What is Separation Anxiety?

In short, it is a condition in which dogs suffer from anxiety when left alone. One out of every six dogs may suffer from canine separation anxiety. It can be seen in young dogs who do not adapt to being separated from their owners. Dogs who suffer from other anxiety disorders such as noise phobias/thunderstorm phobia can have an increased predisposition to developing separation anxiety. Changes in household activity, such as kids going back to school after summer, can trigger separation anxiety in dogs that typically do not show symptoms at other times of the year.

  • Destructive behavior is commonly directed towards exits from the home, such as windows or doorways. This may also mean attempts to escape from confined areas such as crates or rooms. You may also see destruction directed towards personal items such as remote control units, pillows, clothing, etc.

  • Vocalization typically presents as a monotonous sound (a single tone in which the bark does not change much in pitch), persistent howling, or barking.

  • Elimination: you can see stool and/or urine accidents when your dog is left alone or thinks she is alone. The material is often in multiple locations because the dog is pacing due to anxiety and thus goes in the areas where she is pacing. The stool can often be abnormal and have a slimy, mucus look.

  • Hypersalivation or drooling: anxiety results in increased drooling, so you may see puddles of thick saliva in the crate or near an exit where the dog may be scratching to get out. You also may see heightened thirst when you return home as the drooling and panting may cause some dehydration.

It is important to recognize that all these signs can occur for reasons other than separation anxiety. In order for separation anxiety to be diagnosed the symptoms must be associated with your dog being alone or thinking he/she is alone. Video monitoring is useful to characterize symptoms and severity of separation anxiety.

TREATING SEPARATION ANXIETY

Reducing separation anxiety involves increasing your dog’s level of independence, reducing the excitement associated with your departure, and adapting your dog’s ability to be alone. In many cases, anti-anxiety medication will be prescribed to help reduce anxiety during the initial relearning phase of treatment. In many cases, the anti-anxiety medications can be discontinued when the desired long-term behaviour has been consistently exhibited. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are panicked, fearful and traumatized when left alone so remember punishment never alleviates anxiety and has no place in treatment of separation anxiety.

STEPS INVOLVED IN BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION

  1. Relieve energy by going for a fast paced 15-20 minute walk every morning and evening. Just like people, stress will be reduced by external stimulation and exercise.

  2. Do not reward behaviours, like barking or jumping up, that are exhibited during times of anxiety. Consistent, structured, positive attention given during an obedience training session is an excellent way to build confidence and will help to refocus energy on a positive outlet.

  3. When you come home, ignore your dog until he/she is relaxed. You should not touch, look or talk to your dog. This is one of the most important steps in retraining. Once your dog is relaxed, you can give a command then give the verbal and physical reward that you both love.

  4. Do not make a big deal of leaving the house. You do not need to make a fuss over him/her when leaving. Simply leave in a calm and unhurried manner. If you find that your dog becomes anxious when you perform activities associated with you leaving, such as picking up keys, or your purse or putting on a coat, start to do these activities when you are not leaving so that he/she does not associate them with you leaving the house.

  5. Work on teaching your dog to be alone. Teach your dog to lie in specific locations in the house and when this behaviour is consistently demonstrated try leaving him/her alone in the area for longer periods of time. All verbal and physical rewards should be very low key so as not to increase “coming and going anxiety”.

  6. Dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) is a synthetic pheromone that can help produce a calming effect on dogs on a continual basis in the home. This is a safe product with variable effects on different dogs with different levels of anxiety.

  7. Cage training can be helpful in dogs that are destructive to the house and have shown acceptance of a crate. However, cage training is not for all dogs as some dogs with separation anxiety will also exhibit confinement anxiety. These dogs become very stressed when confined and may cause damage to their teeth and nails when trying to get out of the cage.


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