Dog Separation Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common complaints of dog owners, although
some don’t even realize it. What they do notice, is that they often
come to destroyed objects and neighbors complaining about the howling
and barking. Separation Anxiety consists of environmental control,
behavior modification and if needed – drug therapy.
are pack animals, and don’t like to be left alone. Some dogs will
simply sigh and wait patiently for you to come back, and others
will go into panic mode, crying and barking, trying to get you to
come back. Some destroy things, such as plants, books, pillows,
anything that was "yours", even to the extent of defecating
on the floor.
dependant dogs, a.k.a. "Velcro dogs", and dogs that have
either been passed around, or have been abandoned are more likely
to have separation anxiety than others. The thought of being abandoned
again is terrifying. Most owners unknowingly reinforce this anxiety.
Making a production of leaving, and trying to reassure the dog has
the opposite effect. Nothing enforces a dog’s belief that he has
something to worry about more than somebody trying to keep him calm.
all fears, desensitizing your dog to your comings and goings will
help him get over his fear of abandonment. It is best to stretch
this process out over several weeks, but if you need to you can
try to compress it into a couple of days.
yourself to walk out the door and practice ignoring your dog completely.
Do not say good-bye, do not cuddle him, and do not let on that you
are leaving at all.
is a very common mistake people make. By reassuring your dog that
you will return in only a little while, showing him affection, hoping
he calms down, you are really only reinforcing the fears that your
dog had to begin with. Just ignore him completely, and prepare yourself
to do this from now on. (However, if he sits nicely and watches
you calmly, this is the time to reward him lavishly. This is the
behavior you want to reinforce.)
not punish the dog. Punishment will only increase anxiety
– You should avoid playing with the dog prior to departure. (Although
a long walk or run with your dog prior to leaving will tire him
out and a tired dog is a good dog!)
– You should practice graduated departures. Go through some of the
steps associated with departure several times per day, but do not
departure exercises one to two times per day for 10-15 minutes each
time. The dog should be taught to sit, using small food rewards,
then taught to stay on command.
With success over weeks, the dog should be taught to sit (or lie
down) while the owner goes toward the door, steps outside and remains
for a short period of time. Progress by increasing the time away
should be gradual enough so that the dog does not get up or otherwise
express arousal. The goal is to teach the dog that it can be obedient
and relaxed in the absence of the owner.
independence training. During day-to-day routines, such as watching
television, the owner should ask the dog to stay some distance away
instead of allowing the dog to sit in his lap or be touching the
your dog is an "only" dog it is possible that this exacerbates
his separation anxiety.
Although not recommended as a cure-all, you may want to consider
getting another dog or puppy for companionship. Another wonderful
option is to find a playmate for your dog. A weekly visit to or
from a doggie-playmate’s house can be very beneficial to "only"
dogs (even those that do not suffer from separation anxiety). Dogs
benefit greatly from canine companionship. Schedule a playtime for
your dog, with another dog that he likes, once or twice a week.
dogs that do not have canine companionship become overly dependent
on their humans. Sometimes referred to as "Velcro-dogs"
(a dog that seems to stick to you where ever you go), they experience
a great amount of stress whenever they are not accompanied by a
dogs with separation anxiety, the most effective approach is generally
a combination of environmental control, behavior modification exercises
(therapy), and anti-anxiety medication. This can usually alleviate
stress in dogs.
only medication approved for the treatment of separation anxiety
in dogs is Clomicalm (clomipramine hydrochloride). This is an anxiety-reducing
drug in the family of tricyclic antidepressants. Side effects include
lethargy and occasional vomiting.
antidepressants may also be used in an extra label fashion, including
Elavil (amitciptyline), Prozac (fluoxetine) or Xanax (alprazolam).
medication is used to help your dog relax so that he can concentrate
on performing the behavior modification exercises; the exercises
are what actually change the dog’s response to a stressful situation
over time. Any anti-anxiety drug prescribed by your veterinarian
needs to be given exactly as directed. Dogs with separation anxiety
have a higher overall anxiety level, and drugs used as part of a
treatment plan for separation anxiety need to be given regularly,
not just when the dog seems anxious. Patience is important; it can
take weeks to months for certain drugs to become effective. It is
often necessary to try several drugs or combinations of drugs, to
determine what will work best for an individual dog.
modification exercises must be done consistently for weeks to months
before you’ll see permanent results.
component of behavior modification that may help your dog to be
less anxious is increased exercise. Exercise has mental as well
as physical benefits for dogs. If your dog is a ‘couch potato,’
start out slow and build up the intensity and length of time over
several weeks. If your dog has any health problems, be sure to check
with your vet before beginning an intense exercise program.
addition to exercise, mental stimulation (working on commands, playing
fetch, practicing agility exercises at home or in a class) is also
important. Many types of dogs were originally bred to do a job,
and they can become stressed without the mental activity they would
normally use if they were "working."
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