What is separation anxiety in dogs? ………….just a glimpse
So, your about to go to work and your beloved pet starts acting crazy as soon as you grab your coat. Okay, maybe its not that bad, but you can hear them barking as soon as you close the door. Have your neighbors told you that your dog barks all day?
Have you come home, and your pooch is more than ecstatic to see you? I mean a lot more than you would deem normal, jumping, playing, barking, and following you everywhere until morning? Your pooch may have the dreaded separation anxiety.
Not to fret, Pawlogic is here to help. It may not be as bad as you think. This is the baseline of information for dealing with separation anxiety in dogs.
What is Separation Anxiety?
The term is used interchangeably and can mean a variety of different behavioral issues. Most commonly separation anxiety is when your pooch develops anxiety due to being separate from their human counter parts. This is a common occurrence with most Canines but should not be ignored.
In some breeds the anxiety can be high, or at least they can be more prone to developing Separation Anxiety (SA), this does not mean that the breed has SA when they are born, but perhaps some outside factors that are most common amongst certain breeds. No sure scientific evidence exists that suggests that a certain breed of dog is born with separation anxiety.
Sadly, a lot of dogs are taken to shelters due to behavioral issues that owners simply do not like. Separation anxiety can lead to aggressive behavior. I don’t mean that if your dog has separation anxiety they are going to turn into Cujo either. Separation anxiety is a behavioral issue that is developed sadly.
The most common reason for a dog to be euthanized is behavior.
Let’s think about behavior for a second and break it down. We can all agree that for every action there is a greater or equal reaction, or a response to said action. This is also true in physics as well, I believe it was the first law of newton that states this. The same is true for behavior, attitude and behavior are similar. Behavior is the action, and attitude is the reasons behind that action, or the governing force.
If you open a cheese wrapper, your dog will most likely fly over to you, sit and beg. This is a response to a stimulus and the stimuli will always provoke a behavioral response.
When your dog is left alone wondering when their hero is going to come through that door again, they are simply responding to a stimulus created when you leave. Every dog is going to react to a different stimulus depending on their level of anxiety.
Some dogs may freak out the second you grab your keys, and other may wait until you walk out of the door, some dogs may not show extreme signs of SA at all, or you may just come home and find your couch cushions shredded.
Does my dog have separation anxiety?
To be frank, you should ask your veterinarian as always, this is not intended to be a method of diagnosis and you should seek the advice of a professional before beginning any diagnosis or treatment of your beloved pet.
Now that that’s out of the way there are a few things that you can look for to help determine if your pet has anxiety or behavioral issues.
- Does the behavior occur only when you are away?
- Is your dog a teenager? If so is this behavior normal for this age?
- Does the behavior seemingly increase or decrease with the increase or reduction of certain stimuli? i.e grabbing keys. Going through the front door, etc.
- Is the behavior recent or a long-term issue?
The sure signs that your dog has an issue are that your dog develops anxiety when the owner, is away, or cannot get to the owner while in the house. The dog may also have a strong attachment to one family member and may only exhibit these signs with that family member. And the most common sign is vocalization.
Basically, your dog howls like the wind as soon as you leave.
About 75% of dogs with separation anxiety present some type of disagreement when the owner is about to depart. This comes in the form of distress or anxiety, vocalization is the most common. And 91% of dogs in a recent study were excessively greeting their owners.
How did this happen?…….The facts behind the study
Studies do suggest that some breeds are prone to separation anxiety, such as mixed breeds. A Study completed in 2015 suggested that the highest bracket of breed that was diagnosed with Separation anxiety in the study were Mixed breed dogs (Storengen, L. M., Boge, S. C., Strøm, S. J., Løberg, G., & Lingaas, F. 2014). However, no solid conclusive evidence exists to support the idea that mixed breed dogs are more prone than pure breed dogs (Thielke, L. E., & Udell, M. A. 2015).
Also, a high concentration was also neutered males, however this study was a little unbalanced in terms of participants. Most of the dogs were neutered males, about a 4.65 ratio of males to females within the study as well. So, this set of data is slightly biased towards neutered males leaving the other participants group dynamics a little underrated.
The other thing to consider is that most people in the study had neutered their dog due to behavioral issues prior to the study being conducted, making this the prime reason for neutering as well. This study was also conducted in Norway where culturally Neutering rates are relatively low in comparison to other countries. (Storengen, L. M., Boge, S. C., Strøm, S. J., Løberg, G., & Lingaas, F. 2014)
Another interesting finding within the study was that dogs that sleep with their owners regularly also had a higher correlation with separation anxiety. A whole 51.3% of the dogs diagnosed with separation anxiety slept in the owner’s bed regularly, and 40.4% never slept in the owner’s bed. So the results are pretty split, fairly, too fairly to say that this plays any part in SA at all.
This doesn’t mean that this is a cause and effect relationship either, simply a correlation between the two. The data is not enough to determine a cause and effect relationship.
And most of these dogs studied also had noise sensitivities, i.e. Thunderstorm fear, fireworks sensitivity, etc. Which could indicate that dogs that have separation anxiety may have anxiety in general. Storengen, L. M., Boge, S. C., Strøm, S. J., Løberg, G., & Lingaas, F. (2014)
These dogs that participated in this study also lived in multi member families, the majority developed separation anxiety less in multi member households, about 2.5 times less than with a single adult household. This correlation could be due to a change in schedules, less alone time and other factors that can change with work schedules, and lifestyles.
Dogs that were adopted from shelters were also more prone to separation anxiety than those that were not.
Dogs that received excessive Kennel time, or experienced long periods of being left alone, were also more prone to behavioral issues such as separation Anxiety (SA)
Behavioral treatment or Pharmaceutical treatment?
We are not going to bash big pharma here, as there are studies that suggest drugs such as Clomipramine can aid in the curing of SA, however the results of the study also indicate that there were significant changes in behavior due to behavioral changes as well.
In a study conducted in the UK, Clomipramine was used in conjunction with a behavioral treatment, and although it does show signs of improvement is significant in accordance to the study, there were also some pretty amazing results in the control group as well.
The control group was given a placebo, and not the drug Clomipramine, which also showed a change in behavior.
Most vets as well as us here at pawlogic, do not like to put your paw-panions on drugs. Clomipramine is used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder in humans, a low dosage to a canine companion has been shown to help reduce the effects of separation anxiety in your dog with little side affects and almost zero withdrawal tendencies.
The medication is different for dogs than humans but contains the main ingredient Clomipramine.
However, the results were not significant enough for us here at Pawlogic to recommend this treatment.
The drug was administered with a behavioral program that seems to be what really worked here. To sum it up, the owner does the following:
- Stop reprimanding the dog for destructive behavior (there is an actual reasoning behind this)
- The owner only interacts with the dog on their command, and when the dog is calm.
- The owner pays the dog no attention 30 minutes prior to leaving the residence only to put the dog in a designated area where they stay while the owner is way.
- The owner is permitted to leave the dog with something containing the owner’s scent.
- The dog may sleep with the owner, but only on the owner’s command.
These types of treatment help curve the behavior or the anxiety of the dog while the owner is away. Although the results of the test show that the drug Clomipramine can have a positive effect of the curbing of the behavior in conjunction with a good behavior program. We also feel that the behavioral program alone may be enough in the correct environment.
Talk to your vet to see if this option is good for you, but our recommendation is behavioral training. As the research advances so should the techniques. Although the drug can help, the main factor here is the behavioral modification program that was previously missing from the dog’s life.
Clomipramine huh?…….What about Oxytocin……I’ve read that this can help too!
Gazing into your canine’s eyes can increase the hormone oxytocin within both your system as well as your canine’s system. An increased level of oxytocin is directly related to increasing the human-dog bond.
A hug here or there, makes for a good arousal of the love hormone to be produced, basically anything that shows affection towards your dog can increase oxytocin within their system and yours. However, studies are still inconclusive, not enough evidence exists to support oxytocin as a treatment for separation anxiety.
Oxytocin is a neuromodulator, meaning that it is not broken down by the body, but used to enhance or lesson the effect on the neurons being transmitted, basically an emotion that leads to a behavior. Your dog sitting nicely next to you, or showing affection is assumed to be a result of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is commonly known as the love hormone because it induces affiliative behavior in dogs and humans. It is assumed that the hormone behaves in a similar fashion in relation to social behavior in mammals.
Two groups of dogs, one set given internasal oxytocin and the other, a simple nasal saline solution, showed an increase in social behavior amongst the dogs that received the oxytocin. This usually leaves the dogs body within an hour after treatment (Thielke, L. E., & Udell, M. A. 2015).
Oxytocin has not been evaluated as a treatment for dogs with separation anxiety as of yet, but could be used as a replacement for other antidepressant medications.
So What do I do? How do I help my Best Bud?
Behavioral training is the best way to curb your dog’s social anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety is mainly a social or behavioral problem from your dog. You should always rule out any medical needs because of your dogs undesired behavior.
Although oxytocin can make your dog more social, they also produce this hormone naturally. Instead of giving them treatments, they need special treatment instead. Love them slightly more, show your dog that you are not leaving him forever. Give your dog a reason to believe that you are going home.
Buster is my smallest dog, you may have read about him on my about me page. He had separation anxiety so bad, that I had to have my current fiancé dog sit him while I was at work. He still showed extreme signs of social anxiety while I was away.
Sometimes he still does, but he has gotten better. I have done a few of the recommendations above and seen an increase in positive behavior. I call him to bed when I go to bed, He has toys that I play with him regularly with, and I refuse to give him attention when he is acting irrationally.
I do this with all three of my dogs, and it just seems to work. Being involved in your dog’s life as much as they want can be challenging. Almost impossible, so you must let the dog know that they are loved, and that you’re not going to drop them off at the shelter or forget about them.
There is a lot of evidence that suggests that medication can assist with a behavioral program to get results. When it comes to coping with your pooch’s social anxiety, you must be understanding. Remember, that you have everyone else in the world to help you through your day, they only have you.
And again, please talk things over with your vet or a licensed behavioral trainer before starting any form of medical or behavioral treatment.
References:…..Only for you……We include these so your know the information is researched.
King, J., Simpson, B., Overall, K., Appleby, D., Pageat, P., Ross, C., . . . Wren, J. (2000). Treatment of separation anxiety in dogs with clomipramine: Results from a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, multicenter clinical trial. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 67(4), 255-275. doi:10.1016/s0168-1591(99)00127-6
King, J., Overall, K., Appleby, D., Simpson, B., Beata, C., Chaurand, C., . . . Petit, S. (2004). Results of a follow-up investigation to a clinical trial testing the efficacy of clomipramine in the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 89(3-4), 233-242. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2004.06.003
Storengen, L. M., Boge, S. C., Strøm, S. J., Løberg, G., & Lingaas, F. (2014). A descriptive study of 215 dogs diagnosed with separation anxiety. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 159, 82-89. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2014.07.006
Thielke, L. E., & Udell, M. A. (2015). The role of oxytocin in relationships between dogs and humans and potential applications for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. Biological Reviews, 92(1), 378-388. doi:10.1111/brv.12235