Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

PDF version

 

What is separation anxiety?
 
Clinical separation anxiety occurs when dogs exhibit inappropriate behaviour, specifically caused by their owners leaving them alone or when the dog does not have access to them. These behaviours typically include vocalization, destructiveness, inappropriate elimination when the owner is away and excessive attachment behaviour when the owner is home. It is one of the most prevalent canine anxiety disorders. It is a misconception to believe that your dog wilfully destroys your home when you are away. They do not know that they have done wrong and punishing them upon your return will only make the situation worse.
 
How can separation anxiety be treated?
 
There are three phases to treatment that need to be used in tandem and consistently to have the desired effect.
 
1. Environmental  modification
 
Restrict areas where the destruction can occur.
Hire a pet sitter or send your dog to doggy day care 
Provide stimulation in the form of toys and treats. Alternate those treats so your dog does not get used to them.
 
2. Behaviour modification
 
Downplay departures and arrivals and reward calm behaviour. 
Do not interact with dog until he is calm. 
Perform departure rituals even when you are not leaving to break the association eg setting alarm.
Start the desensitisation process by creating area in house with positive associations (ie where the dog is treated) and gradually start leaving your dog there for longer and longer periods. Slow down the process if he becomes anxious. Only reward behaviour within the positive space.
Continue with good general behaviour training on regular basis.
 
3. Pharmacological treatment
 
There are a number of specifically formulated drugs on the market to deal with this problem. Ask your veterinarian for more advice on the subject. The goal is not to continue with medication indefinitely but rather to use it as an aid whilst the behaviour modification takes place and wean your dog off as he improves. There are also a number of pheromone and herbal remedies that can be bought over the counter and used in junction with the environmental and behaviour modification techniques.