Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Chocolate Labs Waiting By WindowDo 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.

Signs

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
  • Anorexia
  • Depression or Inactivity
  • Psychosomatic consequences – excessive licking of hair coat, pacing, circling
  • Hyperattachment – excessive greeting behavior, constant pestering of owner
  • Hypersalivation
  • Escape Behavior – breaking through windows and doors

Triggers

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:

  • Marriage
  • New House
  • New Baby
  • Changes in Schedule
  • Owner going back to work
  • Children going back to school
  • Improper Nutrition
  • Allergies
  • Loss of a family member

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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.

Medical Treatment

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.

Natural Treatment

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.

Training Treatment

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:

  1. Crate Training – crating the dog and covering the crate with a sheet in a secure area of the house to alleviate stress.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Fallout

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.

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  • penny shatford

    Penny and Lulu back again. The thing that seems to be working for me is putting my coat on and just walking around the house. As soon as Lulu sees me with my coat on she gets very upset or excited if she thinks we are going out together. I put in on for a while then take it off. She just lays and watches me now, picks her head up off the floor then just lays it down again. I go into the garden and just sit and let her see me throw the glass door. When I come back in I say nothing I just walk in. She doesn’t seem to care as much now that I am out of sight. Ive started leaving her for longer times Im up to one hour now. I looked throw the window once and she was asleep on my sons bed. Not really allowed, but I wasn’t there to tell her !!. I was just so pleased to see her laying there not caring. I think she has started to see that mum is coming back. Lulu is a smashing dog and well worth the trouble. Its going to be cold in the UK tomorrow so I wont look so darft walking around my house dressed to go out.
    Keeping your coat on when you get back from a walk for a while also helps. Im walk in and out of my house. I always shut the door so that she can hear me but cannot see me, it all helps. leave the TV on thats another thing I do. Lulu really was a really bad case. I hope this helps Penny & Lulu sevenoaks UK

  • http://www.pet-person.com Busy Mom

    I’ve read lots of opinions online about using a crate – some like the idea and others are very against it. Your article mentions it briefly in a positive way. Has anyone used this method successfully? How can you get an older dog used to a crate?

    • http://8pawsup.com Shannon

      I have used this method successfully and that is why I wrote the article. Most don’t understand how to use the crate properly and I can tell you from experience that it was an immense help with not only housebreaking the Labradors but also keeping them safe when we were not around.

      Today they still use their crate to sleep in at night or whenever they want. The thing is that we don’t even close the crate doors anymore. The crates have now turned into their own little sanctuary where they can come and go as they please. We tried to remove them but the Lab Brats wouldn’t have any of that! :)

  • penny shatford

    Ps. Just a thought Re the above . I could leave my mobile phone at home so when Im sent a photo Of Lulu waitng for me I wont get to see it Until I return. No really long, long, long and even longer walks before going out do help. I have a woods behind my house so that part is easy for me. All the best from Lulu Shatford Sevenoaks England UK xx

  • penny shatford

    I have a field type choc lab called Lulu. Perfect in every way, except that she doesn’t like being left. I take her for for long walks before I go any where. when Im getting ready to go out she sulks. Yes sulks. she turns her head away, wont look at me when called and goes and sits at the end of the hallway watching me get ready. When she sees me looking back at her she turns her head away. My son doesn’t help he sends me photos of her waiting by the front door looking up and writes wheres my mummy. She stays there until I come home. Its sounds sweet, nice. It is nice to know that I am missed. But its also a worry When left on her own. I am trying now to leave her for longer each day. Other than that she is a perfect very loving lovely girl. Field labs do make good loving pets. with lots of walks the right food and an owner that never goes out. (*_*) I love my Lulu xx

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  • Risa

    For MILD separation anxiety, I have found leaving a treat/toy (such as a Kong with treats in it) helps my dog. By distracting her, it helps the dog not stress about me leaving. My dog ALMOST seems happy to see me go! If your dog isn’t into toys or treats, perhaps you could find another distraction. And leaving the TV or radio on seems to help, as well. Of course, if your dog has more severe separation anxiety, you would need more intense treatment, as described above.

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