Is it separation anxiety or is my dog just bored?

By Dersim Avdar

We adopted Kawet in May 2021 from a local charity at the age of 8 weeks old. He was the cutest, sweetest boy, as you can imagine. He also peed and pooped our house, munched on furniture and destroyed 3 pairs of my flip-flops because they were the same texture as his chew toys. I still suspect my wife of giving them to him because her shoes mysteriously never got attacked.

He also never barked, which was peculiar for us and we thought we had won the jackpot for any Hong Kong flat dweller. But then it started. At 4 months, he would sometimes bark at unknown sounds from outside and, more importantly, also when we left him alone. We did the good parenting thing of gradually leaving him for longer amounts of time and making these moments a good experience with chew toys, but we were a bit worried nonetheless as he seemed distressed.

We all have heard stories of or have a dog with separation anxiety. They start whining, crying even howling when you leave, and when you come back you find your house turned into Mordor:
Cables? Chewed.
Furniture? Destroyed.
Floor? Pee and poop.

And your dog is super happy that you came back, ignoring the carnage left behind.

Who’s a good boi?
(BTW this isn’t Kawet, just a picture from the web)

Now wait a second.
Am I really describing separation anxiety, or just normal life for a 4 months old puppy? What is considered normal and when does it become a condition?

The AKC provides more information which can help separate normal behaviour from a disorder 1 , and which I find important to note. In addition to the elements mentioned above, we also find drooling, general restlessness and repetitive or compulsive behaviour, like pacing in circles or back and forth. Kawet didn’t display these signs, and he usually calms down within a minute or two after we leave and even eats his kibble when left alone.

We’re lucky in that regard, but many people aren’t. The pandemic seems to have had a significant effect on the number of pet dogs showing signs of separation anxiety as well, pushing the percentage from 14% up to 76% of all dogs 2 . There are good chances your dog is also part of these numbers.

So what can we do about this?
Most sources tend to recommend a combination of physical exercise, interactive toys, and treats, to reduce the symptoms of mild anxiety. The underlying idea is that a dog who’s had the chance to spend their energy and to use both their legs and their brain will be calmer than a dog who is bored and frustrated, which fully applies to Kawet and other dogs we know. He will systematically whine and howl when we leave if he hasn’t had the chance to exert himself beforehand and is bored, but stays calm if he’s been active and played, which is nice. You don’t need anything fancy to exercise and play with your dog, and the treats side is well covered with multiple solutions already available, but what about interactive toys? How do we stimulate their brains, especially if the weather or health reasons do not allow it?

If you browse through lists of recommended interactive toys, what you find today is the same thing as you would have found 20 years ago: snuffle mats, treat-dispensing plastic toys and dog puzzles (where the dog has to move pieces to reveal hidden treats). We bought such puzzles and while it’s nice to see your dog try to understand them and how to get to the rewards inside, once they’ve understood how, then they lose interest in the object because there is no challenge left and no replayability: the pieces are not going to change shape or adapt. Kawet needed 20 minutes to finish a puzzle we bought and lost interest afterwards. That’s an expensive 20 minutes for us owners.

We need something that will keep our dogs stimulated consistently and that can help alleviate boredom and separation anxiety.

Enter Joipaw.
At the very beginning of Joipaw, we were wondering how to answer a simple question: how to keep Kawet busy and happy while we’re away. It has since then evolved into something more holistic but we haven’t forgotten our first idea. To understand how we came up with our product’s idea, you need to know a simple thing: we’re big nerds. And we love dogs. And video games. Put these together and you get a new approach to playtime with your dog or for your dog on their own, how you can monitor them while you’re away, and how to keep them healthy in the long run.

Our product consists of 3 elements: a console, a wearable tracker and a software platform. Our focus here is on the console and the software. They allow your dog to play video games tailored for their needs and which stimulate their minds. They use their nose to play on the console’s touch screen and are rewarded for correct choices via an integrated treat dispenser.

Such a system has many advantages over traditional interactive toys. The games are varied, adapt to a dog’s progression, and new games come out regularly without the need to buy new physical products. Also important to note is that a mental workout can be as tiring as a long play session. I haven’t yet encountered a dog that didn’t happily sleep for multiple hours after playing with the console. And for those of us who want to keep an eye and an ear on their baby while away, good news, the console will also integrate a camera and microphone, which can be accessed remotely.

We developed a product that we wanted for our own dog, and we think it might be interesting for any person who cannot be with theirs 24/7 but still wants the best for their dog. We’ve been testing with multiple dogs and are always looking for additional testers who’d like to provide feedback on the current version of our product. If you’re interested and want your dog to appear on videos of smart dogs playing video games, write us and tell us more about you and your dog(s)!

  1. []
    I would take these numbers with a grain of salt as different methodologies could mean we’re comparing apples to oranges, but it seems probable that our changing working habits have accustomed our dogs to seeing us more, and now it’s tough to have to go back to the office. []