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Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

Isolation and Separation Anxiety

Isolation and separation anxiety are the most common specific anxieties we see in companion dogs. While similar, they are different. If you believe your dog is experiencing Isolation or Separation Anxiety – (even if the puppy is very young) – reach out for help immediately. These types of anxieties generally do not resolve themselves without help. They can be improved and be managed but isolation and separation anxieties are some of the tougher problems we see in the world of dog training.

Isolation Anxiety: When separated from a people or other animals, the dog exhibits anxiety or stress related behaviors. For example, as long as a person is home a dog will not be triggered or stressed. However, if the dog is alone – and no one is home, the dog will start to exhibit stress and anxiety.

Separation Anxiety: When separated from a particular person or another pet the dog exhibits anxiety or stress related behaviors. For example, if a dog is very attached to his mom, if she leaves he will become triggered and stressed even if dad or other people are at home.

Dogs that suffer from severe isolation or separation anxiety will bark, howl, destroy surroundings and may try to escape their crate, yard or home. It’s important to get management and training solutions implemented as soon as you detect the anxiety because anxious behaviors usually do not improve with age, they usually escalate.

As certified trainers we’ve worked with many dogs suffering from Isolation and Separation Anxiety. It’s not the easiest behavior to modify but it can be done. Give us a call today!

Causes of Fear, Phobias and Anxiety in Dogs

Any physical or mental trauma (real or perceived), illness or painful physical condition increases anxiety and contributes to the development of fears, phobias, and anxieties. Some of the causes of fear, phobias and anxieties include but are not limited to the following:

  • Fear from a traumatic experience; dog may have been forced into an unfamiliar and frightening experience
  • Dogs that are deprived of social and environmental exposure until 14 weeks of age may become habitually fearful.
  • Phobias and panic may have a history of inability to escape or get away from the stimulus causing the phobia and panic, such as being locked in crate
  • Separation anxiety: history of abandonment, multiple owners, rehoming, or prior neglect are common experiences; exacerbating the condition may be that the dog has been often abandoned or rehomed because of separation anxiety. 
  • Most fears, phobias, and anxieties can often be determined at a young age (even at 4-6 weeks old) if we now what to look for. Additionally, many anxious and fearful develop at the onset of social maturity, from 12 to 36 months of age. A profound form of fear and withdrawal of unknown cause occurs at 8 to 10 months of age. Whenever an anxious or fearful response is triggered, it’s important to start working with the dog immediately to decrease its reactivity.
  • Old-age-onset separation anxiety is not uncommon and often results in a decline in thinking, learning, and memory in elderly dogs.

Diagnosis of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

We recommend a visit to your veterinarian to have your dog assessed for fear and anxiety.  As trainers we do not diagnose conditions – we do assess behavior and your dog’s responses various triggers. Listed below are a few

Your veterinarian will first want to rule out other conditions that might be causing the behavior, such as thyroid conditions, injuries etc. Veterinarians usually run urine, blood and other standard tests.

If your veterinarian diagnoses a fear, anxiety, or phobia, a prescribed medication may help a great idea.  Your vet will most likely make recommendations based on your individual dog regarding the fear and anxiety triggers.  At Canine Path we like to work with veterinarians to develop a training and behavior modification plan. As trainers we can come to your home, assess your dog in his environment/other appropriate environments and help owners implement training and behavior modification protocols.  

Training and behavior modification needs to be implemented by the owner! You will need to teach your dog to relax in a variety of environmental settings. Avoid reassuring the dog when it is in the midst of experiencing fear or panic; the dog may interpret this as a reward for its behavior. Encourage calmness, but do not reinforce the fear reaction. Remember that not all dogs are calmer when crated; some dogs panic when caged and will injure themselves if forced to be confined. Absolutely avoid punishment for behavior related to fear, phobia, or anxiety.

In our experience dogs with severe anxieties, fear and phobias when on the right medication and receive appropriate training, management and behavior modification can make great improvements

Solutions for Anxious, Fearful Behaviors

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are most effective training techniques if the fear, phobia, or anxiety is treated early. Obtaining the expertise of a trainer experienced with reactive, fearful or anxious dogs familiar with these types of behavior problems can be crucial to helping your dog.

When we work with a reactive dog the goal is to decrease the reaction to a specific stimulus (such as lunging at motorcycles).

  • Desensitization is the repeated, controlled exposure to the stimulus that usually causes a fearful or anxious response in such a way that the dog does not respond with the undesirable response. With repeated efforts, the goal is to decrease the dog’s undesirable response.
  • Counter-conditioning is training the dog to perform a positive behavior in place of the negative behavior (in this case, fear or anxiety). In essence we work your dog below his threshold (the point where he becomes anxious or fearful). By working with your dog on a regular basis in a low stress environment we can

For example, teach your dog to sit and stay, and when your dog performs appropriately you can reward it him with his favorite treat or toy. Then, when your dog is in a situation where it might show the undesirable response, have it sit and stay. The signs involved in an oncoming anxiety attack are subtle; learn to recognize the physical signs associated with the fears, phobias, and anxieties and head the behavior off before it has a chance to take over your dog’s behavior.

Prevention of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

In 2009, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) released a position paper outlining the importance of puppy socialization before the puppy reaches 12 to 16 weeks old. The AVSAB encourages owners to take their pets to puppy classes as early as possible, even before puppies have completed their full vaccination series. Socializing your puppy with gentle, well cared for, vaccinated friendly dogs will help your puppy learn to properly interact with other dogs at a young age. Early and continued socialization should continue to yield pleasant, friendly interactions with other dogs throughout his lifetime.

According to Dr. RK Anderson, “the  risk  of  a  dog  dying  because  of  infection  with  Distemper or Parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem.” For more information as to why this is so important, click here

Puppies and dogs that are deprived of social and environmental exposure until 14 weeks of age may become habitually fearful, which can be avoided with proper exposure and interactions with people, dogs and environmental stimuli during this formative time.

If you have adopted an adult or older dog that is displaying fearful, anxious behaviors – we recommend contacting a trainer and a veterinarian for help.  Click here for more information from Canine Path: Help for Shy, Phobic, Fearful Dogs.


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