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 Dog Behavior Library

Treating Separation Anxiety

Introduction
Some dogs are genetically more relaxed than others. However any dog can exhibit signs of anxiety such as whining, barking, digging, escaping, inappropriate elimination or household destruction. More subtle symptoms include trembling, salivating, hiding, or lack of appetite. Common causes of dog anxiety include separation from the owner, inappropriate punishment, lack of exercise, lack of training, unclear hierarchy, or medical discomfort. The diagnosis of Separation Anxiety is only true when the symptoms occur within 30 minutes of leaving, or while the key attachment figure is gone.

If Separation Anxiety is confirmed in your dog, follow these steps in order, and under the supervision of an animal behaviorist.

Medical Workup
Rule out physical stress. If there is any underlying minor source of pain or discomfort, this will be accentuated during separation anxiety. For example, mild, minor dental pain or bladder inflammation. During stress, the jaw and abdomen are clenched, resulting in increased pain, contributing to the perceived problem of separation. The exact tests are up to the veterinarian, but the goal is to rule out conditions that do NOT CURRENTLY HAVE SYMPTOMS. This might routinely include the following tests:

Veterinary Test Looking for:
Complete Physical Examination Any source of pain: Dental; Skin; Joints
CBC Anemia (Cerebral Hypoxia); Allergy; Infection
Serology Internal organ function: Liver; Kidney; Pancreas
T4 Thyroid is the most common hormone to cause problems
UA Urinary tract infection or inflammation; crystals; stones
Fecal Intestinal Parasites; Diarrhea; Dietary Intolerance

Begin Psychoactive Medication
With many cases of separation anxiety, medication is routinely used. The goal of the medication is to increase serotonin levels in the brain, which are associated (in people) with reports of a calm relaxed mental state. The medication is used both to alleviate the symptoms, and to speed up the retraining process to get results more quickly. In most cases, the medication is tapered and discontinued after a few months. In some cases the medication is necessary for life. Medication can only be prescribed by a veterinarian after a medical exam and workup. These meds cannot be used in dogs with heart disease or seizures. Most veterinarians consider the new medication, "CLOMICALM" both safe and effective in 80%+ of cases, when combined with behavior modification.

Document Existing Departure Symptoms
What symptoms are present associated with owner leaving? (Check all ever observed)

_ Withdrawal/Hiding _ Licking causing skin lesions
_ Pacing/Non-destructive activity _ Loud disruptive vocalization
_ Yawning _ Urination
_ Temporary anorexia _ Defecation
_ Soft vocalization _ Diarrhea
_ Trembling _ Vomiting
_ Salivation _ Destruction
_ Licking environment Other _______________________

Desensitize Departure Cues
Use decreasing Departure Symptoms to monitor progress

Try to determine if the onset of any departure symptoms, are linked to a cue the owner gives the dog that departure is about to take place. This departure cue is the event, which triggers the departure symptom in the dog. Once identified, begin to desensitize the cue, by implementing it repeatedly, and randomly in the dog's presence without involving the dog. The only interaction should be praising calm behavior if it is observed. Examples of departure cues might include:

_ Keys _ Briefcase
_ Shoes _ Jacket
_ Purse _ Opening a specific (closet?) door

Ignore Any Attempts At Attention Seeking
Receiving attention acts as anxiety reducing on demand. Since this can only be done when the owner is home, it emphasizes the difference; home vs. gone. Make the dog "earn" any attention by sitting, or practicing the long down stay. After the dog earns the attention, give brief calm praise. Gradually increase the duration of the DOWN-STAY as part of the therapy of teaching the dog to be calm while separated by gradually increasing distances.

Dogs with an anxiety complex always see punishment as an unpredictable attack, and it increases anxiety.

Praise Calm Behavior
Begin to look for any time the dog is laying or just relaxing around the house. Praise this using the word "Settle." For example, "Good Settle, Good Settle Fido." The goal is for the dog to get more attention for calm, than for anxious behavior.

Avoid Punishment, Seek Reliability
If you find destruction, house soiling or other signs, do not punish the dog, or let the dog see you clean up the mess. (Cleaning up a mess may be misinterpreted by the dog as indirect attention.)

Dogs with an anxiety complex always see punishment as an unpredictable attack, and it increases anxiety. Instead work daily (30x/day) on Instructions like SIT or DOWN-STAY, where the dog can count on a reward in exchange for following a reliable course. Verbal corrections such as "NO" or "AT AT" when caught in the act is acceptable to interrupt the bad behavior, then give a Instruction like SIT and reward, or redirect into chewing and praise chewing on a chew toy.

Initiate Increased Exercise
Try to double or triple the current level of exercise outside the premises. The dog should be panting and lay down immediately upon returning home. If arthritis is a factor, use 1 aspirin per 50 lbs. after exercise, and limit exercise as per attending DVM instructions. The ideal time to give exercise is ending at least one half hour before the regular departure. This strategy leaves the dog tired, and yet the timing is not associated with the departure.

Avoid Emotional Greetings Or Departures
These events are linked to the canine reality of loneliness. The goal is to de-signify these events. Instead of greeting a dog who is acting wild, give the SIT Instruction. If (when) the dog ignores this opportunity for a greeting, just walk past and ignore the dog for several seconds. The rule is when the dog is calm enough to sit for a greeting, the greeting occurs.

Begin Independence Training
While owner is home, teach long down-stay Instruction, crate training, and close tether training. Start with the dog confined near the owner, and praise calm posture and behavior. Begin to confine the dog gradually farther away. Keep under the stress symptom threshold. Ignore attempts to solicit attention. Praise calm quiet. The goal is to teach the dog that calm independence is associated with eventual return of the owner.

If the dog tends to follow the owner from one room to the other, begin to close the dog on the other side of the door for gradually increasing periods. Here is a sample scenario:

Close the door with the dog on the other side, and immediately begin praising quiet.
- "Good Quiet, good dog Fido; Good Quiet."
Open the door after only a few seconds, give calm brief praise, then close the door (separated).
- "Good Quiet, (wait 5 seconds), "Good Quiet for 5 seconds, good dog" (Wait 10 seconds)
Open the door and give calm brief praise, then close the door (separated).
- "Good Quiet," (work up to timed 1 minute of separation) then move away from the door.
Praise quiet, calm behavior in gradually increasing increments. There can be some variation, e.g. 1 minute, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, etc. However, the overall trend should be to gradually teach the dog to be relaxed, while separated from the owner.

Off The Furniture
Until the symptoms are gone, do not allow the dog on any furniture, and especially it is not allowed on the owner's bed. Either crate the dog next to the bed, or tether on a pet bed on the floor. Avoid any extended contact between dog and person.

Avoid Extended Physical Contact
Separation Anxiety dogs tend to like to be touching their favorite person, whenever that person is home. This is flattering to the person, but worsens the symptoms. The dog should not be allowed to touch the owner without SITTING first, and then for only brief petting. The dog should work on DOWN-STAY with plenty of praise, for laying gradually farther away.

Use Distractions When You Leave The House
The goal is to make the dog see the owner leaving has its own reward. The dog should see that something good happens when the owner leaves. The critical time is approximately one hour after the owner leaves. Feed the dog as leaving to associate food with leaving. Even better is to make the meal last longer with the use of a Buster Cube, Kong Toy or other device. The food is hidden inside these toys, and the dog spends time trying to get at the food.

It is advisable to teach the dog how to use these toys when the owner is home at first. If the dog tends to ignore the toy, increase the taste stimulus of the food treat. Examples are soft cheese, pieces of hot dog or freeze dried liver, peanut butter or liverwurst. Teaching the dog to use the toy consists of the owner showing interest in the toy, and praising any interest shown by the dog. The owner may have to hold, or turn the toy to release some food at first. Then the owner praises the dog for consuming the material. Once the dog is using the toy regularly, it can be introduced at departure. Another trick is to freeze the dog food, slowing its consumption.

Vary Your Departure
Try leaving through a different door. If you commonly leave in a group, stagger the departures. Try parking your car a short distance away. Leave on the TV and lights that are commonly associated with your departure.

Take The Dog On BORING Car Trips
In some cases, the dog might think you are going to the park to play ball alone. Therefore, if you often take the dog to fun places in the car, begin to take the dog on short BORING trips. Be careful about leaving the dog in the car too long. Avoid both heat and destruction.

Give Rewards For Correct Chewing
Praise should be given ANYTIME the dog is chewing any approved chew toy. Attention can be withheld unless the dog is chewing appropriately. If the dog is not interested in chewing, purchase a wider variety of chewtoys, and return them if no success. Try soaking them in warm water for 2 hours to soften them. Try rubbing some peanut butter or liverwurst on the outside. Act interested in the toy yourself, and praise any interest expressed by the dog. Ignore the dog unless it is chewing.

Choose chews that are small enough to be picked up, but too large to be swallowed. Some pet stores will allow you to bring the dog to help select the toys. If the dog is very interested in chewing, only allow 10-15 minutes of chewing at first. Take the chew away by offering a tasty food treat in exchange. Gradually increase the time the dog is allowed to chew, and gradually increase the toughness of the chew to make it last longer. Chewing is a stress reliever, so encourage proper chewing!

Crate Training
If the problem is quite severe, consider using a crate to wean the dog from your attention. Introduce the crate as the dog's own bedroom and favorite place in the world. Feed the dog there and provide a comfortable dog bed inside. When you are home, ignore the dog unless he is inside the crate, then praise lavishly and even give a food treat. Provide the favorite chew toy in the crate. Once the dog is comfortable being crated, begin to space out your praise. Praise every few seconds at first, then gradually increase the interval between praises. Each session, let the dog out of the crate after at least 5 seconds of quiet; not when whining or barking. The key is for the dog to get more attention from you when inside the crate than when next to you. Once the dog can be left in the crate without stressing, try putting the crate in another room. Once any negative behaviors are corrected, you can gradually allow more time together when home.

The first time you leave the dog locked in the crate for any period, should be next to your bed while you are sleeping. The dog can hear and smell you, and so is reassured. The dog can then gradually become accustomed to being locked inside the crate, and associate that with your presence.

Departure Training
Begin to leave at odd times, for short periods, and without any contact with dog for 30 minutes before leaving. If practical, exercise the dog vigorously at least 30 minutes before you leave so the pet is somewhat tired.

During departure training, associate a unique smell (e.g. puff of new air freshener) with planned departures. Spritz, go outside, walk away, then reenter the house without either goodbye or greeting. The small spritz of the new smell is to signify to the dog that this is a short departure. Another alternative is to create a new Instruction, such as "I'll be back."

Gradually increase the periods gone, but try to avoid a predictable pattern. If you need to leave for a long time during the training, do not use the signal, as this will devalue its signal. Once you have worked up to an extended absence, routinely with not problem, phase out the scent gradually.

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