Q: I recently acquired a 2½-year-old dachshund-Chihuahua mixed female. She came from a home with three adults, four other dogs and kids. I live alone so she instantly developed separation anxiety, because she had never been all by herself.
I have used many of the tips on how to treat/deal with separation anxiety and crate training, and we are making some progress.
Asserting the fact that I am the pack leader, simple obedience training, leaving a radio or TV on, increasing the length of time in the crate, plenty of praise, and/or treats, putting T-shirts with my scent on them into the crate, dog-calming medications that seem to make her worse, are just some of the things that I have tried. Getting a companion dog for her is out of the question.
But then life happens and I HAVE to leave the house, so I have to put her in the crate. Once she realizes that I’m gone, she has a panic attack and destroys her bedding and the plastic tray liner, and/or escapes from the crate and attacks the entry doors of my house, trying to get out and get to me.
My vet advises that I hire an animal behaviorist. It’s only been one month since she came to live with me. My question is, since Cinnamon and I are making progress, how long should I work on my own, before I spend the money to hire a behaviorist?
— M.S., Akron
A: Dogs with separation-related distress problems can be quite a handful for you, your home and really need dedicated owners to be successful. She needs an owner with your apparent dedication and bond.
It is interesting that although we know a lot about this problem in canines, we still do not know all the triggers. The best we can say is that working breed dogs and those from shelters are over-represented in this population.
Additionally, dogs with this problem are at a greater risk than non-separation anxiety dogs to develop noise phobias, more often thunderstorm phobia.
As for Cinnamon, her level of fear is akin to that of a panic attack in humans as evidenced by her destruction. I fear for her safety when alone as I see many of these patients through the Behavior Clinic and many harm themselves in their attempts to break free of their environments. Although you are seeing progress, I would encourage you to seek help soon so that it can be expedited to reduce the chances that she will hurt herself.
You mentioned many different interventions to have occurred in the first month of her ownership. I would say the one thing that stood out to me is that you stated medications have made her worse. Many medications are available in a plethora of drug classes. Some of the staples I use in my patients take over a month to fully load and, therefore, I am guessing those have not been tried yet.
Additionally, short-acting anti-anxiety medications are available in many different classes of drugs so an adverse reaction to one does not mean another will do the same. This means that there could be help out there for her even still with this intervention route.
Consult www.avsabonline.org for a list of available veterinarians in the behavior field.
— Dr. Elizabeth Feltes, DVM,
The Behavior Clinic, Animal Behavior of Northeast Ohio, Olmsted Falls
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