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Canine separation anxiety: Strategies for treatment and management.

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Dogs with separation-related behavior problems engage in unwanted behavior such as destruction of property and excessive vocalization when left alone, causing distress for both the dog and the owner, and often leading to the dog being relinquished or euthanized. I review research on factors likely to predispose dogs to developing separation anxiety and on the treatments available. Although research is equivocal, dogs seem to develop separation-related behavior problems if they are male, sourced from shelters or found, and separated from the litter before they are 60 days old. Protective factors include ensuring a wide range of experiences outside the home and with other people, between the ages of 5–10 months, stable household routines and absences from the dog, and the avoidance of punishment. The most successful treatment for canine separation-related problems may be behavior modification that focuses on systematic desensitization and counterconditioning, which can be supplemented with medication in the initial stages. Where individual therapy from an animal behavior expert is not possible, advice to dog owners should be clear, simple, and contain five or fewer instructions to improve adherence. Advice is given for people seeking to adopt a dog, for new dog owners, and for existing dog owners who wish to treat their dog’s separation anxiety.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/VMRR.S60424
Canine separation anxiety: strategies for
treatment and management
Rebecca J Sargisson
Sch ool of Psychology, Uni versity
of Waikato, Tauranga, New Zealand
Correspondence: Rebecca J Sargisson
School of Psychology, University
of Waikato, Private Bag 12027, Tauranga
3112, New Zealand
Email sargisson@waikato.ac.nz
Abstract: Dogs with separation-related behavior problems engage in unwanted behavior such
as destruction of property and excessive vocalization when left alone, causing distress for both
the dog and the owner, and often leading to the dog being relinquished or euthanized. I review
research on factors likely to predispose dogs to developing separation anxiety and on the treat-
ments available. Although research is equivocal, dogs seem to develop separation-related behavior
problems if they are male, sourced from shelters or found, and separated from the litter before
they are 60 days old. Protective factors include ensuring a wide range of experiences outside
the home and with other people, between the ages of 5–10 months, stable household routines
and absences from the dog, and the avoidance of punishment. The most successful treatment
for canine separation-related problems may be behavior modification that focuses on systematic
desensitization and counterconditioning, which can be supplemented with medication in the
initial stages. Where individual therapy from an animal behavior expert is not possible, advice to
dog owners should be clear, simple, and contain five or fewer instructions to improve adherence.
Advice is given for people seeking to adopt a dog, for new dog owners, and for existing dog
owners who wish to treat their dog’s separation anxiety.
Keywords: systematic desensitization, counterconditioning, medication, separation anxiety
Introduction
Dogs without separation-related behavior problems are passive and inactive in their
owner’s absence,1,2 and the initially anxious behavior of puppies separated from their
owners3 has been found to decrease quickly after adoption.4 Dogs with separation-
related behavior problems, in contrast, engage in undesirable behaviors when left alone.
The most common of these are destruction and excessive vocalization, including whin-
ing and barking.5–9 Less common problem behaviors include inappropriate elimination
(urination and defecation), self-injurious behavior (eg, over-grooming), increased or
repetitive motor activity (eg, pacing), attempts to escape, trembling, salivation, and
depression.10,11
The bond formed between dogs and their human owners is consistent with an
attachment.12 The emotional attachment between adult dogs and their owners, even
in the absence of separation-related behavior problems, has been found to be similar
to that displayed by human adults and their children.13 This is not surprising given
that dogs have been selected for their dependence on humans over 10,000 or more
years of domestication.13
While most dogs are emotionally attached to their owners, anxious dogs exhibit
more attachment behaviors than dogs that are less anxious.13 Separation anxiety has
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been defined as distress in the absence of an attachment
figure.14 In addition to performing unwanted behaviors in the
owner’s absence, dogs with separation-related problems will
often show signs of excessive attachment to their owners.15
For example, dogs may follow their owners around when
they are home, and when their owners are preparing to leave
the house.6,15 Some dogs will begin to whine, pace, pant, or
freeze as their owner’s departure becomes imminent.15
If the rate or intensity of separation-related behaviors
increased across the separation period, we might hypoth-
esize that the dog was bored.16 Instead, the peak intensity
of separation-related behaviors occurs shortly after the
owner’s departure.16 Dogs with separation-related problems
also tend to engage in excessive excitement when the owner
returns.6,15
However, while some researchers have provided evidence
to suggest that dogs with separation-related problems are
excessively attached to their owners,6,15 other research contra-
dicts this finding.17 Parthasarathy and Crowell-Davis18 found
that dogs spent the same amount of time in close proximity to
their owners in an attachment test, regardless of their scores
on a test of separation anxiety, suggesting that the time spent
close to the owner would not be a useful diagnostic indicator
of a separation-related problem. Stephen and Ledger19 found
high significant correlations between ratings of separation
anxiety given by dog owners who relinquished their dogs
to shelters and ratings given by the dogs’ new owners, sug-
gesting that it is not attachment to particular humans that is
problematic for these dogs, but a problem that the dog takes
with them to new contexts. In fact, the correlation between
ratings given by new and former owners for separation anxi-
ety was higher than for any other reported canine problem.
Stephen and Ledger’s19 findings suggest that dogs who have
not received treatment for separation-related problems are
unlikely to improve when rehomed.
Importance of separation-related
problems
The incidence of separation-related behavior problems has
been estimated at 20% of the dog population.20 However,
diagnosis of a canine separation-related problem generally
relies on indirect evidence, such as evidence of destruction
or reports of barking by neighbors, because the problem
behaviors occur primarily in the absence of the owner.10 The
reliance on indirect evidence may lead to under-reporting
and under-diagnosis.11,20
When left alone, dogs can cause much damage to a home,
and injure themselves in the process. Overall21 described a
dog who destroyed drywall, tile, and insulation in a home.
This dog tore its tongue, broke teeth, and suffered cuts to its
face and feet. A dog with separation-related problems in a
study by Gaultier et al7 ate part of the home electricity sup-
ply, setting fire to the house in its owners’ absence. Dogs that
engage in excessive vocalization when left alone are likely
to prompt complaints by neighbors and visits from local
authorities. Sherman and Mills22 note that living with a dog
with separation-related problems causes emotional and finan-
cial distress in the home, which can lead to the surrendering
of the dog. Indeed, separation-related problem behaviors are
commonly cited reasons for relinquishing dogs to animal
shelters.23,24 Although separation-related problems seem to
appear at a similar age as aggressive behaviors, owners wait
longer before seeking help with canine separation-related
problems.25
Separation anxiety is associated with a higher incidence
of, and more severe, skin problems for dogs.26 Dogs with
separation-related problems are also likely to exhibit anx-
ious behavior in response to loud noises such as fireworks
and thunderstorms,27 although this may only be the case for
clinical populations with well-established problems.28 Dogs
with anxiety-related disorders, in general, are more likely to
be aggressive toward their owners or strangers and to engage
in phobic or compulsive behaviors.29
Factors that predispose dogs
to separation-related behavior
problems
Researchers investigating the factors that predispose dogs
to developing separation anxiety have found contradictory
results. Most researchers have found that dogs with anxiety-
related problems are more likely to be male,6,14,17,25,30–33 but
some research has not supported any sex difference in the
incidence of separation-related problem behaviors.11,34
Similarly, some researchers have found that dogs are
more likely to develop separation-related problems if they
sleep on the owner’s bed or sofa,29 while others have not
found the same result.6,9,35 Some researchers have found no
link between the source of dog acquisition and the presence
of separation-related problems,11 and they report that dogs
obtained from breeders are just as likely as dogs sourced
elsewhere to develop separation-related problems.29 Other
researchers report that dogs obtained from animal shelters,
or those that are found, are more likely to develop separation-
related problems,6,29,35 and that dogs obtained from friends
and family have a lower incidence of separation-related
problems.17
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Treatment of canine separation anxiety
Higher rates of separation-related behavior problems
have been reported for dogs that live with a single adult,6
a couple,29 or multiple adults6 than for those dogs that live
with a family with children, but other researchers have found
that the presence or absence of children in the home had no
effect on the prevalence of separation-related problems.9
Some researchers have found an increased probability of
separation-related problems with increasing numbers of
adult women in the home,9,17 whereas other researchers have
found no link between sex of the owner and the incidence of
a dog’s separation anxiety.6
Researchers have found that dogs that have food at their
disposal rather than delivered at discrete times29 and those
dogs that are adopted when they are older,25,29 are more likely
to develop separation-related problems. There is evidence of
high rates of separation-related problems among dogs who
live in apartments,9 and the incidence of separation-related
problems of apartment dogs is higher than their incidence
of aggression.25
Dogs exposed to humans outside the home, and to a
wide range of experiences between the age of 5–10 months
are less likely to develop separation-related problems.30
Some evidence exists to suggest that dogs that are separated
from the litter early (less than 60 days) are more likely to
develop problem behaviors, including destructive behavior
and excessive vocalization,36 particularly if those dogs are
sourced from pet shops.
There is some evidence that canine separation anxiety
can be triggered or exacerbated by a change in the household
such as a new human resident, a job change,17,37 a change
in the routine of owner’s absences from the home,38 or a
single traumatic event.38 For example, the separation-related
problems of a dog in Butler et al’s38 study may have been
exacerbated when the dog was left for 8 hours alone in a
bathroom that flooded with hot water. Another dog’s prob-
lems began after it was left tied up in a laundry room by its
caregivers for 2 weeks while the owners were away. However,
other researchers have not found a link between the onset of
separation anxiety and a household change.6
To summarize, there are several contributors to the
development of canine separation anxiety. Male dogs are
more frequently found to demonstrate such problems than
female dogs.6,14,17,25,30–33 Separations from the litter at a young
age, particularly for dogs sourced from pet shops,36 a lack of
experience outside the home for puppies aged 5–10 months,30
and late age at adoption25,29 are also risk factors. Dogs sourced
from animal shelters or those that are found6,29,35 may be more
likely to display separation anxiety than those sourced from
breeders or friends and family. Dogs residing in apartments9,25
and in homes with no human children6,29 are also at higher
risk. Separation-related problems may be triggered or exac-
erbated by a change in household circumstances such as the
addition of a family member or a change in routine.17,37,38
There is also some evidence that dogs who are exces-
sively attached to their owners are more likely to develop
separation anxiety6,15 and that anxious dogs generally display
more attachment behaviors.13 Thus, dogs who are allowed to
follow their owners from room to room, who are encouraged
to display more overt leaving and greeting behavior, and who
are excessively bonded to their owners may be more anxious
in their owner’s absence.
Treatments for canine separation
anxiety
It has been suggested that adding another animal, such as
another dog, to the household may help dogs with separation-
related behavior problems to cope with absences from their
owner.38,39 However, evidence suggests that the presence of
another dog in the household does not prevent another dog
from developing separation-related problems.9,11,14
Owners may respond to the separation-related problem
behaviors of their dogs by confining the dog to a crate. Some
authors have recommended this approach because once the
dog is accustomed to the crate they rarely engage in the stress-
related behaviors exhibited by dogs that have free access during
periods of separation from their owner.40 However, others have
found that dogs left in crates or cages while at home alone are
no less likely to display separation-related problem behaviors
than dogs that have free access to the home.14 In fact, confin-
ing a dog with separation anxiety to a crate can increase lip
licking,11 a response consistent with stress,41 and dogs can
injure themselves in attempts to escape from the crate.39
Dog owners who return to a house subjected to destruc-
tion may punish the dog. However, high frequencies of
punishment are associated with anxious behavior for small
dogs and dogs are less anxious when a high proportion of
their training interactions involve positive reinforcement.42
Additionally, punishment delivered upon the owner’s return
to the house is unlikely to be temporally contingent upon the
problem behavior and is likely, therefore, to be ineffective.43,44
Thus, punishment is best avoided in dealing with dogs with
separation-related problems.20,43
Medications
Two pharmacological interventions clomipramine
(Clomicalm®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®) are approved in the
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Sargisson
United States for the treatment of canine separation anxiety.45
These are antidepressant drugs used for humans to treat the
symptoms of depression and anxiety.
At a dose of 1 mg/kg every 12 hours, clomipramine
increases passive behavior and decreases pacing, scratch-
ing, and whining of dogs with separation anxiety in the
absence of their owners.45 Improvements in symptoms of
separation-related problem behavior following standard
doses of clomipramine of 1 mg/kg to ,2 mg/kg every 12
hours have been reported.31,45 Increasing the dose to 2 mg/
kg every 12 hours produces additional increases in the time
the dogs are passive and reduces barking and whining when
dogs are left alone.45
Some researchers have investigated whether the effec-
tiveness of clomipramine or fluoxetine can be enhanced
when they are combined with other medications. Ogata and
Dodman46 studied the effect of the concurrent administration
of clonidine, a drug used for humans to reduce high blood
pressure, with clomipramine. The owners of seven of ten
dogs given a low dose of clonidine in addition to their regular
clomipramine medication for separation anxiety reported
an improvement in their dogs’ behavior.46 A combination of
fluoxetine and clorazepate dipotassium was found to reduce
signs of anxiety in nonaggressive dogs;47 however, these
medications were administered concurrently with a behav-
ior modification plan, which makes it difficult to assess the
effectiveness of each component of the treatment.
Chewable fluoxetine tablets, in the absence of behavioral
therapy, have been found to improve separation-related prob-
lem behaviors of dogs when compared to dogs treated with
a placebo.8,48 Ibáñez and Anzola49 reported large or moder-
ate improvements for 71% of dogs with separation-related
problems when a low dose of fluoxetine (1 mg/kg every 24
hours) was combined with oral diazepam (0.3 mg/kg every 24
hours) and behavioral advice. However, adverse side effects,
such as ataxia, agitation, and increased appetite, are common
with diazepam administration.50
Cannas et al45 report that clomipramine did not produce
any adverse reaction in any dog in their study, but dog own-
ers in other studies have reported unwanted side effects
when they have used pharmacological interventions for the
treatment of separation anxiety, such as lethargy following
the administration of amitriptyline, an antidepressant.33
Landsberg et al48 found that 85%, and Simpson et al8 found
that 45% of dogs administered fluoxetine exhibited lethargy
or depression, and significantly more dogs who received flu-
oxetine experienced a loss of appetite than dogs who received
a placebo in both studies. Lethargy and vomiting have been
associated with clomipramine administration,31 which has
also been linked to the development of canine pancreatitis,51
a condition that presents as abdominal pain, vomiting, and
lethargy. Simpson et al8 found that 29.5% of dogs in their
study refused to consume chewable tablets.
Cannas et al45 and King et al31 reported that the admin-
istration of clomipramine did not completely eliminate
signs of separation anxiety. Additionally, some studies
investigating the efficacy of medication to treat separation-
related problems have simultaneously implemented behavior
modification, ranging from systematic desensitization and
counterconditioning52 to more general advice about owner
interactions with the dog,31,45,49 making it difficult to deter-
mine the effect of medication in isolation. Some research-
ers, however, have found that dogs administered medication
concurrently with behavior modification improved more than
dogs that received a placebo and behavior modification.8
Simpson et al8 found that, among dogs given behavioral
therapy, 50% of those administered a placebo improved
compared to 72% of the dogs administered fluoxetine.
While pharmacological interventions may be useful
when used in conjunction with behavior modification, they
are unlikely to eliminate a dog’s separation-related problem
behaviors in isolation,39 and some behavioral therapy will still
be needed.43,53 Appleby and Pluijmakers53 recommend drug
support in the early phases of interventions for separation-
related problems. Sherman and Mills22 note that often owners
of dogs with separation-related problems need to reduce the
problem behavior quickly, because they are close to making
a decision to relinquish or euthanize the dog. These authors
recommend medication combined with behavior modifica-
tion initially, and advise withdrawal of the medication over
time. In some instances, Sherman and Mills22 suggest that
long-term medication might be necessary.
However, other researchers have not found any improve-
ment in separation-related problem behaviors with clomip-
ramine administration when compared to the administration
of a placebo.32 Rather, Podberscek et al32 support the use of
behavioral therapy alone. In addition, some dog owners may
be reluctant to medicate their dogs or they may find the cost
to be prohibitive.33
Dog-appeasing pheromone
Another intervention that has been found to reduce separation-
related behavior is the delivery of a dog-appeasing pheromone
using an electric diffuser. Gaultier et al7 found that diffusing
the pheromone in the owner’s absence was at least as effective
as administration of clomipramine, when both were delivered
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Treatment of canine separation anxiety
with a behavior modification plan, and had fewer undesirable
side effects than other medications.7 When exposed to the
pheromone, 83% of dogs showed reduced, or eliminated,
problem behaviors compared to 70% of dogs administered
clomipramine. The effect of the behavior modification alone
was not possible to determine, as both groups of dogs in the
study received the same behavioral advice.7
Behavioral treatments
Behavioral advice for separation-related problem behaviors
can include reducing the dependency of the dog on the
owner, removing punishment for separation-related behav-
iors, providing activities for the dog to engage in when left
alone, and systematic desensitization. Blackwell et al5 found
that behavioral advice given to dog owners that included
all of these elements was effective in reducing problem
behaviors, regardless of the order in which the elements
were introduced. There was some suggestion in that study
that behavioral interventions developed specifically for
individual dogs may have a better chance of success than
generic behavioral advice.5
Systematic desensitization is a behavioral technique
that has been found to be successful in reducing or elimi-
nating the separation-related behavior problems of dogs.38
Systematic desensitization is a technique similar to the treat-
ment of phobias of humans (as described by Davison54) and
was developed for use with dogs in the 1960s and 1970s.44
It involves exposure to mild versions of the feared stimu-
lus that will not elicit anxiety and subsequent gradual
increases in the intensity of the feared stimulus. Initially,
the dog is exposed to very short periods of owner absence
(it is assumed that this will not elicit anxiety). Because the
separation-related problem behaviors begin shortly after
the departure of the owner – a latency of 3.25 minutes for
vocalization and 7.13 minutes for destruction11 – the initial
separation period must be short to ensure that the owner’s
absence is not associated with problem behaviors and,
presumably, anxiety. Hence, the owner is advised to leave
the dog, initially, for a few seconds, and then to re-enter the
house or room and praise the dog. The length of separation
is gradually increased until the required period of absence is
reached without the reoccurrence of the problem behavior.
Presenting short owner absence times repeatedly should
ensure that non-anxious behavior will generalize to longer
times. Therefore, the time an owner can be absent can be
gradually increased until it reaches the duration that elicited
the pretreatment separation-related behavior problems, but
without causing anxiety.38
Systematic desensitization is often used concurrently with
counterconditioning, whereby the aversive stimulus is associ-
ated with a hedonistic response using classical conditioning
techniques.55 The concept underlying counterconditioning is
that emotional states like anxiety are incompatible with other
activities such as relaxation and eating.55 Thus, when placed
in a situation which usually elicits anxiety, the presentation
of food should inhibit the dog’s anxiety.55 In this way, the pre-
viously anxiety-provoking stimulus will become associated
with pleasurable states incompatible with anxiety.55
A combination of systematic desensitization and counter-
conditioning for the treatment of fears and phobias of dogs
was found to be successful for 100% of the 91 dogs treated by
Rogerson.56 The efficacy of systematic desensitization may be
greater when it is presented concurrently with countercondi-
tioning than when presented alone.57,58 For example, Poppen57
demonstrated that significantly fewer trials were required to
suppress the conditioned fear of rats when successive presen-
tations of increasing intensity of the fear-inducing stimulus
were paired with food delivery than when food delivery, or
desensitization, were used in isolation.
Butler et al38 found a program of systematic desensitiza-
tion and counterconditioning to be an effective treatment for
eight dogs with separation-related problem behaviors, even
though the treatment was administered by the dog owners and
the separation length was inconsistently increased. The same
authors note that the separation-related problem behavior was
significantly reduced for all dogs in their study, despite the fact
that some dog owners failed to implement countercondition-
ing, or to comply with other behavioral advice.38 Their result,
therefore, suggests that systematic desensitization is a robust
method that can be successfully applied by dog owners.
Systematic desensitization may be preferred by some dog
owners because it does not involve medicating the dog and
is inexpensive. It does require a commitment by the owner
to devote time to resolving the problem. Dog owners have
been found to be more noncompliant with instructions that
involve a large time commitment, so the success of system-
atic desensitization relies on the motivation of the owners.33
Dog owners should avoid long absences at the beginning of
treatment, which may not be an option for all. The primary
treatment options and arguments for and against each option
are summarized in Table 1.
Other factors that may help
Recording dog behavior using video cameras mounted in the
home can be a useful way of both diagnosing separation-related
disorders and of monitoring improvement.42 Capturing dog
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Sargisson
behavior on video can reveal more subtle signs of stress
and anxiety, and signs that do not leave physical evidence
such as pacing, panting,43 mouth licking, body shaking, and
stereotyped behavior.41
Butler et al38 found that almost all dog owners in their
study provided constant companionship to their dogs as a way
of “making up” for absences. Sherman and Mills22 report that
a history of being left alone for long times or experiencing
long times with the owner without being left alone are factors
associated with canine separation-related problems. These
findings suggest that owners should aim for moderation in
the length of absences from their dogs.
Herron et al14 investigated the efficacy of behavioral
advice to people adopting dogs from shelters in terms of their
subsequent report of canine separation-related problems of
those adopted dogs. The authors advised exercising the dog
prior to a departure, avoiding punishment, and providing
a food-stuffed toy during owner absences – none of which
prevented canine separation anxiety. However, providing
a food-stuffed toy was the only recommendation that was
reliably followed by the new dog owners. While providing a
food-stuffed toy did not have a significant effect on the inci-
dence of separation-related problem behaviors,14 this advice
was much more specific than the other advice given, perhaps
contributing to its adherence rate. The authors advise that to
improve their compliance, instructions to dog owners should
be clear. Similarly, Takeuchi et al33 found that owners who
received more than five instructions about how to reduce their
dog’s separation-related problems were significantly less likely
to report improvements in the problem behavior than were
owners who received five or fewer instructions. These results
suggest that behavioral advice should be clear and that owners
should receive as few instructions as possible. Cottam et al59
found no difference between the effectiveness of behavioral
advice for canine separation anxiety when it was delivered
in person, by phone, or by email, suggesting that the medium
by which advice is delivered is unimportant.
Recommendations to dog owners
Behavioral interventions designed specifically for individual
dogs, and therefore that take into account the specific context
in which the problem behavior is occurring for each dog,
are preferable to generic, nonspecific instructions.5 If indi-
vidualized behavioral intervention is not possible, or if it is
financially prohibitive for a dog owner, then the instructions
that follow are recommended.
All advice given to dog owners about how to prevent,
manage, or treat problematic dog behavior should be clear and
specific,14 and be limited to no more than five separate instruc-
tions.33 Thus, instructions should contain the five, or fewer,
specific instructions most likely to have a favorable outcome.
Instructions are equally effective regardless of whether they
are delivered in person or by phone or email.59 The instructions
offered are tailored to three different scenarios: 1) people who
are considering owning a dog; 2) new dog owners who wish
to prevent separation-related problems; and 3) existing dog
owners who wish to treat canine separation-related problems.
In each instance, five or fewer, specific instructions, based on
the literature presented in this review, have been presented.
For people who are considering
owning a dog
A person seeking to adopt a dog could use selection criteria
that minimize the likelihood of canine separation-related
Table 1 Options for the treatment of canine separation-related behavior problems
Treatment Reasons for use Reasons against use
Medication: general Can help to reduce problem behavior
May increase efcacy of behavioral interventions8
Expensive
Medication alone not sufcient to eliminate problem31,39,45
Medication in the absence of a behavioral intervention
maintains reliance on medication
Side effects
Medication: clomipramine Improvement in separation-related behavior31,45
Increases passive behavior45
Decreases anxious behavior including pacing,
scratching, whining, and barking45
Side effects: canine pancreatitis;51 abdominal pain;
vomiting; lethargy31
Medication: uoxetine Improvements in separation-related behavior8,48,49 Side effects: lethargy, depression, loss of appetite8,48
Dogs may refuse chewable uoxetine tablets8
Dog-appeasing pheromone May reduce problem behavior7Little research to support use
Long-term efcacy unknown
Systematic desensitization Reduces or eliminates problem behavior38
Inexpensive
Does not require medicating the dog
Time-consuming for dog owner
Need to avoid long absences at the beginning
of intervention
Counterconditioning May improve efcacy of systematic desensitization57,58 Probably ineffective in isolation
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Treatment of canine separation anxiety
problems. Dogs least likely to develop such problems appear
to be female6,14,17,25,30–33 and sourced from family and friends17
rather than from shelters or dogs that are found.6,29,35 Adopted
dogs should not have been separated from the litter before
they are 60 days old, particularly if they are sourced from
a pet shop.36
Prevention of separation-related
problems
Once the new dog is taken into the house, adhering to the
following instructions may help to prevent the development
of canine separation-related problems. Provision of a wide
range of experiences and human contact outside the home
between 5–10 months of age reduces the likelihood of a
dog developing separation-related problem behavior.30 Dog
owners should aim for stability in the dog’s routines and in
their own absences from the dog, because some evidence
shows that sudden changes in household routines and
owner–dog interactions can trigger or exacerbate canine
separation-related problems.17,37–38 Therefore, if the owner
must be away for an unusually long time, they should
ask a trustworthy person to watch the dog or take the dog
with them. Similarly, owners should avoid leaving the dog
alone for long times,22 but also avoid long periods without
leaving the dog alone.22,38 Instead, owners should aim for
regular absences of short-to-medium lengths from the dog,
preferably habituating a newly acquired dog to absences of
increasing length by following a systematic desensitization
protocol. Finally, dog owners should avoid punishment as a
training tool, as the use of punishment increases the chance
of producing an anxious dog.42 Dog owners should discour-
age excessive attachment of their dogs to the people in the
house by ensuring the dog does not follow them from room
to room and by minimizing excitement when leaving or
returning to the dog.
Treatment of separation-related
problems
For owners living with a dog that has separation-related
behavior problems, the following instructions may help to
reduce or eliminate unwanted behavior in the absence of the
owner. Initially, the dog may benefit from the administration
of medication such as clomipramine or fluoxetine8,31,45–49
administered concurrently with behavior modification.22,53
Due to the cost of pharmacological interventions33 and their
potential adverse side effects,8,31,48,51 owners should aim to
withdraw medication gradually once the dog’s behavior
begins to improve. Dog owners should immediately cease
all punishment of any dog behavior.20,42–44 The most effective
behavioral intervention for the treatment of separation-
related problems appears to be a combination of systematic
desensitization and counterconditioning.38,56 In practice, dog
owners should initially leave the dog for very short times,
returning almost immediately, and gradually increase the
length of their absences. Immediately before the owner’s
departure, the dog should be given food to create an associa-
tion between the owner’s absence and the positive experience
of eating.38,55 During this program of behavior modifica-
tion, owners should avoid long absences, and if behavior
worsens, they should reduce the length of their absences
again until the dog’s behavior improves, before resuming
the gradual increase in the length of the absences. Finally,
dog owners may find it helpful to place a video recording
device in the room where the dog spends the most time in
the owner’s absence, and monitor the dog’s behavior before
and during treatment. Dog owners can then establish whether
the treatment is, in fact, helping to reduce the problematic
behaviors.42
Conclusion
Separation anxiety is a condition that can cause much distress
for both owners and their dogs, and can lead to a decision to
relinquish dogs. Without appropriate intervention, these dogs
may carry their behavioral problems to the next household.19
Although the research results do not always agree, there are
some factors that may predispose dogs to the development
separation-related behavior problems. Owners may be able to
prevent the development of canine separation anxiety, but if
their dog does develop separation anxiety, the problem may
be reduced or eliminated through an owner-administered
program of behavior modification,38 supplemented in the
early stages with medication.8,22,31,45–49,53
More research is needed to isolate the factors that are
most efficacious in treating canine separation anxiety. It
would be helpful to examine the separate effects of systematic
desensitization and counterconditioning in the presence and
absence of pharmacological interventions to further simplify
the advice given to dog owners who are dealing with their
dog’s separation anxiety.
Disclosure
The author reports no conflict of interest in this work.
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... We found that puppies acquired at 12 weeks of age or less had reduced odds of exhibiting destructive behavior. A possible explanation for this is that hyper-attachment is a key feature of canine separation anxiety [34], which may be less likely in dogs whose early life is not disrupted by late placement or adoption from shelters as juveniles or adults [35]. ...
... Neutered dogs in this study were almost twice as likely to be reported as "escaping" or "running away." It is possible that this effect is influenced by the escape aspects of separation anxiety because separation anxiety is reportedly more prevalent in neutered male dogs [34][35][36][37]. Alternatively, dogs that often escaped or ran away may have been neutered to prevent the behavior. ...
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Thesis
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In dit werk wordt ingegaan op scheidingsgerelateerd(e) probleemgedrag (SGP) of -gedragingen (SGP’s) bij honden. Ter vergemakkelijking worden doorheen dit werk vanaf nu de afkortingen SGP en SGP’s gebruikt. Op basis van wetenschappelijke literatuur en literatuur gericht aan hondeneigenaren wordt een overzicht gegeven van de huidige inzichten rond SGP, inclusief aanvullingen en bedenkingen bij huidige gangbare kennis over dit thema in de theorie en in de praktijk. Behalve van (wetenschappelijke) literatuur maak ik gebruik van praktijkkennis en -inzichten bij hondengedragsdeskundigen. Immers, het belang van “bottom-up” kennis die vertrekt vanuit de (veelal jarenlange) praktijkervaring van wie (veelal dagelijks) in de praktijk staat, wordt steeds vaker benadrukt, ook vanuit wetenschappelijke hoek. Het includeren van kennis die “leeft” onder experts – maar ook onder eigenaars die vanuit hun ervaring de gedragsproblemen met hun hond vaak goed kunnen beschrijven – kan beschouwd worden als een vorm van burgerwetenschap (“citizen science”) en kan onderzoekers helpen in de beschrijving van fenomenen die ze nadien willen verklaren en/of – in dit geval – waarvoor ze aangepaste behandelprotocollen en gerichte informatie willen verspreiden bij het juiste publiek. Binnen dit eindwerk maak ik bewust gebruik van deze “levende kennis” omdat zij kan bijdragen aan een beter begrip van onduidelijkheden over het fenomeen SGP. Daarnaast kan deze kennis informatie geven over zaken die (nog) niet wetenschappelijk bestudeerd zijn en richting geven aan pistes voor toekomstig onderzoek.
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