Roblin Animal Hospital/ Red River Spay & Neuter:
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:
- behaviours that remove barriers
An estimated 15% of dogs are affected by separation anxiety to some degree.
- 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:
- excessive salivation
To aid us in a diagnosis, get a videotape of the dog 15-30 minutes after you leave the house.
- 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!
- 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.