Do you leave your home and return only to find that your normally well behaved dog has dug a hole straight through your couch or chewed the cushions off each of your new dining room chairs? If so, then welcome to the world of canine separation anxiety!
Labrador Retrievers are rated as one of the most common breeds for separation anxiety as they are companionship dogs and do not like being left alone for very long. Separation Anxiety in dogs is a neurological distress response to the separation of a person to whom the dog is attached, a high degree of uncertainty of an outcome, or the probability of punishment. Of course, brain chemistry plays a huge role in the development and progression of this disorder but we are going to toss our chemistry books aside and get down to the basics of how you can help your pup with this disorder.
Most articles and veterinarian findings state that separation anxiety is found primarily in younger or older dogs. The middle-aged pup is often left out of the equation but shouldn’t be as there are a number of signs and triggers that even those Labs in this age groups can exhibit.
The signs of canine separation anxiety include, but are not limited to:
- Distress Vocalization – howling, barking, and whining
- Inappropriate Elimination – urination, defecation
- Destructive Behavior – chewing, digging, scratching walls/doors
- Depression or Inactivity
- Psychosomatic consequences – excessive licking of hair coat, pacing, circling
- Hyperattachment – excessive greeting behavior, constant pestering of owner
- Escape Behavior – breaking through windows and doors
A trigger is something that happens in the life of the dog, which causes the onset of separation anxiety. Although each pup is different and has different triggers due to personality traits, routines, or living conditions, most triggers include:
- New House
- New Baby
- Changes in Schedule
- Owner going back to work
- Children going back to school
- Improper Nutrition
- Loss of a family member
As each canine companion is different, it is often difficult to reach a conclusive diagnosis of separation anxiety. For this reason, a thorough history and physical exam are needed to definitively diagnose separation anxiety and rule out other medical behavioral differential diagnoses. Once your veterinarian has confirmed that your dogdoes indeed have canine separation anxiety, there are a few treatment options available to help your pup.
The treatment of separation anxiety in dogs may involve both medical and behavioral intervention. Treatment is necessary as dogs with separation are truly suffering and can do real harm to themselves. With that said, there are three types of treatment available: medical, natural, and training.
Depending on the extent of the dog’s separation anxiety, your veterinarian may recommend medical treatment. Usually medical treatment is reserved for those dogs with a more severe case of separation anxiety and may include the use of Clomicalm. This drug decreases the level of fear and anxiety, while increasing the receptivity to behavioral modification.
Valium is also used by some veterinarians, but most do not like it. There are better choices than Valium with longer lasting effects that will allow the dog to continue living a more normal life. As with any drugs, please ask your vet about the side effects prior to giving medication to your pup.
Although medical treatment may be effective, there are many side effects to be concerned about; therefore many owners chose a more natural approach to treatment. Herbal remedies such as Tranquility Blend by Animals’ Apawthecary can be purchased at many natural pet food stores. This product claims to calm dogs, cats, and other animals during acute episodes of anxiety without diminishing alertness.
Another natural treatment that is designed specifically for canine separation anxiety is called Comfort Zone Canine Behavior Modification Plug-in by Farnam Pet Products. It contains a jar of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) and electric diffuser that plugs into the wall outlet. This product claims to completely stop stress-related behavior as it releases a pheromone possessed by lactating female dogs.
Also known as behavioral modification, the training treatment can allow dogs to feel more in control and independent while allowing them to have goals to attain. This not only allows for mental stimulation but also desensitizing and counter-conditioning. Many dogs suffering with separation anxiety can be trained and cured, but it takes persistence and consistence on behalf of the dog owner. Forms of training may include:
- Crate Training – crating the dog and covering the crate with a sheet in a secure area of the house to alleviate stress.
- Short Leaves – leave the house in short intervals and increase the length of time, slowly, as needed to help the dog become accustomed to being left alone for periods of time. Leave the television or music playing as if you are home to distract the pup.
- Obedience Training – give the pup a job to do in a group setting to build confidence and security while being socialized.
The success of each training technique depends on each dog. The owner needs to remain consistent with the training and provide rewards for the pup as well. Give your pooch something special reserved for those times when you leave, such as a Kong stuffed with some goodies. This will downplay your departure and give the pup something else to concentrate on. If done correctly, training will not only be a treatment for separation anxiety but also a prevention for future anxiety attacks.
Unfortunately, many dog owners do not understand the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment for canine separation anxiety. If not taken seriously and a solution found, possible fallout may occur, such as:
- Owner being evicted from the residence due to noise disturbance
- Time and money to make repairs to the home
- Emotional stress on leaving the dog alone
- Possible euthanasia or abandonment of the pup
The purpose of this article is to help ensure that fall out does not occur. Lab owners must remember that scolding your dog only makes the problem worse. It is not the pup’s fault that it has separation anxiety. Your pup needs a patient, loving and willing caregiver to take the necessary steps to help it achieve a full recovery and not be destroyed or abandoned for something that is out of its control. It may be a long process for some dogs, but it will be well worth the effort to help your dog become healthy and happy.