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THE AGONY OF BEING LONELY
When no one cares about you and when you lose someone who did, when you feel isolated and disconnected – even in the presence of others - and when you miss someone, it almost takes your breath away, loneliness overcomes you and robs you of rhyme and reason. Your confidence hits rock bottom only to be replaced with pain. Emotional pain, it seems at first, until suddenly you notice little body aches that weren’t there before. Your overall wellbeing crumbles and you stop being your normal self. The pain of loneliness is real; but your brain is designed to help you survive and thrive, and even though it is hard for you to get through the day, you find a way.
HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR DOG
In the canine world, separation anxiety (SA) is the most widely known issue that arises from the PANIC/GRIEF System. Strangely, common though as it is, most of us still don’t understand what’s behind SA. Is it genetics? Is it a training issue? Is it just misbehavior? Unfortunately, though, SA isn’t the only PANIC/GRIEF issue that can affect your dog, the others just haven’t earned a proper name yet and are often mistaken for FEAR. Simply put, every mind-state that resembles loneliness, grief and separation distress, whether it is due to physical separation or social and/or emotional detachment, is caused by a reduced level of the feel-good chemicals oxytocin and opioids in the brain, and is regulated by the PANIC/GRIEF System. In Affective Dog Behavior we frequently refer to this as emotional disconnect. That’s when bonding between you and your dog isn’t at its fullest potential, ultimately slowing down the release of oxytocin and opioids. Since dogs are highly social animals who, unlike any other, seek and need connection with humans more than with their own kind, emotional connection is probably the single most important mind-state that helps your dog feel safe.
Your dog's need for connection is something you should never underestimate; they struggle when the PANIC/GRIEF System is aroused, and the subsequent emotional pain is real.
When your dog is in a PANIC/GRIEF state, they will seek connection. More often than not, we shrug this off as attention seeking, when in all reality, this innate need is driven either by a need to avoid emotional pain or to ease already existing emotional pain. In your presence, your dog may become vocal or paw at you to initiate comforting touch; other times, they may "act out" in ways that label them reactive (amongst others). Whichever may be the case, your dog will always seek YOU.
In the absence of a trusted human companion, your dog will most likely become vocal at first, then either go into a depression-like state and quiet down or become destructive before quieting down. This "destructiveness" - often in form of chewing, licking, biting or scratching - is caused by the SEEKING System's ability to self-sooth.
Whether you are close by or your dog is alone, if their need for connection goes unmet, they will find ways to cope. It's what the brain does to survive and thrive. And if there is cause for FEAR, your dog will go into a fearful state more rapidly when the brain runs low on the confidence-boosting feel-good chemicals oxytocin and endogenous opioids.