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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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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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
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
Two pharmacological interventions clomipramine
(Clomicalm®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®) are approved in the
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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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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
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
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
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
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
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.
The author reports no conflict of interest in this work.
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... Environmental and behavioural modification and pharmacological therapy are often indicated to deal with the problem and address the pet's well-being [28]. For example, behavioural advice for separation-related problem behaviours can include reducing the dependency of the dog on the owner, removing punishment for separation-related behaviours, providing activities for the dog to engage in when left alone, and systematic desensitization [28]. ...
... Environmental and behavioural modification and pharmacological therapy are often indicated to deal with the problem and address the pet's well-being [28]. For example, behavioural advice for separation-related problem behaviours can include reducing the dependency of the dog on the owner, removing punishment for separation-related behaviours, providing activities for the dog to engage in when left alone, and systematic desensitization [28]. However, pet owners received no behavioural advice in this study to avoid confounding factors in interpreting the results. ...
... First, 3-7 weeks of age of dogs is a critical period for socialization with human beings (Freedman et al., 1961;Scott, 1963). Dog pups separated from the mother at 30 to 40 days during the critical period were more likely to develop a variety of behavioral problems, including fearfulness, noise sensitivity, and excessive barking at later ages (Sargisson, 2014;Dietz et al., 2018). Thus, when dogs experienced SI starting at 2 months of age, their social development was mostly completed. ...
Full-text available
Social isolation (SI) exerts diverse adverse effects on brain structure and function in humans. To gain an insight into the mechanisms underlying these effects, we conducted a systematic analysis of multiple brain regions from socially isolated and group-housed dogs, whose brain and behavior are similar to humans. Our transcriptomic analysis revealed reduced expression of myelin-related genes specifically in the white matter of prefrontal cortex (PFC) after SI during the juvenile stage. Despite these gene expression changes, myelin fiber organization in PFC remained unchanged. Surprisingly, we observed more mature oligodendrocytes and thicker myelin bundles in the somatosensory parietal cortex in socially isolated dogs, which may be linked to an increased expression of ADORA2A, a gene known to promote oligodendrocyte maturation. Additionally, we found a reduced expression of blood-brain barrier (BBB) structural components Aquaporin-4, Occludin, and Claudin1 in both PFC and parietal cortices, indicating BBB disruption after SI. In agreement with BBB disruption, myelin-related sphingolipids were increased in cerebrospinal fluid in the socially isolated group. These unexpected findings show that SI induces distinct alterations in oligodendrocyte development and shared disruption in BBB integrity in different cortices, demonstrating the value of dogs as a complementary animal model to uncover molecular mechanisms underlying SI-induced brain dysfunction.
... Numerous studies have been conducted assessing the efficacy of these treatment plans with varying degrees of success [11]. However, these protocols require significant investment of time, dedication and skill level from the owner, as well as financial costs of consulting a behavior professional [12]. Additionally, these interventions may not be as effective for separation-related behaviors motivated by emotional states other than anxiety, such as frustration or boredom when left on their own [2]. ...
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Simple Summary Dogs are a social species and may experience negative emotions when left alone even for short periods of time. This study explored the effectiveness of different food-based enrichments on engaging dogs, and alleviating potential negative emotional states caused by social isolation. The results indicated that dogs spent the most time interacting with a long-lasting chew. They also responded to this enrichment with the most positive and calm emotions when compared to a treat-dispensing toy and a smart treat-dispensing device. Long-lasting chews should be further explored as an enrichment for improving dog emotional wellbeing during periods of separation from their caregivers. Abstract Dogs may experience negative emotional states when isolated from human caregivers and conspecifics. This study aimed to evaluate how dogs interact with different enrichments during a short period of social isolation, as a first step towards identifying methods for improving their emotional wellbeing. Using a cross-over design, dogs (n = 20) at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute were exposed to four different food-based enrichments while left alone in a familiar room for 20 min: long-lasting chew (Chew), kibble in a treat-dispensing toy (Toy), and kibble dispensed through a smart treat-dispensing device with (Device + Voice) and without (Device) a person talking to the dog. Time spent engaging with each enrichment item and emotional valence and arousal (7-point scale collected every 5-min) were scored from videos. The results of linear mixed models indicated Chew was the most successful enrichment, with dogs having lower arousal scores (p < 0.05 vs. Device and Toy) during the first five minutes of isolation, higher positive valence scores (p < 0.05 vs. all) during the second five minutes of isolation, and spending the most total time engaged (p < 0.01 vs. all). Based on these findings, long-lasting chews should be further explored to assess their impact on dog emotional wellbeing.
... If a child is suffering from separation anxiety, the parents may feel uneasy and worry about their children. Children's SA also affects the operation of the family (Sargisson, 2014). Early anxiety not only affects children's function and development but also affects parents' cognition of family function and increases anxiety, depression, fatigue and health problems, followed by the breakdown of interpersonal relationships and the limitation of personal or social activities (Towe-Goodman et al., 2014). ...
... Studies about anxious and canine separation syndrome clarify that hyperactivity and inattention are explicit consequences of an anxious and dependent animal. Dogs that live in apartments or only have direct contact with the tutor, are more susceptible to develop signs of compulsive, hyperactivity and attention deficit [47,48]. ...
Episodic memory, in humans, is the memory most affected by age-related deterioration or the constitution of neurodegenerative pathologies, such as Alzheimer's disease. However, it is unknown whether this relationship is also present in nonhuman animals. Since studies in birds, rats, primates, and dogs have been shown to have episodic-like memory, more studies aiming to improve the present understanding of this relationship in nonhuman animals are important to aid the development of new translational models for neurodegenerative disorders. Knowing that dogs (Canis familiaris) represent a promising experimental model for neurodegenerative disorders, a memory retrieval test was conducted with 90 clinically healthy domestic dogs of different ages, both sexes, and distinct breeds, for the purpose of evaluating episodic-like memory. The present study adapted a test that corroborates episodic memory requirements through incidental codification of experienced events. We performed a test with two exposure phases, with different characteristics between them, so that in the third phase it was necessary to integrate previous experiences in order to achieve success in the test. In our study, it was possible to verify the decline of episodic memory in elderly dogs, even clinically healthy, regardless of the dogs' sex and size. This episodic-like memory decline observed in elderly dogs may be related to the physiological process of aging or preclinical pathological manifestation of cognitive impairment, similar as reported in humans. More studies should be carried out evaluating episodic-like memory in dogs with suspected of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome in order to better understand the physiological and pathological behavior of this type of memory in canine species.
... Pets that became accustomed to having someone always in their presence are now prone to experience separation anxiety once their owners begin to spend less time at home. In contrast, the pets that had separation anxiety issues prior to the pandemic and required behavioral medications may have improved significantly with owners being home to regulate and modify [58]. While these animals may have relied less on medications during the pandemic, it is possible that upon their owners' return to normal work and separation, there may be a strong need for dependence on medications once again. ...
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Access to human–animal interactions (HAI) have been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Service animals that were trained and accustomed to daily access to public places had to adjust to staying at home. Therapy animals and their handlers who previously visited with many of the populations most vulnerable to the virus have had to halt their programming. Professionals who utilize animal-assisted interventions (AAI) have had to develop new strategies for providing goal-oriented care. Even the landscape for companion animals has been significantly altered, leading to behavioral changes and new practices for pet owners and veterinarians. While animals and their human companions face new challenges, our recognition of the power of the human–animal bond (HAB) has grown, as it provides a vital need for connection during this time of isolation. In this paper, we will not only focus on describing the new status quo related to various kinds of animals and the public’s access to HAI, but will also offer suggestions for sharing the human–animal bond during a time in which physical connections are limited. Organizational insights from the service and therapy animal fields will be explored, and findings related to the auspiciousness of new initiatives, such as animal-related engagement (ARE), will be presented. Recommendations for people who share their lives with any of these kinds of animals will be made to ensure both human and animal welfare. Finally, future research and best practices will be suggested, so we can empirically understand and develop these revised offerings to ultimately bring HAI to a wider audience than ever before.
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Many dogs experience stress when separated from their caregivers, as well as when traveling in vehicles. Pet owners employ various approaches to managing these issues, from training, to giving medications and supplements, often with mixed results. Cannabidiol (CBD) can alleviate stress and anxiety in humans but the effect it has on canine stress is less well-documented. The present study aimed to understand the impact of being left alone and traveling in a car on measures of canine stress, and establish whether a single dose of a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-free CBD distillate could positively influence any measures of stress. In a blinded, parallel design study, a population of dogs were either left alone in a familiar room (n = 21) or underwent a short car journey (n = 19). A range of physiological and behavioral measures were collected pre, during and post-test. Significant changes in several stress-related measures (serum cortisol, mean ear temperature, heart rate, heart rate variability, whining and a stressed/anxious behavioral factor) were observed from baseline to test, with the car journey test paradigm eliciting a more pronounced stress response overall. The mitigating effect of CBD treatment varied by measure and test, with some indicating a significant reduction in canine stress compared to the placebo group. Additional research is required to fully understand the complex effect of CBD on canine wellbeing.
In this follow up study, we investigate a subset of 1,308 dogs whose owners (n = 1,048) described as having at least one form of fearful/anxious behavior. Using a self-reported questionnaire, owners were also asked to indicate the resolutions employed, including training methods and equipment, behavior modification programs, behavior modification and training techniques, medications, and forms of alternative medicine. Owners sought professional help for 50% of the fearful or anxious dogs. Nearly a quarter of the dogs were brought to a veterinarian for help; 15% of which were diagnosed with a medical condition contributing to the dog's misbehavior. Overall, reward-based training, mental stimulation, and habituation were associated with increased odds of improvement. For the specific fear/anxiety-based problems, various consultants and techniques or treatments were found beneficial. Inanimate fears benefited from the use of benzodiazepines, herbal remedies, and dietary changes. Animate fears had increased odds of improvement if the dog was brought to a behavior consultant, use of a relaxation protocol, and systematic desensitization. Situational fears benefitted from mental stimulation, a relaxation protocol, and short, frequent training sessions. Generalized anxiety had increased odds of improvement with nutraceutical therapy and enrollment in dog sporting activities. Negative odds of improvement were found if the dog had pre-existing aggression in conditions involving inanimate fears, situational anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Neutering (male or female) reduced odds of improvement for animate fears, as did consultation with a veterinarian or non-veterinary behaviorist and the use of benzodiazepines. Changes in management had a negative effect on treatment of situational fear/anxiety. Consulting a trainer and hormone therapy reduced odds of improvement with generalized anxiety disorder. Paradoxically, odds of improvement for post-traumatic stress disorder were reduced when increasing a dog's exercise level was employed in treatment.
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Separation Anxiety (SA) is a behavioral syndrome that may affect dogs of different ages and that is characterized by intense clinical signs. Traditional veterinary clinic efforts rely on harmful side effect drugs. Overall, homeopathy handles individual idiosyncrasies and susceptibilities and deal with them using a single medicine through the law of similarity. This study aimed to determine whether individualized homeopathic medicines have a greater effect than placebo for dogs suffering from SA or not, assessing its relation to behavioral settings, cortisol levels, and blood cells count before and after therapy. It also focused on setting a demographic profile of these dogs. Owners filled out a score questionnaire. Twenty-one dogs were recruited and repertorized in accordance to classical homeopathy. A pharmacist was responsible to randomize and dispense verum medicine or placebo. On the 30th day, reappraisal of owners were allowed altering the dispensed medicine. The final assessment occurred on the 60th day. In verum group, destructive behavior analysis had a significant statistical difference intra-group over the trial compared to the placebo group. The mean of cortisol levels in the placebo group was significantly higher on the 60th day of the trial when compared to the verum group, whose levels were sustained over the same period. Although evidenced behavioral improvements could be related to homeopathic preparations, it was not feasible to set any connection between homeopathic interventions, behavioral issues, and plasma components
Full-text available
Separation anxiety syndrome in animals is a behavioral disorder characterized by undesirable wanted behaviour showed by dogs when they are away from their attachment figures. In this study, with the goal of understanding the syndrome in indoor dogs from a suburb of the city of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro (RJ), two questionnaires were used: a questionnaire to identify separation anxiety syndrome in animals (QI-SASA) and a questionnaire of support. In the surveyed population, 55.9% of the dogs presented clinical signs of SASA, being the most frequent excessive vocalizations (53.8%), destructive behaviours (46.1%), and depressive behaviour (34.6%). The results also suggest a negative impact on the life quality of the owners and dogs.
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Dogs’ dysfunctional attachment relationships with their owners are assumed to be the underlying cause of separation anxiety. Thirty-two dogs with and 43 dogs without owner-reported separation anxiety (SA) participated in a formal attachment test (AT). After the AT, the dogs were videotaped for 30 minutes while alone at home. Dogs left free in the house were scored on how long they were in proximity to the owners’ exit doors. Dogs who were crated or closely confined were scored on several anxiety-related behaviors, which were then compared to those dogs’ behaviors during the attachment test. Dogs with SA spent no more time in contact with or proximity to their owners during the attachment test than dogs without SA (P>0.05). Instead, they tended to jump up on the door after the strangers left the room and remain stationary when alone with their owners (P0.05) between SA and non-SA dogs in the amount of time spent in proximity to the owners’ exit doors when left alone at home. Dogs crated at home showed no relationship between the amount of anxiety-related behaviors during the AT or at home (P>0.05). There was no significant difference in the type of proximity-seeking behaviors exhibited by dogs with and without SA in the home (P>0.02). These finding suggest that separation anxiety is not based on “hyperattachment” of the dog to the owner, but that a different attachment style may be present between dogs with and without SA.
Separation anxiety is one of the more prevalent and difficult to treat behavior problems in dogs. The associated behaviors can be undesirable to dog owners and damage the human animal bond, leading to relinquishment or return to an animal shelter. Due to the high prevalence of separation related problems in recently adopted shelter dogs, shelter staff hold a critical role in advising and educating owners on how to prevent separation anxiety post-adoption. The aim of this study was to propose a form of that preventive counseling as a means of preventing the development of separation anxiety in recently adopted shelter dogs. The efficacy of preadoption counseling in the education and prevention of separation anxiety problems was tested in a prospective, randomized, parallel-group study. Participants included 133 new owners of dogs 6 months of age and older. At the time of adoption, sixty-six of these owners were randomly selected to receive five minutes of counseling on the prevention of separation anxiety, while the remaining sixty-seven owners served as the controls. A follow-up survey regarding the signs associated with separation anxiety and other potentially related behaviors was conducted one month post adoption. Results showed that 19 owners reported their dogs as having separation anxiety. There was no significant effect of adoption counseling on the prevention of separation anxiety. Owners in both groups were equally as likely to perform most of the recommendations given during counseling. Dogs that were reported to have separation anxiety were significantly more likely than dogs without reported separation anxiety to show nervous or panicked behavior as the owner prepared to leave (p=0.0001) and were more likely to be reported as being “needy” (p=0.031). Having another dog in the home was not protective against the development of separation anxiety. Owners in the counseling group were more likely than those in the control group to put food inside a toy at the time of leaving the dog home alone (p=0.0001), suggesting the counseling recommendations were indeed followed by the owners. Owner compliance supports the idea that counseling is a useful tool for owners. Separation anxiety is a disorder whose course may be difficult to alter in recently adopted shelter dogs using only basic, interventional information. Brief counseling and a toy do not effectively prevent the occurrence of this complex behavioral condition. Further investigation should be done to find more specific, effective prevention tools for owners to use in the home to minimize the development of separation anxiety and shelter should be prepared to provide interventional resources to owners whose dogs develop separation anxiety despite these efforts.
Behavioral medications may be used to augment behavioral treatments for fear-based problems in dogs, particularly when the signs are severe or the feared stimulus is impossible to control. In some cases, a single pharmacologic treatment may not completely manage fear and thus multiple medications may be required. The objective of this study was to evaluate the use of an alpha-2 agonist clonidine for PRN (pro re nata) treatment of fear-based behavior problems in dogs that are hyporesponsive to other pharmacologic strategies. A total of 22 dogs of various breeds, age, and both genders determined to have fear-based behavior problems were divided into 2 groups, A and B, on the basis of their primary behavioral diagnosis. In group A, the primary diagnoses were separation anxiety, noise phobia, storm phobia, or a combination of these conditions. In group B, the primary diagnoses were fear aggression or a combination of fear and fear-based territorial aggression. Dogs in both groups were treated with PRN dose schedule of clonidine as well as behavior modification. In group A, the clinical outcome was compared with previous pharmacologic treatments according to owner assessments. Similarly, in group B, the clinical outcome was compared with previous treatments. In both groups, the most effective PRN dose of clonidine and any adverse effects were noted. According to global assessment by owners, 7 of the 10 owners (70%) in group A reported that clonidine was more effective as compared with the previously given medications. Of the 12 owners (92%) in group B, 11 reported that clonidine reduced the intensity of aggressive response of the dogs during the drug’s active phase. Only one adverse effect was reported and that involved a noise phobic dog displaying increased sound sensitivity. The results suggest that PRN use of clonidine may be useful in addition to being well tolerated for the treatment of fear-based behavior problems in dogs. Further studies are needed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of clonidine in dogs.
Behavioural signs of fear or anxiety on exposure to noises in owned domestic dogs have been suggested in clinical studies to be common and a significant welfare concern. In this study two approaches were taken to investigate the occurrence of, and risk factors for, these behaviours: a postal survey of dog owners to investigate general demographic factors (n = 3897), and a structured interview of a sub-set of owners to gather more detailed information (n = 383). Almost half of owners in the structured interview reported that their dog showed at least one behavioural sign typical of fear when exposed to noises, even though only a quarter had reported their dog as ‘fearful’ in the general survey. This difference indicates that even where owners recognise behavioural responses to noises, they may not interpret these as associated with altered subjective state in their dog. The difference in reported prevalence between the studies highlights the importance of methodological approach in owner questionnaire studies investigating behavioural signs.
The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of time left alone on dog behaviour and cardiac activity. Twelve privately owned dogs, with no history of separation related behaviour problems, were video-recorded on three different occasions when left alone in their home environment. The treatments lasted for 0.5h (T0.5); 2h (T2) and 4h (T4). Video-recording started 10min before the owner left the house and continued until 10min after the owner returned, so that interactions between dog and owner as well as behaviour during separation could be studied. Data on heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) were collected within the same time period in each treatment. In addition to analysing behaviours separately, behaviours were also grouped together and defined as new variables; physically active, attentive behaviour, vocal, interaction initiated by owner and interaction initiated by dog. There were no differences in behaviour between treatments at equivalent time intervals until the owner returned, although a number of differences were observed at reunion with the owner. Dogs showed a higher frequency of physical activity (P