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.