Remember how I said separation anxiety was common and many people work through it with their dogs? Another one of our technicians, Jen, has also had to work through some separation anxiety with her dog so she has put together some extra pointers to help all of you work through it too.
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety are more likely to follow the owners from room to room when they are home, not letting them out of their sight. At the first signs the family is preparing to leave (with Tiffy this was packing of the bags), the dog starts to get anxious – they may start salivating and pant excessively.
Once the family leaves, dogs with separation anxiety perform distress behaviours such as vocalizing, destruction, and house soiling when separated from their family. This anxiety and destruction usually happens within the first 20 minutes of leaving your dog. For my dog Bailey, if we leave unexpectedly he will pee on the side of a dresser. We can return 5 minutes later and it has already happened! When the separation anxiety is severe, your dog may try to escape or cause significant destruction to your house and themselves.
Here are some tips to get your pet more relaxed when you have to leave them for short times:
For puppies, it is important to take these tips into account right when you bring your them home in order to prevent separation anxiety. Crate training can also be very helpful for this.
[Right: Diesal at 10 years old still loves sleeping in his comfy bed in his crate.]
For adult dogs you can teach them a relaxed down stay on a mat or in a crate that they find comfy and safe. This will help you kick start your dog’s independence since the bed will quickly become very reinforcing and a place to look for treats and attention.
Once your dog learns that being on their bed is a good place to earn reinforcement, progress it to a down stay for longer periods of time, and eventually to you leaving the room while they stay on their bed. Here is a video to help you get started teaching your dog a down stay and adding in their triggers: https://youtu.be/uBNi6PjO1lE
Once they do well and stay relaxed while you leave the room, you can start mock departures where you pretend to leave but then come back in the house. Or you get your coat and keys, then sit on the couch to watch TV. Changing these ‘triggers’ that tell your dog you are leaving will make it easier for you to get out the door while your dog stays calm on their mat.
Having a safe place with your dog’s bed, a bowl of water, and appropriate toys (nothing they can ingest, choke on or tear apart) are for when you leave is important. This may be a crate, or a room in the house that is safe for your dog. Your dog should then know to go lay in this room when you stop interacting with them before you leave and settle down to rest while you are gone. Bailey has a room in our home that he stays in when we leave so that he can be comfortable, but also stay safe while we are away.
[Left: Bailey relaxing in his bed.]
Remember if you have a dog who has abruptly developed some of the symptoms that fit separation anxiety such as house soiling, your dog should be checked by a vet to rule out any medical conditions.
These tips are very helpful for puppies and dogs with mild separation anxiety, but like with Tiffy, some dogs need more help. If you need more help with your dog’s behaviours when you leave them alone, ask your veterinarian for further suggestions.
Separation anxiety is something many dog owners deal with at varying degrees. Separation anxiety is just what it says, anxiety a dog experiences when they are separated from their people.
Symptoms of separation anxiety may be subtle and barely noticed such as your dog panting when you leave the home and pacing for a few minutes. Separation anxiety can also have very severe symptoms that can cause harm to your pet and destruction to your home by chewing through furniture and bedding or from attempts to escape a crate or the house.
One of our veterinary technicians has been dealing with separation anxiety in her adopted adult border collie. She has tried various strategies to help settle Tiffy when she leaves the house. Today Sarah is going to share part of Tiffy’s story.
“I first met Tiffy through school as one of the shelter dogs that we practice working with. She was a small, very skinny border collie that just wanted to snuggle and be with people. I fell in love with her.
Through school, we did a dental cleaning on her and my teacher said that the wear marks on her teeth were from chewing on her kennel – that was the first sign of separation anxiety.
Once I finished school and adopted Tiffy, we moved around a few time before settling in Chatham-Kent. The first place we moved to Tiffy jumped a 6 foot fence to try and find me. The next place we were at she chewed her bed when left alone, there was an excessive amount of barking, and chewing as well as aggression towards other dogs on the property. I hoped that once we found a place of our own she’d learn to relax.
We then moved to Chatham-Kent where Tiffy became the only dog in the house. The first time my boyfriend got a call to go into work in the middle of the night, Tiffy was up all night barking, panting, and pacing. Any noise she heard or movement would set her off and she’d start growling and barking, even her own reflection in the mirror. She was just terrified, and the only thing that even helped was having her sleep in bed with me. I knew I needed to find other ways to help her calm down.
The first thing I tried for her anxiety was Adaptil, a pheromone spray that helps calm dogs. (http://www.adaptil.com/ca_en/) The Adaptil collar didn’t work well because of her long hair, but after a week of using the Adaptil spray I started to notice it helping. Tiffy is also afraid of thunderstorms, but by spraying her crate and bed with Adaptil and teaching her that her crate is a safe space, she has learned to wait out the storm in her crate calmly rather than panting and pacing the house.
We later got a second dog, a Labrador puppy, and continued to use Adaptil daily with both of them. Leaving home was still an issue for Tiffy, even with her new companion. Any time that a bag was getting packed, Tiffy made sure she was getting in the car! There was no way she was getting left behind!
Through the help of Dr. Fife and Dr. Montgomery we started Tiffy on a behaviour medication called fluoxetine along with some behaviour modification training. It takes a number of weeks for these types of medications to start working, and in that time one of the side effects is inappetance. Of course, with Tiffy already being a dog that isn’t overly food driven, she has had her fair share of not wanting to eat. With the help of the doctors we have adjusted the medication and are starting to get some results.
Our morning routines have also changed. Bags get backed while Tiffy is outside, and put into vehicles the night before. We change when the car is started in the morning, and sometimes just go out to move the car to a different spot then return again. Other times we will turn the car on for a few minutes, then turn it off again and stay home because it’s the weekend. This makes the sound of the car less of a trigger for her stress since it often ends with us coming back in the house. Her breakfast time also varies – it may be first thing in the morning or last minute before I leave for work. She often gets a favourite treat as I’m leaving for the day. All of this has helped to the point where Tiffy can now stand or lie down next to her dog house without barking or pulling on her leash when I leave for work.
We still have a ways to go to get her even more comfortable being left alone, and confident knowing we will return for her again, but with the help of her doctors we will continue working on her behaviour modification plan. Medication alone can’t fix behaviour problems, but for Tiffy it is an important part of bringing her anxiety into a manageable realm so that the training can be effective.”
Tiffy is only one of many dogs who struggles with separation anxiety. Dog’s who are anxious often have more than one trigger or thing that makes them anxious such as thunderstorms as well as being left alone. Luckily for Tiffy, Sarah was very willing to work with her to make her feel safe again, but her anxiety may have been the reason she was abandoned by her original family.
If you have concerns that your dog may have separation anxiety, talk to your vet about what can be done to help them.
How does your dog feel when you look in their ears or put your fingers in their mouth? How do they react when you lift their tail? These are only some of the things your pet will experience during a physical exam by their veterinarian.
One way to reduce your pet’s stress or anxiety about the vet is to practice a physical exam at home! Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, you can practice performing a physical exam to help them get more comfortable.
Here is a list of things you should work on with your dog:
Although your pet may tolerate these things, many pets will not be pleased about them. If they only tolerate you doing these things, they are going to be even less impressed when an almost stranger does it to them!
Today we will share a variety of how to videos to help you get started with your dog’s problem areas when it comes to handling, veterinary visits, or grooming procedures.
To get your pet used to all of these things you need to start slow. Break each piece down into very small steps and use something your dog loves to reward them for their good behaviour. Here is an example of practicing each piece of the veterinary exam with a dog you can tell has been practicing for a while: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vg4F7tR-EQ
A few common parts of the exam that many pets are shy about are having their mouths examined and their feet touched or nails clipped.
Here is a video by Dr. Sophia Yin on getting a dog to accept having their nails trimmed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWZUcLfHXLE It often takes many weeks of daily training to get a dog to fully cooperate with some of these handling procedures, especially if they are nervous to start with.
Handling a pet’s mouth is something many pet parents don’t do on a regular basis. If you are able to work with your pet it can make oral exams much less stressful for your pet, and it will make things like regular tooth brushing at home more manageable if your pet is prone to dental disease. We’ll go over this one step-by-step on how to get your pet to accept mouth exams and tooth brushing.
Have an idea of how it will be easiest for you to hold your dog’s mouth while you brush their teeth. For most right-handed people, you will want to hold the muzzle with your left hand and brush with your right hand. Some people prefer to hold under their dog’s chin, while others prefer to cup their dog’s upper jaw over the bridge of their nose.
If your dog becomes uncomfortable or pulls away at any point, you have progressed too quickly and need to go back a step and take it more slowly next time.
Another option for getting a dog to tolerate handling procedures is to teach them an alternate behaviour. Some dogs can be taught a chin target to their owner’s lap or a hand target to maintain during an injection. This is a more complex behaviour to hold in an environment that is likely stressful to a dog. But similarly, alternate behaviours can be taught for the remainder of the physical exam, or in the case with this video for tolerating being groomed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xugE8cHgpXg By learning to nose target, these dogs are able to focus on something other than being brushed.
For dogs who continue to be fearful or reactive in the vet clinic or even in public, teaching them to be comfortable wearing a basket muzzle is important for their safety and for the safety of those around them. Here is a great video to teach a dog how to accept wearing a basket muzzle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FABgZTFvHo
We always welcome our patients to stop by even on days when they don't have to see the doctor. If your pet is afraid of visiting the vet, stop by so we can give them a treat and some loving, then they can head on their way after a fun and positive visit. It can make a huge difference for their next appointment!
Our pets’ behaviour is very important, but we often don’t pay attention to it until it becomes a problem for us! Many pets are surrendered to shelters and euthanized each year because of behaviour problems.
Being aware of when our pets are starting to do things we don’t like and working with them early to prevent problems is important in keeping them safe and happy! Having a well behaved pet will also make your life easier, and life with your pet more enjoyable!
Dr. Leah Montgomery