by Clinton Cotten, DVM
Now that the 4th of July fireworks have ended, let’s get down to managing another form of canine nervousness: separation anxiety. The following is a quick guide to dealing with this issue.
A full physical examination should be performed by a veterinarian, along with laboratory diagnostic testing.
It is a great idea to videotape the dog when alone to help confirm the diagnosis and to monitor progress.
Start behavior modification immediately. The owner should ignore the pet’s attempts to solicit attention, since anxious dogs often use person contact to manage anxiety, and this strategy is not available to the pet when it is away from the owner. All contact should be on the owner’s initiative.
No interactions should occur between the owner and pet for 30 minutes before departure to help the pet adapt to the owner not being present.
Habituate the pet to departure cues. This involves performing any departure activities that the pet seems to show increased anxiety over at times when the owner has no intention of leaving. This shows the pet that these activities do not serve as a reliable predictor of departures.
To reinforce relaxed behavior, the owner should ignore the dog when arriving at home until the pet is relaxed.
Implement independence training, which involves teaching the dog to remain in a resting area while the owner gradually leaves the room, and reinforces relaxed behavior. This often involves using a mat or bed for the dog to remain on during these exercises.
Implement graduated departures from the home. The owner gradually increases the time of departure from the home, while reinforcing relaxed behavior as he or she returns. The owner may begin by just moving to the door, then gradually opening the door, then leaving for a few seconds and gradually increasing this time.
Anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed in addition to the desensitization techniques.
Many anxiety issues can be addressed by your veterinarian, although some cases are referred to a veterinary behaviorist for further help.