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MANAGEMENT OF SEPARATION ANXIETY
Teach your dog to rest on a bed or mat with no physical contact. Give treats or toys to keep your dog occupied, and gradually increase the amount of time, and then move further away (ideally into a different room).
Provide structured interactions. Only give her attention when she is calm. Ignore attention-seeking behavior until she lies down or goes to her mat.
Use the same rule structure for all rewards - give treats, toys, food, play only if your dog sits, lies down, or goes to its bed or mat before the reward is given.
Your goal is to have your dog cease all attention-seeking and to sit, lie down, or go to its bed or mat before any reward is given.
When your dog approaches for attention you can use cue words for sit, lie down, go to the mat; however, until these are learned you could: 1) ignore your dog until it offers the sit, down, or goes to the mat on its own 2) lure her with a food reward 3) use a head halter to gently prompt the behavior. A clicker can aid in shaping the behavior.
Practice daily to increase the length of time your dog will settle before the reward is given.
Punishment will only serve to increase fear and anxiety.
Expose your dog to the cues of departure (lifting your keys, putting on your coat, opening and shutting doors, opening the garage door, etc.) without actually leaving until she habituates to these cues (ie, these cues no longer predict departure).
Adapt your dog to the departure routine while you are still at home (eg, leave her in her crate or the kitchen) so that she no longer can predict departure.
Depart when your dog has been occupied for 15 minutes (eg, with a toy, treat, on the mat) and avoid exposing her to cues (eg, go out a different door, leave the car in the driveway) - leave unnoticed by your dog.
Cues that are usually associated with your presence (eg, TV, radio, DVD left on) might reduce anxiety.
Homecomings should be kept very low-key and your pet should be ignored until it is calm.
SOCIAL / EXERCISE
Provide regular activity throughout the day to assure adequate aerobic exercise, social time, play and additional training.
Before training the inattention and independence described previously, ensure sufficient social timee, play and aerobic acitivity have first been provided.
Maintain structure and predictability by consistently training the pet that sit, down-stay, or going to its bed (and not attention solicitation) are the only behaviors that will produce a reward.
After your dog has been desensitized to the departure cues, then practice short mock departures.
The mock departure is practice for the real departure. Give exercise and social time, take your dog to its resting area, and give high-value toys. Use a unique cue. Add a special non-departure cue that is unique to these training sessions (eg, music, DVD, sign on the door) so that your dog learns to remain calm. After 15 - 20 minutes, while she is resting and occupied, leave from anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, then return. The duration should be shorter than the time in which it takes for her to show signs of anxiety; that is, you should return before she is anxious. Gradually lengthen the period of time you are gone as she responds to your leaving without anxiety.
The duration of departure should be lengthened on a variable schedule, so that the pet cannot predict exactily how long the owner will be gone. Use the special non-departure cues to predict these short departures (and not for actual departures).
Give highly stimulating and rewarding treats and toys 15 - 20 minutes prior to departure and take them up when you are home. Give these special rewards only when you are practicing independence training, mock departures, and actual departures, but give the highest value and greatest number only for actual departures.
In rare occasions, having another pet will provide a playmate and distraction. <Be careful: adding another pet can have an effect that is opposite what is desired. You should never add another pet simply because you think the first pet would benefit; the first and by-far most important reason to add another pet is because you want another pet.>
Confining your pet may result in increased anxiety unless she is used to confinement while you are at home. (Crate, child gate, room, pen, etc.)
Acclimating the pet to confinement should be done gradually using food and chew toys. Allowing her to choose her own desirable resting place and then rewarding the choice can improve compliance.
PHEROMONES / DRUGS
<When separation anxiety is more than mild (on a scale of mild to moderate to severe) medication is usually needed. Options include antianxiety medications (eg, fluoxetine, clomipramine), tranquilizers (eg, alprazolam, diazepam, acepromazine, clonidine), and medication that can help with cognitive dysfunction / "senior" anxiety (selegeline).>
<Typically we will prescribe antianxiety medication for a course of 2 to 4 months or more, and add a tranquilizer for as-needed use.>
<Pheromones - scent molecules - are available as sprays, diffusers, and collars. (Adaptil) They might be of use alone or along with medication. They do not require a prescription.>
<Homeopathic remedies do not work. Herbal remedies might or might not work, but dosage is very imprecise and side effects are just as possible, if not more so due to inexact dosing, as they are for prescription medications.>
<Medication alone, without behavior management, is highly unlikely to succeed in treatment of separation anxiety.>
To assess your pet's behavior when you are out of sight or away from home use video monitoring (eg, Petcam).
Yarmouth Veterinary Center
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