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How to Minimise Separation-Related Distress

By gapnsw.com.au

Important terminology


Separation anxiety is a medical condition that dogs can suffer when they are separated from a particular person.

Isolation distress is anxiety that dogs can suffer when they are left alone.

As we all know, being alone is not always the most desirable experience. This is particularly the case for greyhounds in new environments.

Dogs benefit from being gradually introduced to spending time alone. They need time to learn that it’s okay to be alone and they are safe.

There’s plenty we can do to help.

Signs of separation-related distress

Some dogs might show signs of distress when you are getting ready to leave, such as:
  • Following you around or pacing
  • Whining
  • Heavy panting
  • General restlessness

And after you leave, this could be:

  • Destructive behaviour
  • Accidents inside the house (regardless of prior toilet training)
  • Attempts to escape the house or backyard
  • Persistent vocalisation (barking, whining or howling)
  • Inability to settle in a safe place

If your dog is showing signs of distress to the point that their normal functioning is likely compromised, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine whether your dog needs medication to help them cope. If your dog is displaying mild signs of distress, there are several potential strategies to help your dog settle.

Primary strategies to take

  • Use a gradual alone-time schedule - start with 5, 10, 15 minutes and build this to longer times. Avoid leaving for long periods initially. It’s important to avoid leaving your dog alone for a length of time that you know will cause distress when conducting this kind of training
  • Leave and arrive in a calm manner. It’s fine to acknowledge your dog when you leave or arrive home, but avoid any high energy play or greetings to help keep your dog calm.
  • Provide long-lasting mental enrichment in the form of long-lasting chews, frozen foods, toys and scattered treats in the grass
  • Train your dog in a way that promotes independence while you are home e.g. helping your dog enjoy enrichment activities in a different room from yourself
  • Redirect the ‘negative’ experience of you leaving into a positive one
  • Section your house so they can access their safe space

Further reading

How likely is a newly adopted Greyhound to experience separation-related distress?

It can be common for any dog in a new environment to show signs of fear or anxiety when left alone.

At GAP NSW, we perform a lot of testing in our adoption facilities to work out how much alone time a greyhound prefers as part of our welfare assessment.

We will place a dog inside a simulated backyard or household environment and observe them. The greyhound’s ability to settle, perform normal behaviour and cope with their environment helps us recommend the kind of lifestyle that dog is likely to be suited to. If dogs show distress at any point during our welfare assessments, we stop the test and only repeat it in an adjusted context where the dog is more likely to cope.

In their past life, greyhounds have spent time in kennels away from humans. Despite this, many of these dogs have been raised in environments where there has always been other greyhounds nearby.

While this information serves as an indicator of isolation distress, it’s not necessarily reflective of what would occur in an adoptive home. Behaviour and emotional state is fluid and there are many environmental factors that could determine the presence or absence of isolation distress for an adopted greyhound.

The time it takes to settle into a new environment varies dramatically too, anywhere from 6 weeks upwards.

Do greyhounds still have separation-related distress if they have a dog friend with them?

Yes, it’s possible.

It entirely depends on the individual dog and their preferences.

With that said, given the histories of many ex-racing greyhounds, a large proportion do seem to enjoy having a canine companion in their forever homes.

When applying for a greyhound OR a second greyhound, we’ll ask about your current pets and our team will help match you to a greyhound that could fit in well with your lifestyle, which includes your existing fur family.

I’m ready to adopt a greyhound from GAP NSW, what should I do?

Pre-adoption, we’ll gather information about your lifestyle, alone time and other factors.

We’d then match you to ideal doggy candidates. We provide ongoing support in terms of answering questions, both before and after adoption.

You can even come and meet them to see their beautiful waggy tails!

We also host online Q&A sessions that you may attend and learn from. It’s great to hear from other adopters and foster carers on how they overcame certain behavioural issues or temperament quirks.

Additional resources


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