One of my recent appointments was with Ms. Smith and her little white dog “Puff”. Today I was seeing “Puff” for a behavior problem then she was leaving him with us for the day, I assumed for a bath. Puff is a three year old 24 pound Bichon Poodle mix I have only seen for routine vaccines. Today Ms. Smith wanted to discuss his separation anxiety so I sat down across from her and started to listen. Puff sat down too as if he was joining the meeting and looked at me with sweet brown eyes peering out from a white poof of bangs. Ms. Smith stated he always had this problem but she needs some help now. Over the Christmas holiday “Puff” broke out of a plastic kennel, actually chewed through it, and was free in the house when the owners arrived home. He had pulled pillows off of the sofa and comforters off of beds and drug laundry around. Over Spring Break he stayed with Ms. Smith’s mother and his new wire kennel was next to a window in the kitchen. He pulled a chair close to the kennel and ate the front edge off of the chair. The following day he bent the kennel wires, escaped and pulled all of the window treatments off of the front part of the house and destroyed them. Ms. Smith picked up another wire kennel and re –enforced it with metal clips and such. Again, he escaped during the time she took her daughter to school. At this point I leaned down and patted my leg and asked “Puff” who had still been attending the meeting, to come over to me.
To my surprise the dog still had all of his teeth. The reason “Puff” was staying with us for the day was because Ms. Smith needed to go to San Antonio for the day and her new “Escape – proof aluminum kennel” with welded corners and medium sized breathing holes and 2 inch wide aluminum bars in the front had not been delivered yet and her other three kennels were in pieces in a pile in her garage and she could not leave the dog at home alone. We discussed behavior modification and Ms. Smith had been doing several exercises that were beneficial. I was impressed with Ms. Smith’s commitment and her research and willingness to help the little dog but it was clear this dog needed to have some medication to help with his increasing anxiety level. During our discussion, there were other factors that obviously contributed to the escalation in “Puff’s” destructive behavior. Separation anxiety is fairly common in dogs. Some dogs may have a mild case and whine or pace for the first few minutes after the owner leaves or can be severe as seen with “Puff” and everything in between. Causes of separation anxiety can vary from moving to a new home or over indulging a new puppy, or in some cases adult dogs that are abandoned by their original owners, can develop this issue. Signs of separation anxiety include pacing, panting, and circling when you are about to leave the house, the dog blocks the door and physically tries to prevent you from leaving, or destructive behavior in your absence. Some exercises to try are to “practice” are: 1) giving your dog a space of his own for very short periods of time while you are home (a crate with a special toy, separate room with a radio on). Start with 5 minutes and work your way up. The idea is to get the dog comfortable being alone. 2) Give your dog a chew toy or a Kong with frozen stuffing in it to be occupied for 20-30 minutes after you leave as a diversion. 3) When you return home and your dog is frantic, barking, howling, to be released from the kennel, WAIT to release your pet (this is for ANY dog). Reward the dog when it has calmed down by letting it out of the crate. If you let it out while it is whining and barking, then you are rewarding that behavior and it is unlikely to stop. Finally, there are situations when the dog requires medications or supplements to assist. There is a supplement made by Vetri-Science called “Composure” that is a “natural” supplement chew that comes in two sizes (small and large dog). I have not used it yet, but have heard very good reviews and will definitely try it on my Labrador, Zeke, when he has to go to boarding or grooming. I have ordered this for “Puff” and he will be placed on a prescription medication for 60 days to see if that helps. This problem is very complex. If you feel your quality of life is affected by your dog’s anxiety when you leave, ask your veterinarian for help. There are many things you can do to remedy this difficult situation.