Roblin Animal Hospital
204-889-5578
Unit 104-4910 Roblin (corner of Roblin and Dieppe)
Email: roblinanimalhospital@shaw.ca

Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm
Saturday - 8:30am - 12:30pm

Roblin Animal Hospital/ Red River Spay & Neuter:

Separation Anxiety

 

Separation anxiety is a distress response to separation from the person the dog is attached to.

When a dog is unable to make contact with a “pack member”, the resulting anxiety can cause an increase in behaviours that would attract other pack/family members:

  • vocalizations
  • behaviours that remove barriers
  • digging/chewing

An estimated 15% of dogs are affected by separation anxiety to some degree.

 

Causes/Contributing Factors:

  • There is no difference in the amount of this behaviour exhibited either in males or females or among breeds.
  • Increased occurrence of this anxiety is seen among shelter dogs and strays (therefore more in mixed breeds).
  • There is often an extremely close pet-owner relationship.
  • The dog may be very clingy, the owner may be overindulgent.
  • May be triggered by a change in schedule such as:
    • a vacation or illness (owner home, then back to work)
    • a new relationship, a move , the dog coming home from a kennel.

Signs & Symptoms:

The owner comes home and finds household items destroyed and/or learns that the dog has been barking, howling or whining.

  • The owner may say or believe that the dog is “mad” or “spiteful.”
  • The objects destroyed tend to be personal items such as hairbrushes, books, clothing, and couch arms -- things frequently handled and well scented by the owner.
  • The dog may show increased anxious activity, such as pacing, restlessness, or whining; or at the other end of the scale as depression, such as lying around, or a downcast or anxious look.
  • When the owner returns, the pet usually becomes extremely active with exaggerated greeting behaviours.

How do I know if my dog has Separation Anxiety??

We need to first to rule out medical issues.

  • Other signs and symptoms of Separation Anxiety may include:
    • vomiting
    • anorexia
    • excessive salivation
    • diarrhea.

To aid us in a diagnosis, get a videotape of the dog 15-30 minutes after you leave the house.

Treatment:

  • First step is to conduct a comprehensive physical exam to rule out any physical problem.
  • Also need to be sure dog is healthy if drug therapy will be initiated.
  • Drug therapy can be very helpful but it must be used in conjunction with behaviour modification for positive long-term results.
  • The new drug of choice is CLOMICALM, which is used in dogs with separation anxiety or canine compulsive disorder.
  • Behaviour modification ideally consists of a 3 step program, but immediate preventive action may need to be implemented first.
  • Owner can try confinement, such as a crate, ex-pen, and dog-proofed room.
  • This can be successful if the dog was initially trained or accustomed to these types of confinement.  Some dogs get so anxious that they will injure themselves trying to escape.
  • Ideally - take the dog to work, leave dog with someone, doggy day-care, board with vet, and leave in car (weather permitting!) any time owner has to leave the dog.  
  • The idea is to have the dog experience no anxiety as behaviour modification begins.

Step 1.           Pre-Departure Training

  • Dog is taught to stay in a favourite corner, bed, etc, (where dog will be left when alone) for a few minutes before receiving attention.
  • Dog is gradually trained to stay quietly for an hour or more, eventually with owner out of the room. 
  • May use comforting tape, radio, TV, blanket.  Dog should have sufficient exercise before separation periods, and adequate chew toys. 
  • The owner should have less physical contact with the dog, such as decreased "free" petting, not allowed in bed, on lap etc.            
  • The dog should not be allowed to follow the owner from room to room constantly -- practice separations.

Step 2.         Departure Desensitization

  • When the dog is able to lie quietly without attention for 1-2 hours, begin to desensitize to departing cues - jingling keys, putting on coat, boots, etc, walking to and from door, handling door knob, opening and closing door, but never leaving. 
  • Dog is ignored. 
  • Pick up keys, put on boots, then go watch TV etc, etc.
  •  It is very important to ignore the dog for at least 15 minutes before leaving, and then again upon return.

Step 3.           Planned Departures ("Mock Departures") 

  • Dog is exercised, put in rest area and ignored for at least 15 minutes prior to departure.
  • Dog can be kept occupied with food or toys, owner leaves with no attention or fuss.
  • Departing cues are mixed in at times or not at all.
  • First time, owner leaves for 1 minute, even 15 or 30 seconds.  Then, for example, for 2 minutes. Then 3,5,3,5,7,2,7,10,6,12,2,etc.
  • After a number of short departures over several days, a few actual departures can be inter-dispersed so the dog cannot predict real from mock departures.

*REMEMBER: PUNISHMENT WILL ONLY INCREASE ANXIETY!

Prevention:

  •  Ideally - no new dog added to the household should be left alone.
  • Ideally, owner should apply a shortened 3-step program right off the bat.
  • Puppies and dogs should consistently be left alone, even for short periods of time, even when an owner can be at home all the time (egs vacation, illness).
  • Being alone often needs to be taught!
  • Drug therapy may need to be initiated for long term in severe cases.