Curing canine separation anxiety: Curse of the working class (Proceedings)
As applied to animals, the terms anxieties, fears and phobias refer to a continuum. Anxieties are vague general reactions of uncertainty, fears are reactions to specific objects or stimuli, and phobias are extreme or irrational fears out of proportion to the real threat of the stimulus. Some authorities would reserve the concept of phobias for humans as a pathological syndrome, with a verbal component that cannot be applied to animals.
Probably most fear- or anxiety-related reactions of animals stem from normal reactions to stimuli or situations which, in a natural wild environment, would be adaptive. This is true of fear reactions to loud auditory stimuli and to strangers, as well as separation anxiety and submissive urination. Through habituation, and possibly maturation, these emotional reactions diminish. Adverse experiences with specific stimuli, such as with abuse by a person or persons may result in fear reactions or enhancement of normal fears.
The therapeutic goal is to desensitize the emotional reactions through habituation or extinction of acquired fears using structured training sessions and remove any reward the animal may get from displaying the emotional reaction.These topics are discussed extensively in Hart, Hart and Bain, Canine and Feline Behavior Therapy , 2nd edition, 2006, Blackwell Press.
This is a common problem in families where both adults work. It is the first problem behavior for which a psychotropic drug was approved in the U.S.
There usually is an occurrence of several types of misbehavior, including chewing woodwork and furniture, excessive vocalization, inappropriate urination and defecation, indicating that the dog is emotionally upset when left alone by the owners. These signs occur also as manifestations of other problems. The main diagnostic feature is that these signs occur only when the owner is gone. Usually these signs occur within the first few minutes of the owner's departure. Sometimes owners give excessive attention to the dog prior to departures and upon returning, which may enhance the contrast between the owner being at home and away. Most signs of separation distress occur within 30 minutes of separation.
The primary diagnostic challenge is to confirm that the problem behaviors occur when the dog is left alone. Differentiate separation anxiety from other types of anxiety (noise phobia), boredom, inappropriate elimination, urine marking, and cognitive dysfunction. An easy way to do this is videotape the animal when the owner is gone.