Help me, I think I'm falling...

Separation Anxiety and the Fear of Flying

It's so hard for us humans to understand how a dog could be afraid of being alone. I mean, it makes no sense. It defies all logic. Some of usbusy parents especiallycrave being alone. [Will everybody please just disappear for an hour or so?]

Yet approximately 17% of dogs show signs of separation anxiety.

Here's the deal: it's like being afraid of flying. Which DOES make sense, right?! 

Nope. You are 19 times safer in a plane than in a car. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, about 3% of adults have so-called aviophobia and 17% of all travelers experience some level of fear disproportionate to the relative risk. Hmmm. 

photo credit: I'm Up Here... via

photo credit: I'm Up Here... via

The parallels go on. For many of us, anxiety begins when we book the flight. And it starts to get really painful when we pack our bags. Most dogs with separation anxiety tune in closely to early signs that their people are leaving. Tie your shoes, brush your teeth, pick up the handbag, grab your keys... and they're off to the races.

We use many of the same strategies to keep the panic at bay. On the plane, some people have a glass of wine or take anti-anxiety medication (similarly, many vets recommend drug therapy to help dogs with separation anxiety). Having a loved one nearby (like another dog friendmay be comforting. Maybe not. Some people like to distract themselves with movies or games, devices emerging from every pocket (stuff and freeze Kongs much?). Being tired and relaxed (aka I just came back from the dog park) might help. 

But if you're in the back of the plane, squashed in between two other people, and turbulence sets in, no coping strategy would make a dent in your fear. You’d still be suffering, panicky and miserable. And just like dogs, some people suffer quietly with only a physiological response (sweating, clammy hands, trembling, foggy thinking) and some suffer more outwardly (crying, vomiting, grabbing their neighbors, trying to escape). I know some flight attendants who should be sainted. 

photo credit: A dream beyond via

photo credit: A dream beyond via

Why this matters so much? Because our understanding of the disorder informs our treatment strategy. Google separation anxiety in dogs for plenty of juicy advice:

Develop Henry's confidence in you as the pack leader.
You've made Freckles dependent on you by coddling her. Stop her from sleeping on the couch or in bed with you.  
Bruno's mad that you went somewhere without him and he's taking revenge by tearing up your new couch.

Heard a few of those, haven't we? To be fair, you can't blame your friends or family (or even the internet) for their well-meaning dog advice. Sometimes the dog-training folklore we grew up with or saw on TV serves us adequately... until it doesn't.

Until there's a crisis, like your dog breaks one of his canine teeth escaping from his kennel, or your windowsill gets chewed to oblivion and your landlord threatens eviction if your dog doesn't quit howling all day. Then it's time to get down to business. Your dog has a panic disorder. A treatable one, but a panic disorder nonetheless. If you've ever been afraid - really afraid - you'll understand. And make sure you're in the hands of a professional who knows how to solve the problem.