Treating dogs with severe separation anxiety

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Okay, I know this reply sounds odd, given that the caller probably has an aggressive dog she wants help with and knows my specialty is animal behavior, but that’s what I wanted to say. In the dog obedience world, one or two celebrity dog trainers or animal handlers (who have probably never taken a psychology course in their lives or at least never paid attention in class) come along and decide they will elevate the status of what they do by calling their practices canine rehabilitation. Behavioral medications can make a significant difference in the management of a variety of problems. If behavioral medication is indicated, but the client is reluctant, discussing specific concerns educates the client about the benefits of medication. Semiannually for patients over 8 years of age that are receiving behavior drugs, or more frequently if there are concurrent medical issues of concern. Unless sedation is the goal, such as during thunderstorms for phobic dogs, nonsedating drugs are used, so sleepiness should not be an issue. Management of any problem behavior requires recognizing and avoiding the stimuli that trigger the behavior in question. In these patients, the addition of behavioral drug therapy can significantly improve response to treatment. There is some flexibility with regard to prescribing medication relative to the behavior modification plan.
If drug therapy is unequivocally indicated (eg, severe separation anxiety or severe fear, including fear-aggressive behavior), ideally prescribe it during the same appointment as the behavior assessment, which incorporates it into the entire behavior management plan. Asking her to lie down on a previously specified mat while the owner is entertaining (alternative behavior).
Before starting drug therapy in any animal, regardless of age, physical health, or category of drug, a medical history (including current medications) and physical examination are indicated, along with analysis of blood and urine. Longer-term therapy (eg, years for animals whose behavior is not adequately responsive to behavior modification alone). Loading period: The initial loading period of some drugs should be considered when planning therapy and duration of treatment. FDA-approved drugs for use in dogs with specific behavior problems, such as fluoxetine (veterinary product no longer available) and clomipramine for separation anxiety and selegiline for cognitive dysfunction syndrome; however, administration for other behaviors, such as anxiety-based aggression, is extra-label. Abrupt discontinuation of medication may cause rebound anxiety or exacerbate behavior problems.
Fluoxetine (no longer available as a veterinary product) and clomipramine were approved by the FDA for use in canine separation anxiety; either agent can be beneficial for other anxiety-related problems. Table 2 lists the behavioral medications for use in dogs discussed in this section, along with doses and side effects. In cases when sedation or an extra boost of anxiolysis would be helpful, shorter-acting drugs can be given on an as-needed (PRN) basis; examples are benzodiazepines (eg, alprazolam) or trazodone.
Drugs in this class may vary significantly in their clinical effect for individual patients.
Because trazodone, SSRIs, TCAs, and MAOIs boost serotonin levels, their use in combination (any 2 of these drugs together) may potentially trigger serotonin toxicity, or serotonin syndrome, a potentially fatal reaction. However, monotherapy with an antidepressant (or the PRN benzodiazepine) is recommended initially so that side effects can be identified and linked to the drug being administered. To further effect anxiolysis or other behavior change, nonpharmaceutical agents can also be added to therapy (Table 3).
Follow-up is critical in management of behavior cases, not only for dose adjustment and changes in choice of drug, but also for feedback on modification, implementation, and progress.
Address any confounding or comorbid medical problems associated with the behavior problem, including pain, sensory decline, or hypersensitivity. Human-directed aggression is the most common canine behavior complaint; fear or self-defense is the most frequent reason for aggression. Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVB, is a veterinary behaviorist and consultant in Media, Pennsylvania.
The techniques used most commonly to modify dog behavior include habituation, extinction, desensitization, counterconditioning, and shaping.
Most of the techniques involved in behavior modification are not hard to learn and can be successfully used as preventive techniques. Look for trainers who use positive reinforcement for good behavior rather than punishment for unacceptable behavior.
Reinforcement is any event that increases the chances that a certain behavior will be repeated.
Because there is often an association between getting the reward and the intensity of the behavior, the intensity or frequency of the behavior you are trying to eliminate usually increases at the beginning of extinction.
Avoidance of a problem behavior is essential until you can seek qualified help, particularly in a case of aggression.
Counterconditioning is a method for reducing unwanted behavior by teaching the dog to replace it with another more favorable behavior.


Your veterinarian may, in some cases, prescribe medication to help treat a behavior problem of your pet. In recent years there has been an increase in the use of medication to treat a variety of behavior problems in pets (see Behavior of Dogs: Drugs Used to Treat Behavior Problems in Dogs). If medication is used without behavior modification or environmental changes (and even when it is used with these techniques in some cases), the unwanted behavior may return once the medication is discontinued. Despite these limitations, medication has the potential to be very helpful in a wide range of pet behavior problems, including fear-related problems like separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobias, compulsive behaviors like lick granulomas, and some types of aggression. Their goal was to distinguish training of simple behaviors (such as sit and lie down or training dogs to greet nicely instead of jumping) from fixing more complex behaviors such as attacking people and other dogs.
The word rehabilitation already has an official definition and veterinarians and human physical therapists can get certification in canine or animal rehabilitation through at least one veterinary university, the University of Tennessee as well as through another well-established veterinary organization, the Canine Rehabilitation Institute. As a reminder, with human behavioral problems and disorders, the word behavior modification is used to describe the scientific techniques used to modify behavior.
Yin is a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, author, and international expert on Low Stress Handling. Cattle Dog Publishing takes scientific principles of animal behavior and creates practical applications that are easy to understand and accessible for everyday use.
Most important, they can help facilitate a positive outcome in otherwise complicated behavior cases. The only personality characteristics targeted for change with drug therapy are those associated with anxiety and reactivity, or such problems as repetitive (compulsive) behavior. If unexpected sedation is a side effect of behavioral medication, the drug dose can be reduced or a different medication can be prescribed. However, the term behavior modification is vague and depends upon the individual patient and behavior being addressed.
The term differently is intentionally nonspecific because it is tailored to the individual animal and context in which the problem behavior occurs.
Thus, behavior modification can play an important role in management of a problem behavior. When underlying anxiety is reduced, the dog is more receptive to learning and its behavior can change more reliably in the long-term. Reducing this anxiety often improves the problem behavior directly or decreases stress, raising the threshold for reactivity, fear responses, and other behaviors. It may be advisable to have the owner sign a release form that lists the risks, limitations, and potential adverse effects of the drug being prescribed. Benzodiazepines are anxiolytic drugs and, used longer-term, can elicit anxiolysis without sedation. Unfortunately, administration of a behavior drug often pushes these efforts to the back of the line.
This lag period can be helped by use of a more immediately effective anxiolytic, such as trazodone, but consider educating clients that the beginning of drug administration can mimic a long ride on a slow-motion roller coaster.
Scislowicz, BS, LVT CVCA – Cardiac Care for Pets, Richmond, Virginia Pericardial effusion is considered a cardiac emergency situation that is most commonly seen in canine patients. A behavior modification technique called flooding, described below, is not used very often because it is more likely to make animals worse.
Such trainers are either ignoring or do not understand the complexities of animal behavior.
In other words, a behavior you are trying to extinguish may get worse before it gets better. Shaping works through gradual approximations and allows the dog to be rewarded initially for any behavior that resembles the desired behavior. With treatment it may be possible to reduce the aggressive behavior, but avoidance is the key in minimizing danger.
If a puppy gets overexcited at the sound of the doorbell, a tape recording of the doorbell could help stop the undesirable behavior. Drug treatment for almost any behavior change is most useful when combined with behavior modification. Her “pet-friendly” techniques for animal handling and behavior modification are shaping the new standard of care for veterinarians and petcare professionals. While it is not uncommon for behavioral drugs to cause transient sedation initially, it can often be avoided by starting with a lower dosage, then increasing it over several weeks to the desired dose. Slow discontinuation also allows the owner to report any reappearance of the behavior problem, in which case a lower, but effective, dose can be continued or the original dose resumed. At the doses typically used in veterinary behavioral medicine such reactions are rare, but the potential for them indicates monitoring the dog’s response.
However, it is important to keep in mind that any psychotropic drug may cause increased agitation or aggression.


Most important, they can facilitate a positive outcome in otherwise complicated behavior cases. When positive reinforcement (a reward) is used in training, there is a positive relationship between the behavior and its consequences. The word rehabilitation is most commonly used for those undergoing treatment for alcohol or other drug addictions but it’s also used for treatment of criminals.
He tends to countersurf only when people are away, or in a different room, even after he's gone through the Learn to Earn program, had thousands of rewards for more appropriate behavior and no opportunity to countersurf for several weeks. For punishment (such as screaming at the dog) to be successful, it must occur at the beginning of the behavior, be consistently delivered, and be strong enough to stop the unwanted behavior. This squatting behavior is then rewarded only when it becomes more exaggerated, and finally, when it becomes a true sit. Once this behavior is learned, the desensitization is added by playing the tape recording at a gradually increasing volume. To be most successful, punishment must occur as early as possible (within a few seconds of the start of the behavior), and it must be consistent and appropriate.
As a result, there will always be some element of trial and error in determining whether a particular medication will help solve a behavior problem. By associating the clicker with a reward, you can train the dog to sit and stay from farther away and still reward the behavior by using the clicker.
Critical factors in punishment include timing, consistency, appropriate intensity, and the presence of a reward after the undesirable behavior ends. So, in a nutshell, the person or people who popularized the term rehabilitation, meaning fixing of behavior problems in dogs, put little thought into their choice of the term and had a narrow view of the field of dog handling, care and training. A negative reinforcement (which is mistakenly thought of as punishment by many people) is something unpleasant that increases a behavior when it is removed.
This is the most frequently ignored part of treatment for people whose pets have behavior problems. Most of the medications used for behavior problems in pets were designed for use in people. Resistance to extinction can also occur even without reinforcement if the reward was good enough and was tightly linked to the behavior. Few have been directly approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in animals, although such use is not prohibited. Once again, various behavior modification techniques provide the tools to fix these behaviors.
Then the set-up has to remain consistent until ONLY the new desired behavior (of staying on the floor) is a habit. The exercises must be frequently repeated so that the unwanted behavior decreases until it is no longer a problem.
In some situations involving problem behaviors, the incorrect use of a clicker may hinder, rather than help, a behavior modification program. Given that our shelters are already filled with unwanted dogs, another surrender, especially one with behavioral issues, is most likely a death sentence for the dog.Dog medication provides a last resort alternative for such dogs. This is in contrast to dog medication, which just suppresses the symptoms.Sadly, many dogs get medicated for life, simply because it is an easy alternative for stopping destructive behaviors. The rush to the medicine bottle for easily resolved problems like canine obesity — “Just feed the dog less!” — shows a disturbing parallel to the human approach to health care, he says.
Nurture Dog Behavior Modification To some, the argument for dog medication comes down to nature vs. However, these genetic predispositions can often be managed, re-conditioned, and redirected towards healthy and acceptable activities.Except in the most extreme cases, this can be achieved with behavior modification techniques alone, and without the need for any dog medication. Most dog behavioral problems have solutions that only require some of our time and patience. Shiba Inu Sephy does not like 'existence' in a dog medicated haze.Finally, there are those extreme cases where the owner is unwilling or unable to correct the problem behaviors through training.
I think that this will differ on a case by case basis, depending on the severity of the behavioral issue, and the temperament of the dog in question.
We consider dog separation anxiety, how to relieve our dogs stress, and stop his destructive behaviors.



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