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Monday, 14 November 2011

DOGS AND SEPARATION ANXIETY


WHAT IS SEPARATION ANXIETY?
When a dog experiences anxiety upon being separated from it’s companions - in this case we will assume ‘companions’ refers to the dog’s humans. Separation anxiety is a psychological condition.

CAN SEPARATION ANXIETY BY TREATED/CURED BY DRUGS (SSRIS)?


The answer is NO! I do NOT recommend the use of anti-depressant SSRIS (i.e. Reconcile) for dogs. Reconcile is actually Prozac. Prozac/Reconcile:

  • Will NOT cure separation anxiety, or any other anxiety for that matter;
  • Has many and serious, including lethal side effects;
  • Actually induces many of the symptoms of anxiety, and;
  • Can make the anxiety a heightened and chronic condition.
To understand more about the seriously harmful effects of this SSRI drug you can read on here.
Separation Anxiety can be Summarized as Follows...
  • The Root Cause of separation anxiety is insecurity;
  • Provocation can be immediate or accumulated;
  • The Source of the provocation is predominantly caused by inadvertent human-based influence;
  • However the condition may also be triggered and/or exacerbated by a sudden traumatic event or an event in tandem with human-based influence;
  • The Result of provocation without proper intervention is a destabilized physiological state - 'an altered normal' which when addressed properly can be reversed.
 IS SEPARATION ANXIETY EXPERIENCED BY ALL DOGS IN THE SAME WAY?
No, just as we humans react in various ways to stressors, so too do dogs. If your dog has separation anxiety he may have a very mild case of anxiety and just gets into little things like tissue boxes…or if the anxiety is more severe may destroy couches, walls, crates. Dogs with extreme anxiety can really harm themselves as they chew on things that can cut their mouths, or they may get tangled and trapped trying to escape confinement.

CAN THE BEHAVIOUR GO FROM MILD TO EXTREME?
Yes, if left untreated the behaviour can escalate over time. Depending on the dog, escalation may be slow, for others dogs it may occur rapidly.

SYMPTOMS DON'T USUALLY EXIST IN ISOLATION
Separation Anxiety is usually a symptom of a bigger issue...
- the issue for the dog is usually insecurity;
- enabled (unintentionally) by lack of leadership from the human.

Usually symptoms do not exist in isolation but are fed and supported by other symptoms. Treating an issue really requires a holistic approach. A dog usually has other symptoms, for example, exhibits nervousness, fear when encountering:
- garbage bags;
- construction vehicles;

- flags;
- loud noises, etc.;

In order to successfully eradicate the issue (insecurity), all of the symptoms must be addressed. I never allow a dog to flee or avoid something that they fear. With patience, calm confidence, respect, understanding, determination and persistence I coach and mentor the dog through each and every situation. In so doing I ensure that the dog leaves each situation it (formerly feared) with a new association - an understanding that it is safe and will not be harmed. By employing this methodology the dog learns confidence, over time insecurity fades away...and so to do the symptoms of insecurity.

HOW DOES A DOG END-UP GETTING SEPARATION ANXIETY?
Well, just like humans, every dog has their own natural pre-dispositions. Some of us are born with a greater tendency to be anxious and insecure while others are calmer - this is true for dogs as well. Just because we have that pre-disposition does not mean that it will ever come to the foreground. But, if environmental influences (such as incidents that happen to us on a regular basis or as a one-of occurrence, people, places and things that we encounter) spark our discomfort and become a stressor we can develop anxiety.

When I am explaining to my client’s how a situation or circumstance may impact their dogs, I ask them to think in human terms. That way the human can grasp the relativity of the situation with greater ease and speed

So if we think of a child…were we to leave a young child (with no experience of being left without companionship) alone in our home, most children would panic. Some would be curious about the experience and seek something to play with or get into. Then they would eventually become bored. Once boredom sets in and the novelty has worn off, they will recall the lack of companionship and become unhappy or indeed distraught.

Other children would weather the experience in complete contentment…this though would be rare.

If you plunk an adult down (alone) in a space that they are unfamiliar with…we will see the same pattern emerge. Some will become agitated and nervous, others may become bored, and some will be completely comfortable. And thus it is for dogs.

However - it can be even worse for dogs if we first wind them up with all of our human emotions, and then leave them! And then when we come back more emotion as we greet our dog in a frenzy of excitement and/or guilt at having left them alone. The human unknowingly reinforces the dog’s anxiety by making such a big deal of leaving and returning.

LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT HOW THIS CONDITION PROGRESSES…

So you go out for a few hours, or for the day leaving your dog alone in the house. Your dog may have ‘the run of the house’ or you may have shut a few doors so he can’t go everywhere.

At first your dog may be fine with this - as far as you can tell. Then one day you come home to find something chewed - nothing important just a tissue box. You think, 'well that is odd' or may even think 'that is kind of cute'. The next day everything is OK. But the day after you come home to another mess. So you decide to get him some chew toys. The next day you come home and more mess and the nice chew toys are sitting just as you left them.

Well, your dog is insecure and finds that having all of that space to himself is daunting. He is unsure what to do, where to rest...how to rest without his human companions to provide structure, direction or just companionship...so he starts to feel anxious. He gets nervous...nervous energy must have an outlet...any unspent energy must have an outlet or frustration and anxiety increases.

Chewing helps him release the anxious energy. Chewing the toys is not resolving his issue - anxiety...so he moves onto another object to try to solve his dilemma. He starts to chew on the couch!

The longer you leave your dog’s condition untreated the worse it will get - exponentially so! To help your dog to feel comfortable and safe you need to reduce the space he has access to while you are gone. This will be a temporary measure until he learns to have more confidence. You can either use a crate or baby gate or dog playpen to confine him to a smaller space - what you use will depend on the dog, its size and the intensity of its anxiety. Then there are some dogs who will do anything they can to escape confinement - they will chew there way out of metal wire crates, chew through drywall - open windows, we will speak of that later.

SO NOW LETS’ TAKE A LOOK AT HOW THE CONDITION CAN BE FIXED…

STEP ONE
First of all we need to make sure you understand how to avoid enabling you dog’s anxiety. The first place to start is with you! Take a minute to read these two articles - they are short but the information in them is profound and forms the foundation for curing your dog’s anxiety…these are your first building blocks.


So, having read those two articles you now understand that the first thing you are going to have to do is prepare yourself. You need to reset expectations, forget what has happened in the past and disengage all of your emotions. You need to view working with your dog as 'work'. You are going to need extreme patience, you will have to strengthen your will so it is stronger than your dog's will. You are going to have to be incredibly calm and confident. You are going to have to completely change your dog's association with crating - it is a negative association right now.

STEP TWO

If you haven’t already done so…you need to normalize the experience of leaving and returning. If you dog follows you constantly - every time you get up your dog gets up, he/she will never learn how to be comfortable of confident alone. Think of it this way - if your dog cannot go into a relaxed state and just stay even when you get up from the couch for a second (i.e. to get a drink of water from the kitchen) your dog will never be comfortable if you leave him/her alone at home. You need to teach your dog not to follow you all of the time! Start with simple exercises when you are in the house and then work on coming and going from the house...

When Leaving Your Home 

If you feel anxious your dog will too. If you are not comfortable with the situation your dog will be uncomfortable. Instead clear your mind of any emotion and calmly, confidently go out with the understanding that leaving is normal, with the expectation that your dog will relax.

If you are always in a big rush, stressed and tense, your dog learns to associate your leaving with stress, tension…anxiety. Take a few minutes to calm yourself - this is essential! You must lead by example - be calm so your dog can be.

Direct your dog as to what you expect him/her to do…go lie down…and make sure you correct and follow thru if he/she does not. If you leave and he/she is barking and agitated he will stay that way. More on that later.Your dog will emotionally pressure you - they will persist so you must match and exceed their persistence.

If you leave and make a fuss, you teach your dog that leaving is not common place, it is instead an exception. Many people make a fuss over their dogs when they leave and when they arrive back home. This creates intense excitement and destabilizes the dog. It can also overwhelm their senses. When you go outside and your husband/boyfriend etc is inside do you go up to him and make an excited fuss? Or do you calmly, naturally just give a kiss and say I’ll be back? Well with dogs you do not even (should not even) say I’ll be back - they can feel your intent - no words required.

When Coming Back Home

Greet your dog in respectful silence. Don't talk with your voice, don't touch and don't feed excitement by meeting their gaze and do not anticipate excitement…relax, be calm and walk in with confidence…and learn to let your dog greet you with his/her nose.

When dogs great each other in their natural state they are calm and simply use their nose to sniff each other - this is a dogs natural way of greeting.  Normalizing, making common place the action of coming and going.

We humans do not think to honour the dog in our dogs and instead we inadvertently impose on them a human greeting. This is unfair to the dog. Dogs have a +300 million olfactory sensors in their nose, we have only 3 million. Please, when you greet your dog - honour him...no talk, no touch, no look, just let him quietly sniff you - this is like a beautiful glass of wine for your dog. Later when you have put your briefcase down and gone to the bathroom, come out and quietly touch your dog. Following this procedure normalizes the coming and going experience and removes the excitement associated with your absence...it deflates the anxiety.

So to recap Step two…DO NOT feel sorry for your dog, do not talk, do not touch...allow him the grace to just relax. If you leave in a hurry and are stressed or anxious - those are the feelings that you leave your dog with! Be calm, take a few extra minutes to ensure that when you leave you are relaxed in mind and body - this gives a very different message to your dog. THIS IS LEADING BY THE RIGHT EXAMPLE! This is coaching and mentoring your dog. THIS IS TRAINING YOU!

When I get home I have ten dogs who I can either wind up into high states of excitement or walk in and appreciate in silence, honoring their natural way to meet and greet. I choose silence as I can then open up my senses to hear their warm snuffles as they check the many scents on my clothing which tells them where I have been, what dogs and people I worked with that day, etc. I get to appreciate them and they me in comfortable grounded peace.

STEP THREE

Make sure your dog has had sufficient exercise
Before you leave make sure your dog has had enough exercise. Dogs need to expend their energy to feel relaxed and calm. You cannot expect a dog with unspent energy to be content left alone or contained in a crate if they have not first run down their energy level. Remember, dogs have several types of energy;
  1. His/her daily quota of energy, and
  2. If she/he has not had enough exercise on a regular daily basis he/she have stored energy in addition to daily energy that must be expended, and;
  3. If energy #1 and #2 do not have an outlet the accumulated result is energy type #3, anxious energy.

Just as we would find it difficult to settle down if we were revved up, so to do dogs - even more so. Unspent energy can lead to frustration and anxiety.

STEP FOUR

If you are crating or otherwise confining your dog…

If a dog has separation anxiety a crate can be an important tool in their rehabilitation. Like people who have a phobia of large open spaces, a dog left alone in a home can feel overwhelmed. Crating is not a cure, but it can be used to support the rehabilitation process. Crating coupled with good leadership including a structured approach to coaching/mentoring the dog to navigate through all situations that it fears, etc. will help the dog become a secure, confident, well-balanced canine. Again your state of mind is very important. If you feel bad about using a crate for your dog - the dog knows and will learn to associate the crate with discomfort and unease. If you feel confident about using the crate your dog will too.

Introduce your dog to the crate in the right way

If you introduce your dog to a crate the right way in almost all cases the dog will not fear or dislike the crate. Once a dog has found a crate to be a calm and comfortable place to be, the dog will often choose to use the crate as a place to go and rest. As long as you leave the crate door open when not in use, the dog can choose to use it when he/she pleases. When first introducing your dog to a crate, leave the door open and let your dog use it’s noise to explore the  outside and inside of the crate. You can direct your dog to lie down in the crate and relax - stay with the door open. Foster good associations.

Once your dog is comfortable with the idea of being in the crate, close the crate door and let him stay in it for a bit. Normalize the experience for your dog. When you go to let your dog back out of the crate, make sure he is relaxed, not excited. If he is excited just keep the door closed, be calm. Turn your body so you face sideways to the crate. Do not talk to, look at, or touch your dog. Just breath and relax. In this way you disengage and do not enable your dog’s excitement. When your dog is calm, open the door, and at your request he can come out of the crate. Do not allow him to bolt out of the crate. Stand in the space created by the open crate door - occupy the space in a calm grounded stance one leg slightly in front of the other. When your dog is calm, release the space by moving your self to the side of the opening, use your hand to draw his eyes up to you and then use a hand gesture to indicate that he can now step out of the crate. Then cue him to calm once more by taking a deep breath as he exists the crate.

I have ten dogs in my dog pack and they all enjoy going off to lie in their crates when they feel like it. They are allowed to lie down wherever they like in the house – including on couches. Sometimes they prefer a crate. No one dog in my pack owns a crate – they all share the spaces in the house including crates. For example, when I am preparing their food, my smallest dog (a four-pound Pomeranian) will sometimes go to lie down in a large crate located in the kitchen and share the space within the crate with one of my German Shepherds or with my Australian Shepherd. There are other places in the kitchen they can ‘hang-out’, but they often choose the crate. Why do they choose the crate? The crate is a space of comfort and calm and all of the crates in my house are comfy – they are lined with dog beds and some have pillows too!

Even dogs who are capable of escaping any crate – like my dog Sarah (German Shepherd X Husky) will accept being in a crate as I have coached & mentored her in the right way. She is a wily, intelligent and resourceful canine who spent the better part of her first year as a stray – wiliness meant survival!

Make sure the crate is the right size for your dog

Make sure you get the right size crate for your dog; a dog should be able to stand up & turn around in its crate.

Never place a crate in a location that gets overly warm or where the air quality is very poor. We humans don’t appreciate such conditions neither do our dogs! Remember that cold air stays close to the ground. If your dog is not great with cold temperatures make sure the crate is not located where there is a cold draft.

STEP FIVE - for those with dogs who try to escape crates/confinement

You will have to work in baby steps. You are going to have to take the time to teach your dog that the crate is a place of comfort and peace rather than dread and stress. You need to get your dog accustomed to using the crate when you are in the room. Your dog will need to learn to relax in the crate - sit and lie down. Then you build up over time the periods he spends in it - while you are home. Dogs like people shut down when they are in a state of panic. It takes great determination, presence of mind and patience to turn this around.

Prepare yourself - you need to reset expectations, forget what has happened in the past and disengage all of your emotions. If you anticipate trouble you will get trouble, if you believe in what you are doing and forget the past it helps your dog to move forward.  

Helping your dog return to a normal state (not ridden with anxiety) means that you have to think and move in a deliberately calm fashion. Your dog did not get to this state overnight so it will take time to change his state.
 
Get yourself in the right mindset and then start to work with him/her. 

DIET MATTERS

Like humans, dogs have more serotonin in their GI tract than in the brain. If your dog is on a diet that does not support good gut function then brain function is also undermined. Make sure you get the grains out of your dog's diet. A raw food diet or well balanced home made food diet is best, but if you must feed dry food, choose a good grain-free, chemical preservative-free, GMO free dry dog food and supplement with real food...cooked meat, and fresh foods prepared to support maximum absorption of nutrients, supplement with omega-3 fatty acids and a truly good probiotic supplement or you can choose kefir, yogurt or fermented vegetables and hydrate the dry food

IS SEPARATION ANXIETY A PERMANENT CONDITION? 

No, it is very rare for a dog, who has been coached and mentored properly through this anxiety to remain anxious. Depending on your dog and the severity of their anxiety...they will eventually get over this condition and learn to normalize being alone. For some dogs it is a relatively short process - a day or two, while other dogs may require weeks or several months. The time required depends on your ability to remain self-aware, self-disciplined so that you can exemplify what it is that you want from your dog. It can take time for your skill to build. 

My Australian Shepherd Tasha had a bad case of separation anxiety...her state of anxiety was severe to the point where she would eat couches. I work with dogs who have eaten through cage wire, drywall, wood doors and more.

Remember patience and calm confidence is key to success. Tasha can now be left out all day free in the house with my other dogs. At one time she would pee and poo in the house, chew furniture, shred whatever she could get her teeth into!. And her case was mild compared to those of some of my client's dogs!


Additional Assistance

If you require additional support and guidance I would be pleased to assist you via my In-Person or On-Line Services…

Dog Obedience Training and Behaviour Modification Services:
  • Unbiased Diet, Nutrition, Product Advice is available via this service
  • Holistic Diet, Nutrition Wellness Plans are available via this service

Notes:
Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
  • an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
  • an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
  • an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate; 
  • understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
  • a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
    •  the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
    • behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
  • self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
  • sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
    • to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
  • kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
  • the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
  • understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
  • absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - it is a holistic, all-encompassing approach. If you are missing any one element of the above mentioned your success rate will be affected to one degree or another in implementing the techniques offered in the article presented above.


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Note -

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Nutraceuticals and Alternative Medicines:

When choosing to use any of the items or protocols in the article above, it is your responsibility to ensure safe use of the item/protocol. Food, herbs, nutraceuticals and alternative medicines all have drug interactions, most have health issue contradictions, some have side effects. Use of substances and protocols are your responsibility. Prior to use of any substance or protocol make sure you do your research - check for all cautions, contradictions,interactions, side effects. If in doubt do not use the substance or protocol. If the substance, or protocol is contradicted for your animal do not use. If your animal has an underlying condition you are not aware of substances may conflict with that condition.

2.0 The Real Meaning of Holistic…

Food, herbs, nutraceuticals and alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’. It is important to keep in mind that the supplement industry is just as unethical as BigPharma, the Food and Pet Food Industry, and unfortunately many veterinarians.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (i.e. an herb) you are using a natural substance, this is not synonymous with holistic.

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that - overall health, and wellbeing.

Please do not expect a natural substance to miraculously remedy a health or behavioral situation. A natural substance may be used to treat symptoms. However, if the factors causing the underlying issue are not properly identified, analyzed and addressed you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach that identifies root cause, seeks to remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues, and builds a complete, and detailed approach to immediate treatment, remedy, and maintenance of long-term health = holistic.

I offer extensive consultation services - Holistic Diet, Nutrition Wellness and Holistic Behavioral, for people that are serious about looking after their dogs and cats holistically. If you want to engage my services you can contact me via email or phone.

If you are looking for additional free advice, please refer back to the articles on my site, do not contact me via email or phone - personalized service is for my clients / patients only.

3.0
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Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen
the Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats

karen@ottawavalleydogwhisperer.ca

Canada, U.S.A. North America
1-613-926-5536 (off)
1-613-293-3707 (cell)

Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, UK, UAE, Scandinavian Countries, South America, Central America and elsewhere around the world
00-1-613-926-5536 (off)
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