Why Rubber Toys Do Not Cure Separation Anxiety
By Tony Knight Dog Listener
I was disheartened to see the other day that veterinary clinic I have previously worked with had put up some advice online about separation anxiety. In short, the main recommendation was to buy a RUBBER CHEW TOY (they put the particular brand name in capital letters several times – I won’t mention which one but it shares its name with a really big gorilla) to solve the problem. I have heard this claim so many times before and the company in question has an army of employees – as well as sponsoring a good number of veterinary clinics it appears – that trot out this line about using distraction as a way to cure separation anxiety. The idea is that if a dog is distracted by a toy, it won’t have the time to worry about where everyone has gone. They will also tell you that destruction is a symptom of boredom, so a toy is the perfect solution. It is even claimed that putting food into the hollowed-out rubber toy will add to the positive experience of being home alone by letting them have access to food blah blah blah…
(Cracks finger and rolls neck in preparation) Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Imagine parents who have lost their child. They are distraught, frantic, maybe even panicking at the loss of their baby. They call the police for help. A police officer arrives and gives them a pizza and a board game, telling them that this will make them feel better. They have access to food and something to play with so they should be fine.
“Ooh, a toy! Now I’m happy…”
I know of someone whose dog had such bad anxiety when she left the house that it would chew its way through anything made of wood. Window sills, door frames, skirting boards – all were victim of the “termite”. In desperation, the owner bought one of these rubber toys for the reasons mentioned by the company. When that didn’t work, she bought one of a different colour, thinking that maybe it would make a difference. This dog ended up with eight toys, all stuffed with treats, yet it would still freak out when her human left the home and would not touch the toys at all, still destroying the house one mouthful at a time. The lady would come home to yet more destruction and a dog that was in hysterics, her chest and neck covered in drool (the dog, not the person). It would take 2 hours for the Termite to eventually be calm.
N.B. Once she was eventually calm enough to think straight, her dog would then play with the toys, eating the treats right in front of her…
Separation anxiety comes from a dog believing that it is responsible for the safety of its family. How can it protect them if they leave the home? The real way to solve this problem is to show a dog that it can trust the human to look after themselves (and everyone else). Once this is established, a dog will not freak out when their people leave the home; a decision maker knows what it is doing after all.
Once the termite’s owner started to show her dog that she could be trusted as the responsible member of the pack, her dog transformed into a calm dog that wouldn’t even whimper when she left the house.
If you would like to know exactly what she did to put the idea in her dog’s head, watch this:
By the way, you will have noticed that I have not used the actual brand name of the toy in question. This is because I posted a film a few years ago online where I explained all this, mentioning the K word. I received a reply from their lawyers very soon afterwards (American Big Businesses love to litigate it seems). I countered by posting a subsequent film stating that I was not singling their company out individually and that ALL toys that claim to solve separation anxiety are wrong. I heard absolutely nothing more after that. Interesting…
All the best,
P.S. The fact that the “Termite” only played with the toys (and ate the treats) when her human returned home was very telling. Dogs try to communicate with us all the time to find out who is the one with responsibility. Many will use food as a way to do this. To find out exactly what was going on in this instance, the section on food in my eBook “Think Like a Dog” explains all. You will be amazed how simple and clever the signal is that you can give to help your dog understand that they can trust you.