To ensure a healthy adjustment, separate dogs who have lived together for a long time gradually to reduce the potential for trauma and anxiety.
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When litter mates or unrelated pups are raised together, they can become bonded pairs who have a difficult time adjusting to the others absence. Strongly bonded pairs may cry, refuse to eat or even have manic periods of distraught behavior if their "other half" is gone for even a short period of time. When dogs have to be rehomed, it can be traumatizing, and if possible, should be done in a thoughtful and calculated manner.
- Start with gradual periods of separation where each dog is doing something fun, yet independent of the other. For example, a walk, playtime or simple commands followed by treats.
- Feed dogs separately and gradually move their crates or sleeping places away from each other until they are eventually in different rooms.
- Increase the length of separation periods as the dogs begin to adjust to each others absence.
- Once the dogs are separated and living in their new homes, allow them to see each other once in awhile, provided the interaction doesn't trigger a relapse in their need to be together constantly.
If the new owners of the dogs can be involved in the gradual separation, the pups can start developing new bonds.
Don’t let whining or crying make you give in and reunite the dogs during this adjustment period.
In some cases, bonded pairs will be separated abruptly. For example, dogs brought to a shelter together may be adopted individually, or if an owner dies, family or friends may only be able to commit to just one dog. If this happens, let new owners know their dog was part of a bonded pair and that depression, anxiety and aggression are all possible behaviors to anticipate. In addition to adjusting to a new environment and new human companions, each half of a bonded pair will mourn the loss of their other half. Low-key time and attention, paired with behavioral and obedience training from new owners, can help make the transition less traumatic.
Separated dogs may appear distraught and go in search for their missing half. They essentially go through a grieving period that may include changes in eating or sleeping habits. The less-dominant half of the pair may have the hardest time adjusting.
Some shelters and animal rescue groups specialize in placing heavily bonded pairs so they don’t have to be separated. If one-half of a bonded pair is exhibiting extreme anxiety, talk to your vet about an anti-anxiety medication.