Dog Separation Anxiety Medication: Do Meds Help
Veterinarian Dr. Chris Pachel has some great things to say about separation anxiety medication and how it can complement a training plan. He points out that if a dog cant handle being left alone, its easy to end up with a one step forward, two steps back treatment plan.
Sure, you might be able to get your dog to tolerate 20 minutes of alone time over the weekend. But you undo all of that on Monday when you go to work.
Behavior medication can help take the edge off for dogs that otherwise would backslide behaviorally every single day.
Behavioral medications like Xanax and Clomipramine will help get through the bumpy early bit of separation anxiety training. Since you often cant leave your dog alone for more than a few minutes at first, behavior medication is indispensable to having a real life without traumatizing your dog.
Behavior medication helps your dog to start to learn that being alone is OK. Just be sure that you wait to administer any medications to your pet until you get the green light from your vet.
A study in 2000 showed that giving dogs Clomipramine sped up the resolution of separation anxiety reducing symptoms as much as three times faster than the placebo group!
Dr. Jen Summerfield is another big advocate of behavioral drugs for treating SA. She says:
Appropriate medication shouldnt sedate your dog or make her act like a zombie it just prevents panic.
Once your dog is appropriately medicated , its time to get started with the learning.
No Touch No Talk No Eye Contact
Dont make a big deal when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating to your dog that the time apart is no big deal. Its just business as usual! Depending on the severity of the dog anxiety, you may need to practice the rule for five minutes or up to an hour before you leave and when you get back.
Before You Begin The Desensitization Process
It is best if you can consult a pet behavior therapist and take his help before you start the desensitization process.
If you dont want to do that yet, then with a lot of patience and commitment, you can yourself help your furry friend get better at being alone.
When you put your dog through a desensitization training process, it can help desensitize his anxiety triggers and heal his panic symptoms permanently.
Depending on the severity of anxiety, your dog can take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to show significant improvement in symptoms.
Before you begin this process, it is essential to set up a calm environment for your dog that will ensure he wont get any anxiety attacks when you are not with him.
You may have to leave your dog at a doggy daycare, hire a dog sitter, or leave your dog with a friend. Find out which option works best to keep your dog the most calm when you cant be by his side.
The more peaceful your dog remains throughout the training period, the faster his desensitization training will progress.
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Scenting And Interactive Toys
Tapping into your dogs love of scenting brings out their natural hunting instincts. It releases pheromones and keeps their brains and bodies moving, like they would when foraging for food all day in the wild. Too many dogs are left to languish away on their own all day with nothing to do.
Games like hide n seek, where you hide treats or their kibble around the yard or home, are perfect for this. If you put this on a cue such as find your treats you can also use that instruction when you are departing the house, to help create a positive association with your departure.
Leaving your pets with a couple of treat-release and food puzzle toys when you go out is also a good way to keep their brains and bodies moving when they are alone. Make sure you rotate these regularly.
Is Medication A Last Resort
Medication is not a last resort .
Of course, we dont need to have prozac in the water for everybody. I do worry that people will do a, b and c and if nothing works after six months or whatever it is, then consider medication.
If you went to your doctor and you said your tripped and fell on a barbed wire and slashed your leg open, would you think your doctor was being a bit irresponsible if he said lets wait until massive infection sets in before you get antibiotics?
I want people to be less afraid of reaching out for medical help. Medication isnt typically permanent. It shouldnt change your dogs personality . Its not for everyone and not for every dog, but I dont want people to write it off as a last resort.
Keep in mind that your dog is actually suffering even between absences when he is anticipating further alone-time. That is a difficult way to live and if we can alleviate some of that distress, I think we should.
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Variables Beyond Our Control
It would be unethical for me to make promises regarding length of treatment for one simple reason: There are often innumerable variables at play over which I have zero control. There may be an undiagnosed medical issue that is affecting the dogs comfort with being alone. Genetics also play a key role, as does the dogs past learning history. These are not parameters that I can simply tweak in my alone-time protocol.
And no matter how effective my coaching skills may be, I cannot force my clients to follow the protocol to the letter. Dont get me wrong it is my job to make the implementation of the training plan as doable and foolproof as possible for my clients. It is my job to be their cheerleader when theyre feeling defeated. It is my job to strategically reinforce the things theyre doing right throughout the process. I can systematically shape and influence their behavior, but I cannot do the training for them.
If a clinically depressed patient asked their therapist how long it would take to cure their condition, the answer wouldnt be simple. The therapist would likely explain that recovery time is highly variable and that it would be arbitrary to even give a ballpark estimate. But one thing is for sure: It requires the patient showing up to do the work. And the same is true in separation anxiety training.
Dog Separation Anxiety Training
When it comes to separation anxiety, most dogs respond best to a combination of treatmentsand that combination often includes training techniques to help your pup overcome their anxiety. But before you start training, schedule a check-in with your vet. They can confirm that the symptoms youve noticed are really caused by separation anxiety, not a different health issue that needs medical attention. Plus, theyll be able to make specific treatment recommendations for your unique dog, and help guide you when it comes to fitting training into your lifestyle.
Ready to get started? Follow these dog separation anxiety training steps to help your pup overcome their stress:
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Separate Your Dogs Triggers From Your Absence
When you know what triggers your dogs anxiety, start exposing your dog to that trigger regularlywithout ever leaving home. If your dog starts to pace and whine when you pick up your keys, for instance, walk around the house holding and jingling your keys for about a minute. Repeat this session a couple times per day.
Dealing With Dog Separation Anxiety
One of the most common phrases used by owners to describe a dog that appears stressed when the owner leaves homeor just leaves the roomis separation anxiety in dogs.
We can define separation anxiety as a dog problem behavior that shows itself through symptoms like excessive salivation, barking, whining, destroying items in the home, scratching at walls, doors and floors, and attempting to escape from the crate, or room.
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Desensitise Your Dog To Your Departure
Dogs are watching our every move from the moment we wake up, so can work themselves up into quite an anxious state before you have even left the house if you always have the same routine when you head off to work.
Theres a couple of ways to manage this, including changing the order of your departure routine constantly, as well as normalising some of your departure sounds and movements by rattling your keys and grabbing your bag, but not actually leaving the house. That way, they are not associated with you leaving every time.
Keep Your Dog Physically & Mentally Exercised
Giving your dog plenty of mental & physical exercise can help cut down on many problem behaviors, including managing canine separation anxiety. It may not be enough to cure separation anxiety on its own, but giving your dog plenty of mental & physical exercise will certainly help.
Most of us go to work in the morning, and for many dogs that means we leave without giving our dogs a chance to burn off any energy . Before leaving for work in the morning take your dog for a quick walk or jog, or fit in a quick game of tug or fetch.
Now I know its hard to find the time to play or exercise your dog in the morning, but keep in mind it doesnt have to be an hour long walk. Something as simple as a a 5 minute game of tug or 10 minute walk can make such a difference.
Want some quick ways to tire out your dog in the morning? Here are my favorite ways to quickly tire out your dog:
- Using a flirt pole
- Game of tug of war
Mentally stimulating activities are a great way to keep your dog entertained and help burn off some extra energy. They also encourage your dog to work alone on some problem solving skills which can be a great help for dogs with anxiety. Some of my favorite ways to give my dog more mental stimulation include:
- Food & puzzle toys
- Game of find the treats
- Teaching new tricks
- Stuffed Kongs/puzzle toys
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Signs Of Dog Separation Anxiety
Its time to observe your dog and see how she responds when you take off.
Set up your laptop, phone, or another recording device one day while youre out of the house .
Dogs with separation anxiety may display signs of distress, with common symptoms that include:
- Panting or pacing constantly while youre gone
- Fully dilated pupils
- Destructive chewing towards doors and crates
- Inappropriate urinating and elimination
With canine separation anxiety, a dogs anxious behaviors usually will get worse, rather than better, when youre gone longer.
In comparison, dogs who are just bored or under-exercised wont look as frantic and panicked.
Dogs with separation anxiety are also unlikely to focus their destruction on food thievery. If your dog is stealing food, destroying the couch, or getting into the trash, shes probably bored or under-exercised. For these dogs, try upping their daily walks to ensure they get plenty of exercise and see if you notice an improvement!
Dogs with separation anxiety disorders often direct their destruction at escape. They destroy crates, doors, and windows as they try to find you.
Be prepared for what you might see when you watch the video of your dog alone it can be really tough to watch. Watching video of a dog with full-blown separation anxiety is one of the most sobering things that I do as a dog behavior consultant.
Heres an example of what a separation anxiety disorder can look like when a dog is left home alone:
Tips To Help Dog Separation Anxiety
You come home from a long day at work to a spinning, jumping whirlwind of energy. Your dog follows you into your living room, where you find that he has chewed on your favorite pair of shoes. Your neighbor comes by to tell you that, once again, your dog has been driving the neighborhood crazy by howling and barking while you were away. Is this scenario familiar? Your dog may be suffering from dog separation anxiety.
In nature, dogs are almost never away from their pack. It is our job to help make this unnatural situation less stressful!
Here are five tips to help ease separation anxiety:
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Alternative Options & Considerations
Dogs who exhibit only slight signs of separation anxiety may be able to be successfully crated assuming you can convince them that it is a den/safe spot.
Those who have more severe symptoms will likely not take to this well and can become extremely stressed even during short phases of absence.
So it really depends on the dog and should not be a decision taken lightly when less restraining solutions may still be an option.
Remember that your dog is going to likely get bored over their isolation as well as crave company.
Even when they can handle a few hours alone, it is important to provide plenty of distractions. Puzzle toys are a great way of keeping them busy.
Whichever solutions you opt for, just remember that when you get home to be sure to make your dog the #1 priority.
They will be delighted to see you, hold back on reciprocating the immediate greeting beyond a gentle pat until they have calmed down. Then take them out to exercise and burn off some pent up energy.
Do I Need The Help Of A Professional
A lot of people whether its day one, a week or a month, decide they dont want to make these decisions because they dont know what theyre doing. They want someone wholl say today, youve got to take these eight steps.
A qualified trainer can take the guesswork out of the owners hands which can be a tremendous relief in addition to making the process more expedient.
I had a chuckle one time when a client said to me some people can build an airplane from reading a book, the rest of us take United Airlines. That always stuck with me. Some people really want to DIY it. Thats ok. It may take you longer as it depends on how much you do and how succinctly you can implement a protocol.
If you feel frustrated, it may not hurt to consult a trainer to at least guide you in the right direction.
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Dog Separation Anxiety Symptoms
If youre worried that your dog is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, familiarize yourself with the symptoms and take action where necessary.
These telltale signs include:
- Destructive behavior, such as chewing on furniture and carpets
- Attempting to escape the house or their crate
- OCD-style behaviors, such as pacing in circles
Some of these problems are naturally more severe than others, however. Escape attempts can be dangerous, as your dog may harm their paws or teeth attempting to dog, claw or bite their way out of their location. For this reason, it is best not to leave your dog restrained by a crate or carrier while youre away if they suffer from separation anxiety.