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Health care questions and answers about puppies and dogs

Dogs And Separation Anxiety 
Questions and answers about separation anxiety

     Anyone who does not believe animals have emotions hasn't seen the stress and anxiety some dogs, and occasionally cats, display when removed from the presence of their pet owner!  Anxiety originating from a change of environment such as being in an unfamiliar boarding facility, veterinary clinic, or foster home can trigger intense anxiety.  Even travel in a car can initiate a form of anxiety... think of it as separation anxiety from being "separated" from the pet's usual comfortable and familiar environment. 

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 My new adopted Airedale totally freaks out whenever I leave him home for longer than a few minutes.  He's urinated on the carpet, passed stool, scratched the windowsill and front door which now need repair.
   How can I get him to stop this destructive behavior?  Otherwise he's a great dog.


Answer:   dogs... separation anxiety... destructive behavior   
     Take heart!  You're not alone. And there are a number of methods that if applied properly can greatly reduce a dog's anxiety level when separated from his owner.  Each case needs to be dealt with on an individual basis; what works well for one dog may be counter productive for another.
     Veterinary conferences always have behavior specialists present talks and tips on behavior modification techniques
to correct separation anxiety.  It is a common problem with multifaceted aspects that need to be evaluated before successful elimination of the anxiety occurs.
     You will need to find a veterinarian or animal behaviorist with experience evaluating pets for anxiety disorder.  There just are no shortcuts to a successful outcome.  For starters, though, you can see a few main points about this behavior problem.
  The pet can't help being anxious, angry, bewildered, or fearful when left alone or is away from its owner. 
  Discipline or punishment for destructive behavior when left alone will make matters worse.
  Separation anxiety occurs partly through genetic behavioral predispositions and partly through early life (8 to 16 weeks of age) experiences.
  Each pet's circumstances and behavioral presets are unique.
  Intelligent, understanding and patient evaluation of each pet is a requirement for successful alleviation, or avoidance, the issues surrounding separation anxiety.
  Remember that you will need to put in some time actively changing the pet's environment so that it feels secure whether or not you are present.

         Doctor's Notes

Animal Behaviorists...

     There are many individuals with advanced knowledge of and even certification for behavior modification practices for animals.  Consult with your local veterinarian about a referral to a veterinary behaviorist in your area.

Before You Buy...
Before to obtain a new pet be sure to consider if separation anxiety is part of the dogs psychological makeup.  Especially when adopting/obtaining an adult dog you need to somehow evaluate for how contented the new pet will be when left alone.


The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)
is a group of veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in understanding behavior in animals.

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Learn much more about separation anxiety at the ASPCA website

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It is a good idea to permit the veterinarian occasionally to manage a new pup without the owner being present. Boredom, lack of safe confinement, no discipline, no owner present... what do you expect a lonesome dog to do? This dog did not display anxiety while the owner was away, but he sure watched for her return! Pacing, barking aimlessly and endlessly, chewing at the fence, digging up the bedding are signs of separation or confinement anxiety.
Some separation anxiety situations last just a few minutes, then the dog my fall peacefully asleep! Anxiety induced by confinement is different from true separation anxiety but may be a part of separation anxiety issues. Your veterinarian must be a part of the solution to a separation anxiety case.  Remember, no medications should be "tried" without a veterinarian's input. Use your imagination and turn separation anxiety into a togetherness event!

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I'm wondering of there is a medication I can give my dog to keep her from tearing up the house when I'm gone.  My neighbor says she barks incessantly when I'm gone, too, and I think it annoys the neighbor.  Can I use a tranquilizer to calm her down?

Look at lots of books
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Call your local veterinarian first!

Your local veterinarian is your best source for answers to questions about your dog or cat's unique health issues.

Answer:   dog medications... anxiety... behavior modification
First, before any medications are started, you should have your dog examined by your veterinarian.  Some things need to be ruled out... and in... before we treat for what you seem to be describing as separation anxiety.  One of the best things you can do is video record what the dog is doing while you are gone.  Set the camera up, start recording from a good vantage point, and leave as usual.  You can show the video of pertinent behaviors to your veterinarian.
     Your veterinarian may suggest doing some blood and urine tests prior to starting any medications.  If a diagnosis of separation anxiety is made and your veterinarian believes behavior modifying medications are reasonable to use there are several options from which to choose.
     Several psychoactive medications that have been used in dogs are Amitriptyline, Clomipramine, Prozac, Zoloft.  These medications should never be used without a doctor-client-patient relationship.  In many cases of home destructiveness or obsessive barking a resolution can be achieved via behavioral counseling, changes in home environment, and intelligent desensitizing to the stressful situation.

  Non-medical behavior modification such as crate training (an important topic), gradually increasing duration of alone time, adopting a second pet, providing safe chew toys... should be done before administering psychoactive medications or tranquilizers.

  Administering medication by itself is not a proper method for correcting behavioral issues. 

  Behavior modification under the guidance of a qualified trainer or behaviorist is the key to solving separation anxiety issues.

  Patience with the pet is required no matter how frustrating you may be with the situation.  The anxiety is not something your pet enjoys and the "bad behavior" is the only way the pet knows of to deal with the stress of the situation

Doctor's Notes

Adopted Dogs...
 Many adult dogs abandoned or surrendered to a shelter and need adoption are there because of unresolved behavior issues.  The original owners may not have been successful at correcting such issues as separation anxiety, excessive barking, fear biting, aggression toward other animals, etc.


Articles for further reading:

Tips on how to control separation anxiety:
From the ASPCA website
From The Iams Company website
From the Humane Society of the United States

Scientific study about separation anxiety control using  Clomipramine

Scientific study about separation anxiety control using  Fluoxetine (Prozac)

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