Friday, March 11, 2011
Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Part 6
The previous blogs have talked about training methods and behavior modification techniques for dogs with separation anxiety. Here are some other measures to eliminate separation anxiety in dogs.
Obedience training helps to instill confidence and independence in your dog. You should spend 5 to 10 minutes daily training your dog to obey one-word commands. It may be helpful to have training sessions occur in the room where your dog will be left when you are gone. All positive experiences (food, toys, sleep, training and attention) should be associated with this area of the home.
Your dog should receive 15 to 20 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise once, preferably twice, per day. It is often helpful to exercise your dog before you leave for the day. Exercise helps to dissipate anxiety and provides constructive interaction between you and your dog. It is best to allow your dog 15 to 20 minutes to calm down before you depart. Fetching a ball is good exercise, as is going for a brisk walk or run with your dog on leash. Even if your dog has a large yard to run in all day, the aerobic exercise will be beneficial since most dogs will not tire themselves if left to their own devices.
A decrease in some fear and anxiety has been seen in conditions when some dogs are switched from a high protein, high energy food to a low protein (16 to 22 percent), "all-natural" diet (with no artificial preservatives). Nature's Recipe Lamb and Rice is a good choice. You may wish to feed your dog a low protein diet for a trial period of 2 to 4 weeks to see if it makes a difference in her behavior. If no improvement is seen, you can switch back to the original diet. Dietary changes should be made gradually, usually over 3 days, in order to avoid gastrointestinal upsets.
Medication is often used in conjunction with the above treatment strategies and is generally helpful. Traditionally antidepressants like clomipramine (Clomicalm®), fluoxetine (Prozac®) or amitriptyline (Elavil®) are recommended. Clomicalm® has recently been FDA approved for use in dogs to treat separation anxiety.
Some dogs with separation anxiety actually manage to escape from the house so be sure that they wear identification tags on a buckle collar. You may also want to consider tattooing or microchipping your dog so she can be identified if she panics and escapes.
Audio or video recordings of your dog's behavior when you are away can help confirm a diagnosis of separation anxiety and can be helpful to allow you to monitor her improvement.
You may have wondered about getting a pet for your dog, so she will not be lonely when you are away. This almost never works because the excessively tight bonding is between you and your dog, not between another animal and your dog. Having company has little effect on the distress most dogs feel when you are away.
Dogs should never be punished for the physical consequences of their distress when separated from you. In fact, punishment can exacerbate any underlying anxiety and worsen the behavior problem. Dogs do not make the association between making a mess and being punished for it at a later time. They also cannot reason that if they do not make a mess in the future, they will not be punished.
Owners often report that the dog looks "guilty" when they return home to destruction or urine or feces on the floor. The dog is not exhibiting guilt as we know it. Your dog has learned that when you are present and a mess exists, she is in trouble. If someone who had never scolded your dog went into the house, and a mess was present, your dog would not look "guilty." In an attempt to avoid punishment, your dog may respond with submissive postures which you misinterpret as "guilt" or "remorse." Submissive postures are actually an effort to appease you and avoid confrontation.