What can be done to reduce anxiety at the time of departure?
As you depart, your dog should be kept busy and occupied, and preferably out of your sight, so that there is little or no anxiety. Giving special food treats that have been saved for departures and for the down-stay mat exercises can help keep your dog distracted and perhaps even enjoying herself while you leave. Dogs that are highly aroused and stimulated by food may become so intensively occupied in a peanut butter coated dog toy, a fresh piece of rawhide, a dog toy stuffed with liver and dog food, or some frozen dog treats, that they may not notice you leave. Be certain that the distraction devices last as long as possible so that your dog continues to occupy herself until you are long gone. Frozen treats placed in your dog’s food bowl, toys that are tightly stuffed with goodies, toys that are designed to require manipulation and work to obtain the food reward, toys that can maintain lengthy chewing, and timed feeders that open throughout the day are a few suggestions. Determine what best motivates your dog. For example, if a particular toy is highly successful at keeping your dog’s attention, provide two or three of the same type, rather than toys that do not maintain your dog’s interest. It may also be helpful to provide some or all of your dogs food during departures with a few special surprises in the bottom of the bowl. On rare occasions a second pet can help to keep the dog occupied and distracted during departures. Neither food, nor the second pet is likely to be useful in dogs that are too anxious.
How can mydog be retrained so that it is less anxious during departures?
Since the underlying problem is anxiety, try to reduce all forms of anxiety prior to departure, at the time of departure, and at the time of homecoming. In addition, your dog must learn to accept progressively longer periods of inattention and separation while you are at home.
If the Problem Is Mild â¦
I have a Clingy Dog
Dogs are loyal companions and true family members. We love them, they love us, let’s go places together! However, some dogs develop an unhealthy attachment that can turn into a psychological behavioral disorder called separation anxiety. We checked in with Dr. Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM from Zoetis, about spotting separation anxiety in dogs and effectively treating this issue so you and your dog can live happily ever after!
Neighbors or landlords complaining about excessive barking while you’re out, or hearing yelps behind the door each time you leave, could mean your dog is experiencing separation anxiety. Yes, all dogs bark from time to time, but relentless barks for no reason (other than your absence) is a good indicator something’s up.
If it’s meal time or you own a bloodhound, drool is expected. If you’re running an errand and you come home to find your dog’s chest and snout covered in slobber, separation anxiety could be the culprit.
Dr. Campbell described hyper-attachment as an intense version of your canine following you around like, well, a puppy dog. Being unable to spend a moment away from his owners—even while they’re home—probably means Fido suffers from separation anxiety.
Just like cats, who experience separation anxiety less frequently but just as intensely, dogs with this behavior disorder may leave nasty presents around the house while you’re out. It’s an explicit way of showing their distress.
You read that correctly: redecorating. Dr. Campbell mentioned some dogs will knock pillows off the couch, tip over lamps or nudge furniture to new places if left alone for too long. This is usually evidence of your pup either trying to escape or simply dealing with their anxiety. (Anyone else use reorganization as a stress reliever?)
Obviously, ripping stuff to shreds or chewing on your leather loafers can be all in good “fun,” but it can also be a dog’s way of acting out. Again, if this primarily happens while you’re gone or right after you return from a trip, it could be separation anxiety.
Dr. Campbell made it clear that this affliction is different than anger or boredom, two emotions dogs don’t really have the capacity to express. Don’t brush off the symptoms listed above as your pup getting bored; it’s a serious medical condition that requires treatment.
Older dogs can also develop a condition called canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. This disease is essentially doggy Alzheimer’s. It can both mimic signs of separation anxiety and cause it as a consequence of the condition. Separation anxiety can also pop up as a natural part of the aging process as elderly dogs lose their sight, hearing and ability to navigate their environments.
The truth is, we don’t really know why, but experts have been able to make some associations. Often, young puppies who aren’t well-socialized may be more likely to develop it. Some dogs develop it in conjunction with a condition called noise aversion, according to Dr. Campbell. Basically, if you’re out with friends on July 4th and the loud sounds of fireworks terrify Fido, he could start to associate that fear with your absence. The traumatic effect can simultaneously trigger noise aversion and separation anxiety. The reasons are different for each dog, though, so work with what you know about your pup.
Never punish your dog for the behaviors listed above. Dogs do not act out of spite! They act out because they are anxious and afraid.
It’s important to check in with your vet if your dog exhibits any of the behavior (or combos of behaviors) listed above. If your vet’s diagnosis is separation anxiety, don’t jump ship and don’t ignore it! Dogs won’t outgrow it, but there are changes you can make in your own behavior to ease their anxiety.
“Remove the emotional highs and lows associated with leaving,” advises Dr. Campbell. Coming and going shouldn’t be huge events. Instead of jingling keys and saying a dramatic goodbye in the morning, pack up the night before and be as nonchalant as possible heading out. When you arrive home, wait a few minutes before greeting your pup with enthusiasm. Look at your mail. Change your clothes. Then say hello, pat your pet and give him a treat. (This is hard—we know! But establishing a sense of calm around your arrivals and departures can dramatically decrease the stress Fido feels when you aren’t around.)
Dr. Campbell recommends giving dogs an interactive treat toy to occupy them each time you leave. This way, they entertain themselves and earn a reward. Hopefully, over time they associate your walking out the front door with more positivity and less trauma.
Getting proper treatment early is important. First, tell your vet about your dog’s signs so she can determine if separation anxiety is the true culprit. Your vet can then determine the best treatment options for your dog. She may also be able to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist or trainer for instructions and coaching on how to employ behavior modifications.
Though CBD oil is a trending treatment for both people and animals right now, Dr. Campbell advises sticking to FDA-approved medications. There is no safety or efficacy data on using CBD oil in dogs with separation anxiety. Both Clomicalm and Reconcile are FDA-approved tablets that combat separation anxiety in dogs. If your dog also experiences noise aversion, Dr. Campbell suggests asking your veterinarian about Sileo, the first medication approved by the FDA for treatment of noise aversion in dogs. Definitely consult your vet before administering any medication and know these work best when paired with behavior training over time.