In Wednesday’s Part I of our Separation Anxiety interview series, canine behavior specialist Nicole Wilde, author of Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety, described what separation anxiety really is, the causes, and how you can tell if your dog has it.
Yesterday’s Part II of the series described ways to manage your dog’s anxiety when you leave and how to build your dog’s confidence.
In today’s post, Nicole explores whether pharmalogical intervention is a good idea for dogs with separation anxiety, when it may be appropriate, and offers some alternative therapies that you may want to try before going down the pharma road.
As an aside, I searched for statistics regarding drug intervention for dogs with separation anxiety. Several pharmaceutical industries that make the medications reported their own statistical findings, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the governing body that approves drugs for animals, found some of the clinical trials and advertising misleading. Although the companies in question have revised their numbers, the curative results of their original statements still perpetuate throughout the web and were even cited at a recent veterinary conference I attended (the companies that reported the claims did not return my calls for comment).
Thus, do your own research to see if pharmaceutical intervention is right for your pup’s separation anxiety. Let us know through the comments section after this post if you’ve tried any therapies, holistic or prescription, that works and what you are doing to help your pooch worry less and enjoy life more!
OK, on to Nicole’s interview!
When is pharmacological intervention appropriate?
Some behaviorists seem to prescribe drugs for just about every behavior problem, even when the issue could be solved with behavior modification alone. Others in the profession believe that drugs can be extremely dangerous to dogs, and would never suggest their use to a dog owner regardless
of the behavior issue involved. In my opinion, the most helpful approach lies somewhere in between.
Drugs can be of great assistance in certain circumstances. When a dog’s issues are so extreme that he is injuring himself, or is in such emotional turmoil that behavior modification would be impossible without getting that “foot in the door” that medication can provide, drugs can be a kindness as well as a benefit. Using appropriate pharmacology can, in some cases, make the difference between the dog remaining in the home and being surrendered to the shelter—potentially a life or death decision. Medicating the dog allows for the stress levels of the owner to be lowered as well; this too can tip the scales in favor of the dog keeping his home.
Unfortunately, many owners turn to drugging their dogs as a replacement for dealing with the emotional distress that is causing the problematic symptoms. It’s all too tempting to simply toss pills at a problem! If the dog is calm, after all, the problem must be solved …Well, perhaps it is for the person. But using drugs as a quick fix is bound to have behavioral repercussions down the line, because it is only masking the underlying issues.
Another thing that must be considered with any drug is the potential side effects, especially with long-term use. Owners must be informed consumers so that they decide whether the potential risks are acceptable. Although I absolutely believe that drugs have their place, I prefer natural alternatives whenever possible. There are two nutraceuticals discussed in my book—alpha-casozepine and L-theanine—that have helped many of my clients’ dogs. The former is a peptide derived from a milk protein, and the latter is an amino acid. Both come in easy to administer formulations, and do not carry the worrisome side effects of manufactured drugs. Although they may not work in every case or be appropriate for every dog, in many cases these natural substances are very effective, and are certainly worth a try.
How about alternative therapies? Do they really work?
One alternative tool I like is DAP, which is short for Dog Appeasing Pheromone. It chemically mimics the pheromones that are given off by a lactating female dog, which is comforting not only to puppies, but to adult dogs as well. It looks like a plug-in air freshener (but you won’t smell anything), and also a spray form. I know many trainers who use the spray in their training rooms before group classes, and they report that the dogs are much calmer. Used for dogs with separation issues, DAP can take the edge off, and make moderate anxiety less so. One caution, though: do not use DAP if you have birds around, as birds have very sensitive respiratory systems.
Another thing that can be helpful is calming music. Playing soothing, classical music can help, but there is also a product called “Through a Dog’s Ear” that has music that is psychoacoustically designed to calm dogs. I’ve seen it work well with many of my clients’ dogs. They relax, and many will actually go to sleep!
Whether it’s one of the two above-mentioned tools or one of the others discussed in the “Cool Tools” section of the book, it’s important to keep in mind that one thing will not work for every dog. But because these therapies and products won’t cause harm and may well help, they are certainly worth trying.
Can all dogs be treated for SA, or are there cases when SA is too severe? What do you recommend at that point?
It’s likely that the vast majority of dogs with separation issues can improve to a great extent, but there are some cases that can be an extreme challenge. The problem is not only that the dog’s emotional distress is so strong, but also that dealing with the issue and living with it 24/7 takes a huge emotional toll on the owner. It is unfortunate but understandable that people might not be willing to work with this type of issue long-term. I strongly suggest that owners work with a canine behavior specialist before they give up; it may be that something the professional comes up with is the one thing that makes all the difference. But in cases where the issue cannot be resolved and the owner can no longer deal with it, rehoming the dog with someone such as an elderly or infirm person who is at home the majority of the time can be a good option.
What is the one take-away that you hope people will take away from your book?
In addition to readers getting lots of helpful, specific tips and techniques to try, I hope they come away with the willingness to be patient and to remain compassionate. It can sometimes feel like a long road to rehabilitation—believe me, I know! But you will and your dog will both be much less stressed in the end—and your dog is worth it.
Part I of this interview series: Nicole discusses the definitions, causes, how we can help the suffering dog, and clues about separation anxiety with adopting a dog.
Part II of this interview series: Nicole offers advice about how to help your dog feel safer and calmer through management techniques and protocols, discusses the crate controversy, and provides tips and suggestions for building your dog’s confidence.
Nicole Wilde is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and internationally recognized author and lecturer. Her nine books include So You Want to be a Dog Trainer, Help for Your Fearful Dog, and Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety. In addition to working with dogs, Nicole has worked with wolves and wolfdogs for over fifteen years and is considered an expert in the field.
Nicole is on the Advisory Board of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, the educational branch for the International Institute for Applied Companion Animal Behavior, and an Advisory Board member for the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Nicole writes an Ask the Expert column for Modern Dog Magazine, and blogs for Dog Star Daily, Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Expert blog, and her own site, Wilde About Dogs. You can find Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Wilde, Author and on Twitter at @NicoleWilde.