Separation Anxiety (SA) in Dogs
What is Separation Anxiety (SA) and what causes it?
I would LOVE to give you this answer, but sadly no one really knows. It occurs in all breeds of dog, some are more prone to SA then others. “Velcro” breeds like Boxers and Doberman Pinschers seem to be more prone to it, but this doesn’t mean they will all have it. Many shelter dogs also have some form of SA. I mean, think about it: if you were just dropped off by your family (maybe even multiple times by different families) and they never came back, wouldn’t you start to be scared that the new people you love would never return, too?
SA can also be caused by a simple thyroid issue that can be seen in a thyroid test. This is something that most Vets will not think to check this out, so make sure to have a full blood panel and thyroid check done if you believe your dog has SA. A simple pill once a day may be all that your dog needs to be happy again.
What are the symptoms of SA?
SA is not something that you should self diagnose. A trained professional, such as an Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinarian, should be the one to do it. Many of the symptoms of SA can be confused for simple boredom, lack of exercise, or not being fully housebroken, so do not be automatically alarmed if you see bad habits arising.
Symptoms vary from website to website, Vet to Vet, and dog to dog. No one can really agree on them.
The HSUS (http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/ou...n_anxiety.html) states:
• The behavior occurs exclusively or primarily when he's left alone.
• He follows you from room to room whenever you're home.
• He displays effusive, frantic greeting behaviors.
• The behavior always occurs when he's left alone, whether for a short or long period of time.
• He reacts with excitement, depression, or anxiety to your preparations to leave the house.
• He dislikes spending time outdoors by himself.
The problem with some of these statements is that sometimes the dog performs these behaviors simply because it is his nature to do so, NOT because he has SA. Some breeds are clingy and like to follow their people from room to room. Does that automatically mean they have SA? No. Similarly, some dogs don’t like to be outside alone and/or get very excited when someone comes home, but do not suffer from SA.
I like the list from Wagntrain.com (http://www.wagntrain.com/SeparationAnx.htm)
But, again, remember many things listed are, for some breeds, normal behavior.
• The dog chews on a variety of things, but chewing is often focused on items that smell most like you (or a particular person in your house) such as recently discarded clothes, including underwear or socks, or favorite chairs; and /or escape routes (doors or windows). The dog only chews these items when you're gone.
• The dog tries to stay close to the things that smell most of you (chewed stuff will still be warm when you get home)
• The dog pees or poops inappropriately, sometimes in many locations.
• The dog barks continuously during the day, perhaps after a build-up of whining. The barking is not on-off-on-off.
• The dog always shows these behaviors when left alone, even for short periods (30 minutes or less).
• The dog is wild to greet you, and is still stressed, anxious and clingy when you first arrive home. The dog does not appear "guilty" over destroyed items.
• Destruction begins soon after you leave; or possibly again shortly before you come home.
• The dog cannot be isolated from you at any time, even in a different room with the door closed.
• The dog sleeps with you. (This does not mean that all dogs who sleep with their owners will get separation anxiety. It does mean that dogs that survive being apart from you at night can survive it during the day, too).
• Sometimes, the dog can be left alone in a car (for any length of time) or other unusual location, without showing anxiety or destructiveness. Sometimes the dog can be left with anyone; sometimes it is one particular person whose absence triggers the anxiety or issues.
• The dog gets increasingly distressed as you prepare to leave.
• The dog is constantly following you and demanding your attention when you are home.
Ok, what can I do then?
• Desensitization to your arrivals and departures.
Great sites for these are:
The HSUS http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/ou...n_anxiety.html
The KEY to desensitization to work is to NEVER be gone more then your dog can take. If your dog isn’t only good for 1min before they freak out, you should only be gone for 59seconds.
• Increase the amount of exercise you give your dog before you leave. A tired dog is less likely to have the strength to destroy crates, and is more likely to sleep while you are gone. This means you may have to get up an hour earlier then normal to take your dog for a LONG walk. Throw in training commands while out with your dog. Mentally working your dog is just as important as physically working your dog.
• Try to leave a Kong (http://www.petsmart.com/product/inde...ductId=2750604) Frozen with some goodies inside of it like Peanut Butter! (http://dogs.thefuntimesguide.com/200..._chew_toys.php) Giving him something to do while you’re gone, if he is food motivated enough, will take his mind off of your absence.
• If the above hasn’t worked, try adding natural relaxing herbs or supplements to your dog’s life. Results differ from dog to dog. What works for one dog won’t work for the next. These are to be used WITH desensitizing.
1. Rescue Remedy (http://www.rescueremedy.com/) adding some of this to your dog’s water dish every time you refill the dish. For a dog that is 50lbs+ I would add a full eyedropper full. For smaller dogs add less. This is all natural, so as long as you don’t go overboard, it’s pretty safe.
2. Valerian Root (http://www.anxiety-and-depression-so...s/valerian.php)
3. Add a D.A.P. to your dogs crate room (http://www.petsmart.com/product/inde...ductId=2755194)
4. Melatonin (http://www.melatonin.com/melatonin-animals.php), an over-the-counter hormone. Some have reported positive results when managing SA and other anxieties by using Melatonin. Contact your vet for dosage details, but a medium-sized dog 30-60 usually gets about 3mg, with less for smaller dogs and more for larger dogs.
• Contact a local Behaviorist (http://www.iaabc.org/) (http://www.apdt.com/). They cost a lot, but can help you in more ways then you can dream. Anxiety should NEVER be punished, so when choosing a trainer, the more positive the training is the better.
• Return to the Vet for “stronger” Meds like Clomipramine or Fluoxetine (Prozac). Also to be used as an aid during desensitization.
Sadly, SA is NOT curable and anyone that says that it is is lying. SA is only manageable. SA is something that may take a year or more or even less to get under control and it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Every dog is different and needs different things. Some dogs just need time to adjust, some never adjust. The most important thing I can tell a person dealing with SA is DO NOT PUNISH THE DOG WHEN YOU RETURN TO DESTRUCTION no matter how mad you are. Dogs do not do things out of spite. Spite is a human emotion, not a dog emotion. Dealing with SA is a long and difficult task, and I wish you the best of luck.
Other Helpful Links
• Crate Training: http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/ou..._training.html
A special THANKS to MissMutt for helping with this!