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Managing separation anxiety in dogs (Proceedings)
Separation Distress is a common problem for the companion animal dog of today. Dogs, which are very social creatures, are left alone for longer periods than in the past.
Separation Distress is a common problem for the companion animal dog of today. Dogs, which are very social creatures, are left alone for longer periods than in the past. Separation distress is very common, across many species, when young animals are forcibly separated from their mothers or caregivers. Separation from an attachment figure generally results in vocalization (attempt to call the departed figure back), hyperactivity and destructive behaviors (attempt to follow or find the departed figure), vigilance (looking and moving to vantage points), and elimination behaviors. Some dogs also shiver, shake, hyperventilate, salivate, and shed profusely. Some even express their anal sacs. The second phase of separation distress is anorexia, depression, and hypo-activity. Some dogs exhibit these more passive signs. There is some evidence that separation anxiety is more prevalent in dogs that are the only pet in the household. Careful not to extrapolate this to assuming that adding another pet to the household will ameliorate separation distress in a dog that is already exhibiting separation anxiety.
Gradually acclimating the dog/puppy to being alone is probably the best preventative measure. This means starting with only a few minutes of separation, gradually working up to about an hour and a half. Eventually leaving the dog for longer intervals – 3-4 hours, and then the entire (reasonable length) work day. The dog should not be left alone so long that s/he becomes distressed. Otherwise this technique is not likely to work. Until then, hiring a dog sitter, taking the dog to a friend's or boarding kennel, or taking the dog with one may be options.
Owners can start acclimating the dog/puppy to being alone in the house by first, becoming acclimated to separation from the owner for short periods of time while the owners are home. The dog confined to another room or a large, comfortable crate or exercise pen while the owner disappears from view and reappears. Tasty treats or munchies can be provided to the dog whenever the owner disappears.
Some dogs can first be acclimated to a crate/pen, then gradually acclimated to staying in the crate/pen when the owner is home, and then gradually acclimated to being left in the crate/pen while the owner is gone. However, NEVER just put a dog with sever separation anxiety in a crate and then leave it alone. The dog will exhibit all the signs s/he engaged in outside of the crate, now inside the crate – plus more. Confinement in crates does not treat separation anxiety, it merely restricts the problem to one place. Distraught dogs in crates have been known to break teeth, jaws, limbs attempting to escape the crate – as well as urinate and defecate all over themselves. If you recommend crating/penning a dog, first the dog must be comfortable being left alone in the crate.
If the above conditions are unattainable, pheromonal , herbal, and pharmaceutical agents may be helpful – especially in junction with behavior modification and management techniques. There are two drugs that have received FDA approval for treatment of separation anxiety in dogs, in conjuction with behavioral techniques. Clomicalm ® (clomipramine HCl, 2-4 mg/kg) daily and Reconcile ® (fluoxetine HCl, 1-2 mg/kg). Clinicians who prescribe these drugs should become familiar with possible side-effects and contraindications. Neither of these drugs should be used in conjunction with or within 2 weeks of monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as amitraz or selegiline.
Separation anxiety problems can be severe, but they are usually treatable. However, dogs that are left alone for over 12-14 hours a day and dogs whose owners travel frequently are not as successfully treated.
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