidence out there to prove either way. If they are going to make any difference it is likely to be very mild. Speaking to your vet in the first instance about your dog’s separation anxiety and getting their thoughts on medication is often time and money-saving in the long run.’
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We hope you found this article helpful. It’s easy to feel alone in these things so our aim is to tackle issues together. Whippet coats aside, Occam is about community. Our Sighthound Resource is something I wish that I (Nadja) had found at 2am when manically googling for some answers!
If you have a whippet struggling with separation anxiety post lockdowns, we have a great article here with helpful information on lockdown puppies
Our sighthound resource guest was Rachael Claire an accredited Canine Behaviourist. She has a BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour, is a qualified Separation Anxiety Pro Trainer and lives with her rescue podenco, Pablo in Lancashire. She very kindly contributed her knowledge to this resource, we hope you have taken something away from it. You can find more from Rachael here.