Dr. Louise Janes D.V.M. & Dr. Jeff Grognet D.V.M.

Separation Anxiety

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Dr. Louise and Dr. Jeff connected in 1984 while Louise was the shepherd at UBC Agricultural Sciences. They later married in 1992 and dreamed of creating a practice they could share. In the fall of 1995, they moved to Oceanside and officially opened the doors of the Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital in Qualicum Beach in 1996. Their care focuses on dogs and cats, utilizing integrative medicine – a blend of traditional and complementary therapies. Full examination, surgical, and radiological facilities are also available. They call themselves integrative practitioners.

Dogs can experience fear and anxiety in many different ways. Because dogs form strong bonds with the people with whom they live, separation from people is one of the most common behavioral problems we struggle with. This is also one of the most common problems seen in shelter dogs.

For the most part, a well-adjusted dog can cope with separation from family members or caregivers for a few hours at a time with no problems. However, some dogs feel stressed and anxious when left alone for even just a few minutes. These are the dogs that most likely suffer from canine separation anxiety. It could be the reason they are in the shelter in the first place.

Common Causes
Some dogs are predisposed to separation anxiety due to their personality traits, while others may suffer from separation anxiety due to a simple lack of leadership. Whatever the case may be, the resolution of this behavior requires calm patient leadership, techniques to build confidence, and a desensitization program to address the pre-departure and absence cues the dog picks up on.

Dogs, like humans, are born followers and they can become stressed or anxious when left alone and in charge of the situation. This usually results in inappropriate responses such as inappropriate elimination or destructive behavior.

Another cause for canine separation anxiety is hyper-attachment, where a dog has not been allowed to become confident on his own and uses his owners as a source of confidence. There are many causes for this condition, including clinical issues, genetics, neglect, or lack of experience and exposure to the outside world.

Canine Separation Anxiety is treatable. It can be managed, and sometimes overcome, using the right knowledge and some old-fashioned hard work.

Signs a dog in your care may be suffering from canine separation anxiety may include:

• Distressed vocalization – howling, barking, and whining.
• Inappropriate urination or defecation.
• Destructive behavior – chewing, digging, injuring themselves.
• Anorexia, depression, and inactivity.
• Psychosomatic medical consequences – excessive licking of the coat or body, pacing and circling.
• Hyper-attachment – an excessive greeting behavior, constant pestering of shelter workers, using caregivers as a source of confidence.
• Hyper-salivation (excessive drooling).

Management of Canine Separation Anxiety
There are many subtle things that you as a shelter worker can do throughout the day to help the dogs in your care become comfortable with distance between you and them. It’s important to monitor the dogs by assessing their behavior when you are out of sight, away from the kennel, or removed from the shelter. This can be done by staying nearby so you can see or hear them when you are there, or monitoring them with a voice recorder or camera when you are away from the shelter. This gives you valuable information about a dog’s level of anxiety and helps you better assess their well-being when left alone. Here are some simple things that we can do in order to lower the anxiety level in these dogs when left alone.

Scent Item
Providing a dog with a soft item that smells like an attachment object, such as a favorite blanket, chew toy, dog bed or a familiar person, can be beneficial in some low-level cases. The best way to approach this is by having a shelter worker the particular dog has bonded with wear a t-shirt the day before or to bed overnight. When this person arrives at the shelter the next morning, offer this t-shirt to the dog. Use a different shirt every night so the shirt will always have that person’s scent on it.

Soothing Noise
Playing a radio tuned into soothing music during the day also helps drown out any exterior noises that may sensitize a dog to becoming anxious. Such noxious sounds could be barking dogs or howling cats in the shelter around them.

Reduce Absence and Presence Contrast
It is always advisable to reduce the “presence and absence contrast” of shelter workers to the kennel dogs. For five minutes after you arrive at a kennel and 10 minutes before you leave, completely ignore any anxious dogs you are working with. This means no eye contact, no speaking, no touching, and no fast noisy activity. The goal is to reduce the contrast between your presence and absence. If there is damage or inappropriate elimination or defecation in the kennel, ignore it! Remember, we do not want these dogs to associate an excited stimulus with your arrival.

Consistent Routine
Because dogs are ritualistic it’s important to provide them with a consistent routine. Dogs can become anxious with change of routine or scenery, especially dogs that are overly sensitive. This includes voiding times, play times, and training times. Consistency and structure are the keys to stability in a dog’s life.

Physical and Mental Stimulation
We want to encourage and challenge dogs on a daily basis by participating in focused activities like obedience training and regular leash walks. This gives you the opportunity to provide confidence building, exercise and leadership. As a shelter worker, you can practice these activities with the dogs in your care. This helps them release negative energy, and it provides them with a balanced lifestyle.

Exercise and obedience training are essential prior to undergoing independence exercises or setting up a desensitization program.

Taken from the free Shelter and Rescue Care Course available through ACE Academy for Canine Educators.

Dr. Louise Janes D.V.M. & Dr. Jeff Grognet D.V.M.
Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital
5-161 Fern Road West
Qualicum Beach, BC
Tel (250) 752-8969





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