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Canine Separation Anxiety

Written by Olivia Mirodone, DVM.


Dogs with Separation Anxiety present a challenge to their owner and their veterinarian. In severe cases the pet is destructive, including soiling the house and vocalizing excessively. This can lead to frustrated owners and concerned neighbors.

 

These destructive behaviors can initially be interpreted as a response to boredom or mischief by the pet.  The anxious dog will be hyper-attached to the owner (following the owner from room to room, constantly seeks attention and wants to be held or touched). Also, in these dogs, the behavior will only occur when the dog is left alone, whereas a dog that is simply unruly might be destructive even when not left alone.

 

The anxiety displayed usually begins when the dog perceives cues that the owner is about to leave, such as picking up the keys, setting up the alarm, putting on shoes etc. The episodes begin within the first 30 minutes after the owner's departure and the destruction is usually oriented towards barriers, such as doors, kennels and gates. Many dogs will cry or howl for long periods of time, and some will pant and drool excessively.



The focus for treatment is training and behavior modification, which involve the dog as well as the owner. It is best to work with your Westgate Pet Clinic veterinarian or a qualified dog trainer. Steps to therapy involve obedience training ("Nothing is Life is Free"), discouraging hyper-attachment, relaxation during separation (e.g. providing a safe quiet environment in which the dog feels safe, offering a treat or toy that the pet particularly enjoys, and which he only gets upon the owner's departure, playing relaxing music) and desensitization to separation at random times, the owner pretends to leave by typical routine (grab the keys, grab coat and lock door) but then doesn't leave or leaves briefly.



Ultimately individual cases may require prescription medication to aid the behavior modification changes. Unfortunately medications alone will not put your dog's mind at rest. The best rate of success is achieved with a complete and consistent behavior training program with medications used as an adjunct.


Veterinary Behavioral Specialists are available for at home assistance with the more severe cases of Separation Anxiety.

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