Separation anxiety is a behavior that many dogs begin to exhibit when away from their pack, or family. As the name implies, they are literally “anxious” about being “separated” from their pack.
However, this “anxiety” can be as mild as: excessive drooling, barking and hyperventilation… to more extreme behaviors such as: self-mutilation, chewing anything and everything in sight, jumping through glass windows, and literally chewing through drywall… and even doors!
Separation anxiety also happens to be one of the most difficult behavior problems to fix… especially if you work a normal job and cannot spend days struggling with incremental improvement in your dog’s situation. And of course, as a professional dog trainer, I’m always interested in anything that can make behavior modification work faster and easier.
So when I heard about the new canine drug Clomicalm being a sort of “doggie Prozac”… I got excited. A Newsletter/Web page created by San Carlos Veterinary Hospital, states that: “In April, 1998 the pharmaceutical company Novartis won approval from the European Commission to market a drug named Clomicalm to treat separation anxiety in dogs. The US FDA gave similar approval for Clomicalm in December, 1998.
The same drug, known by the brand name Anafranil (generic name clomipramine hydrochloride), has been used for years to treat depression in humans. Novartis conducted studies in late 1997 and early 1998 involving various combinations and of clomipramine and behavior modification. Dr. Patrick Melese conducted one of the studies at the Tierrasanta Veterinary Hospital here in San Diego.
One of our canine customers, an 11 year-old English Springer Spaniel named Molloy, took part in that study. The San Carlos Veterinary Hospital’s full article is at:http://www.sancarlosvet.com/AskTheDoc/Clomicalm.html
So, I decided to investigate a bit more. Without going into detail about my full investigation and findings about the drug itself, let me first point out that the behavioral approach to fixing separation anxiety outlined on the Novartis Web Site (the maker of Clomicalm) was excellent. In fact, I don’t think I could have said it more concisely myself.
So, here it is: The Advice on the Novartis Site Suggests You Should: Before Leaving : Pay no attention to your dog for 10-30 minutes before going out. Note: When you leave, make it low key, without elaborate good-byes. Just walk out the door. Leave a special toy or a treat to distract the dog when you go out and remove the item upon your return. Note: Make this something special, like a food-filled treat, so that your leaving is associated with something positive.
The treat should also occupy your dog during those critical first moments after your departure. When Returning: Ignore dog until he is quiet and relaxed, then interact on owner’s initiative. Note: You may not realize it, but even eye contact can be rewarding to a dog seeking attention. Interact with your dog only when he is quiet, thus rewarding his calm behavior. Do not reprimand dog for destructive behavior or for urinating or defecating in the house. Note: No matter what you find when you get home, remember that your dog could not control himself when you were away. Punishment will not help, and will only increase his anxiety.
At Home: Interact with your dog only at your initiative and when the dog is relaxed. Note: Again, show your dog that you like to play with him when he’s calm and relaxed. To encourage independence, avoid constant physical contact with your dog. Encourage him to lie down near you, but not in contact with you. Teach your dog to stay calm as you move away; gradually increase distance and time away. Note: Teach your dog to be alone, little by little. Have him sit or lie down and stay in place as you back away, praising his calm behavior. Gradually increase your distance and tome away, to help him become more independent, and cope with being alone.
Put your coat on or play with your keys at times other than departure. Note: Certain cues tell your dog that you’re getting ready to leave. When he sees these, he begins to panic. This technique will help him become indifferent to those cues. The link to this page is at:http://www.clomicalm.com/frameindex.html
A Few More Separation Anxiety Tips That May Make Your Life Easier
1.) Don’t leave your dog free run of the house or yard. Instead, leave him in a crate or kennel run. If your dog tries to chew or destroy either the crate or kennel run, you’re going to have to upgrade to more professional equipment. Regarding dogs the exhibit extreme separation anxiety and try to chew through plastic crates, or break wire frame crates… you’ll need to buy a full metal crate.
Once the dog learns he can break out of a crate, he’ll keep trying until he is successful. But with a full metal crate, it is impossible. And you’ll find that he will eventually give up and metaphorically “cry himself to sleep.” Because the dog learns that he cannot break or escape from this type of crate (in other words, the behavior is not rewarded)… then he will eventually drop this behavior. And later can switch back to a normal crate.
I did a quick search on Excite, and came up with the following web address. It’s a company that sells the type of metal crates I’m talking about: http://www.pet-expo.com/cratebox.htm Note: If you don’t need to, just use the standard Vari-kennel type crate to confine your dog. The all-metal crates can be pretty expensive!
2.) Use a two foot, plastic coated cable tie-down. You’ll probably need to make one of these at your local hardware store, because they’re hard to find. Trim the plastic about two inches or so from each end. Make a small loop on one end by running it through a small bracket, and then crimp it so that it stays. On the other end, do the same, but attach a small harness snap. You should use the cable-tie down by attaching it to an eye-bolt you fasten to a wall in your house. Or alternatively, just loop the cable tie-down around the foot of a heavy dresser or bed.
The cable tie-down is for indoor use, only. If the dog doesn’t have a problem with chewing, you can use the cable tie-down instead of a crate. Attach the training collar to the tie-down, and if the dog starts to get hyper-active, he’ll actually self-correct. And because the tie down is only 2 feet, you don’t need to worry about him getting himself wrapped up in anything (assuming you use common sense regarding where you attach the tie-down.) I’d also recommend that you keep the dog on the tie-down, or in the crate, while you’re home (per the reasoning outlined above.)
But what about the drugs, Adam? We want to know about the magic drugs!!!
Well, unfortunately (or fortunately) I came upon an abstract in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine which reported the results of a study done to assess the effectiveness of Clomipramine on separation anxiety and canine compulsive disorder.
To summarize: The study was done on 51 dogs suffering from separation anxiety, and it stretched over a period of 4 weeks. As far as I can tell, the study seems pretty scientific. (I.E., they took into account control groups, placebos, etc…)
The long term results of the study showed that, “Of the 51 dogs, 6 were lost to follow-up. Follow up of the remaining 45 dogs showed that ALL DOGS CONTINUED THEIR BEHAVIORS, NONE WERE CURED after 4 weeks of treatment with clomipramine. Clomipramine had been stopped in 32 of these dogs because the owners considered it either INEFFECTIVE or not sufficiently effective (24/32), adverse effects (3/32), or the owner concerns over cost or the continued use of psychotropic drugs (5/32). Clomipramine therapy was continued after the study in the remaining 13 dogs and was considered effective in 6/13, somewhat effective in 3/13, and ineffective in 4/13.” So… draw your own conclusions.
I think that if I adopted a dog tomorrow that turned out to have symptoms of separation anxiety, I’d probably try the drugs in conjunction with the behavior modification techniques described earlier in this article. But for me, the verdict is not in. Personally, I feel that separation anxiety is a result of relational issues between the owner and the dog. And at best, the drug (if it works) will only help to take the edge off and speed the recovery process.
Fixing separation anxiety can be a long and arduous process. I wish you the best of luck.