Separation anxiety is diagnosed in around 15% of behavioural cases. When left alone, most dogs find a familiar spot and go to sleep.
However, a dog when suffering from separation anxiety will become extremely anxious. Not understanding where you or your family have gone or if you will ever return.
The dog could exhibit behaviour which may include chewing, barking, salivating, urinating, defecating, vomiting or escape behaviour, such as chewing through walls, scratching through doors, breaking out of cages or trying to dig their way out. In some cases, the dog can become ill, stop eating, or suffer from depression or even hurt itself in its frenzy to escape.
Factors at the core of this problem include, genetics, early learning, lack of socialisation and owner behaviour. Your dog is a social, pack animal that relies on the others for individual protection by safety in numbers.
Dogs that lack confidence, due to over bonding, under socialisation, lack of communication and training or no knowledge of what is expected of them, mistreatment in the past, long confinement or even dogs that have been abandoned or rehomed are more likely to exhibit behaviour's relating to separation anxiety.
Solution and Treatment
No long goodbyes. When it is time to leave, just leave. Do not say a big and drawn out "Good bye" to your dog. In fact, ignore your dog for five minutes before you go. Paying too much attention will make your dog feel more insecure when that attention is abruptly withdrawn. At the bottom of this article is some medical treatment that can help which includes both herbal and mainstream drugs
Distractions are the key
Prepare a "Bye-Bye" bone. A hollow cheese or dried meat filled bone from the pet shop, or a Kong. Fill it with grated cheese, peanut butter, or other things your dog really likes. I have recently put together a recipe for Kongs and hollow bones you will need 4 or 5 of these bones which you can get from any pet shop. Make up the recipe then freeze in handy size dollops and give to the dog only when you leave, even if that absence initially is only minutes.
See Recipes at the bottom of this page. Always give the bones frozen as it will last longer, and especially in young dogs will help to cool inflamed gums when teething. Teething can last until the dog is twelve to thirteen months old.
Put it away and only take it out when you leave each day. Place it near your dog just before you close the door. When you arrive home put the bone away. The bone only comes out when you leave. When it gets low then poke out the contents and refill. You are distracting your dog with something that he will find interesting enough to concentrate on and will ignore your leaving, he should appreciate the bone so much that he will look forward to it coming out instead of getting upset with your leaving.
Confining your dog during your times of absence has two positive results. First, a dog who is confined crate cannot do damage to your home. Secondly, a crate, when properly introduced, will act as a safe and comfortable den where the dog can relax. Limiting his movement also acts as an anxiety reducer for most dogs.
Exercise Your Dog
A dog that is lacking exercise is more likely to have stress and tension. Tiring a dog out with a long walk, run, or with play goes a long way in reducing stress.
Leave the Radio On
Tune a radio to a talk station; not music unless it is classical which most dogs fond soothing. Put it on in a room you are often in but not in the same room as the dog and close the door.
The dog will hear the human voices from your room and may not feel so alone. Some clients tape record their own voices and play the recording rather than the radio program. Dogs know the sound of your voice. And remember, since the dog is most anxious just after you leave, therefore it need only be an hour long.
Build up a routine
The hardest time for dogs is immediately after you leave. Their anxious, frantic, and occasionally destructive behaviour generally happens inside the first hour. You need to modify your dog's behaviour through reinforcement training and behaviour modification.
Put your dog in his crate if you have crate trained, get ready to leave like normal then just leave. Come back after 2 minutes. Greet your dog calmly. If he is not showing anxiety reinforce this behaviour with a food treat he enjoys.
Wait a few minutes and then repeat the exercise, this time remaining outside a few minutes longer. Continue practicing leaving and returning over the next couple of weeks, when you return, greet your dog after he has settled down before offering a cuddle or a treat.
When you reach 30 minutes the length of time the dog is left can be increased by larger increments. Once the dog can be left alone for 1.5 hours, it can usually be left all day. Though I stress at this time the crate should be left open. No dog should be locked in a crate all day and no dog should be left alone all day every day
Leadership is Vital
When a dog has a strong consistent leader/controller of resources, it has a calming effect on him. He feels safe and taken care of. In the absence of a strong controller, your dog feels obligated to assume that position in the social hierarchy of the family pack. Since a leader must control all that goes on, his inability to control you leaving causes him stress and anxiety. They sometimes exhibit dominant behaviour to try to stop owners from leaving. Obedience training resource controlling and NILIF techniques are normally the best methods of establishing yourself as a beneficial and strong leader.
Sometimes anti-anxiety medication can be of help whilst taking the dog through a behavioural desensitisation program. I initially prefer something gentle such as Dr Bach’s Rescue remedy, this gentle remedy is used to help relieve emotional and stress related disturbances in people and animals.
You can use it in conjunction with Skullcap and Valerian. A traditional herbal remedy for the symptomatic relief of anxiety, nervousness, excitability and travel sickness. You can get both the treatments already mentioned either from me or the internet. click on the picture
Clomicalm is a mainstream drug that was specifically created for pets to be used as part of a comprehensive behavioural management program to treat separation anxiety in dogs older than 6 months of age. Though I am not a fan of mainstream drugs sometime the anxiety is so acute that you need a stronger drug that will help. You can only get Clomicalm medication from the Vet. As with all medication herbal or otherwise, it is advisable to discuss this with your normal veterinarian. .
Consistency is the key.
You are responsible for providing food and shelter. You also have the responsibility of supplying an environment whereby the dog feels safe and secure. Leadership/Resource controlling plays a major part. Lack of consistency and over-bonding can be a cause and effect of separation anxiety. Though it must be said other factors may also play their part.
Sometimes you may need to get another dog for company and comfort for your pet, especially if the symptoms are very severe. Sometimes you may have to re-home the dog if your lifestyle and work commitments do not allow for a happy and contented pet.
Stan Rawlinson 1998
Updated regularly as new information becomes available
With all the above it is always prudent to discuss any medication herbal or otherwise with your Vet before embarking on any treatment program
Recipes for Kong’s or Hollow Bones
Freeze All These
When you make up these recipes measure how much will fit in to the bones or Kong and make up quite a lot. Freeze them separately. When you need to refill the bones simply defrost fill the bone or kong and refreeze. I buy half a dozen of the hollow bones from the pet shop for this. They normally sold with dried meat or cheese in them.
- Mashed potato, mixed with grated cheese bits of sausage and liver. Add a sprinkle of garlic powder and white fish meat, Coley is fine
- Cooked Chicken mince mixed with grated carrot and soaked kibble or pasta if your pup does not have wheat intolerance.
- White fish mixed with mashed potato, a little cream cheese with garlic and herbs.
- Steamed chicken or baked liver add powdered garlic, mashed potato to bind and bulk add bits of cheese and frankfurter freeze it into Kong or bone size fillers then defrost fill the Kong’s or bones and refreeze before giving the treat. Great for gums and teething
- Kongcicles, these are especially good for teething gums when pups often experience an itching sensation and a heightened need to gnaw intently; Make a broth/stock from either a leftover chicken carcass or beef or lamb joint;
Put carcass in pan with a few herbs, not bay leaf, add some chopped carrot, clove of garlic, half fill with water, bring to boil, reduce to a simmer until liquid reduced by half. Leave to cool, plug small end of the kong with peanut butter, pour in stock and place in freezer. When frozen take out and give to puppy.
Some pups like real fruit juices, try diluting and freezing but watch the acid content in fruit can damage teeth as it can with us.
Try layering the bones or kongs with lots of different shapes and textures of treats and food and then wedge chews or larger biscuits across the hole.
You can use the hollow bones that you get in pet shops and use all the recipes as above as they are cheap, you can buy a number and stuff and freeze them so they are ready for when you need to teach your dog that you are allowed to go out occasionally without him.
By freezing the bones and Kong’s it makes it more difficult for them to eat it in a hurry and it soothes the gums, especially in dogs that are teething