One of the most commonly reported problems from dog owners is their dogs’ behavior while they are away. Destructive chewing, excessive barking, urinating in odd places like the bed or in a pair of shoes are all common behaviors seen in dogs with separation anxiety. This anxiety can stem from different reasons depending on each animal’s specific situation. Maybe they are high strung due to not enough exercise or too many carbs in their diet and have no way to use up that energy. Perhaps the high intelligence of the dog, for example, a Border Collie, is not given an outlet to keep his mind busy enough to prevent the anxious behavior. However, deep down it truly stems from the basic instinct of the dog’s need to be with his family.
The dog’s wild cousins, the wolves, survive the way they do because of their pack. They hunt together, babysit cubs of another female, and as a pack they have the protection of numbers. This ensures their ability to eat and ward off any other threatening animals such as mountain lions, bears and coyotes. When a wolf is left alone, he must fend for himself. In the wild, a lone wolf often does not live for very long. He may be bullied away from a water source from other animals or has no ability to find enough food to keep him going. He may be attacked by another pack of wolves or coyotes, or hunted as prey by a mountain lion. Your dog, even though he is domesticated, shares these deeply rooted instincts. When he is left alone, he becomes frightened for his life.
A veterinarian may offer some help for your dog’s anxiety by recommending a prescription medication to calm him down. These drugs will sedate your dog, make him tired to where he will sleep all day while you are away at work. These drugs may also have side effects, such as lasting drowsiness making your dog tired all the time and unable to enjoy his life with you when you are there with him. No one wants to see their dog drugged up and unable to go for a morning jog or play ball in the afternoon with the kids.
Kava Kava Root
Some herbs can be used safely to help take that edge off your canine companion’s anxious behaviors. Kava Kava root is one that should be given in a root powder form or extract. This herb is well documented to be useful for those with anxiety disorders and gives no side effects. However, great care should be taken to never mix this herb with any other medications or supplements without first learning how they interact. If mixed with other drugs, Kava Kava root powder or extract can cause liver damage. The benefits, though, are seen as soon as the herb reaches the blood stream. Unlike other herbs that must be given over a long period of time before results are seen, the effects are quick and last a few hours.
Valerian root is another popular herb to give dogs orally without the use of a veterinarian’s prescription pad. This extract or powder is often the primary active ingredient in over the counter pet calming aids and treats. It is reported to work well when proper doses are given and does its job for both noise phobias and separation anxiety disorders. However, like the Kava Kava root, it should not be mixed with any other drugs, herbs, or supplements without a veterinarian’s approval.
A few herbs can be taken internally while others do best as an essential oil for aromatherapy. Aromatherapy has been studied for many years, and some herbs have been proven to lower blood pressure and stress signals in humans. Lavender oil is probably the most popular. The calming effect of this fragrant scent is almost immediate. Not all animals are effected by this method, however, so don’t expect your pet to be one who calms with a lavender reed diffuser or scented plug in. Add a few drops of quality essential oil on his bed, crate or where ever he spends most of his time while you are away from home. This can also be used during car trips and vet visits!
Many items are on the market today for body wraps from various companies, some more popular than others. These wraps come in a variety of types from knit material to nylon. Choosing a wrap is completely based on yours and your dog’s preference of comfort. The wrap is a lot like a shirt or jacket for your dog to wear and is typically held on by Velcro. This allows a higher range of adjustment to fit your dog’s needs in calming him down.
The wrap’s ability to calm an anxious dog is remarkable. Proven time and time again, the wrap give s a dog a feeling of comfort and security as the wrap hits specific pressure points to help him relax. A similar idea is used in humans as well, and is called deep pressure therapy. The same concept, in deep pressure therapy a tactile stimulating object, such as a weighted blanket, is placed over the person experience extreme anxiety. The calm that is brought with this physical pressure is so relaxing it literally can put a person to sleep. Now imagine your anxious dog with that kind of comfort!
Like with aromatherapy, not all dogs are effected by the wrap. A high percentage of those who use it find it greatly beneficial, but there are those few who are so disturbed by their anxiety that the wrap simply does not cut it. Providing multiple avenues for calming could help a dog like this, such as using the wrap combined with Kava Kava root and aromatherapy.
It may sound silly, but playing certain types of classical music really does calm even some of the most anxious of dogs. When put to the test, classical music with 50 to 60 beats per minute, specifically solo piano and trio songs allowed over 70% of the tested dogs to lay down and relax completely. Most fell asleep!
The music used for both the study as well as to help the average house pet stop destroying his owner’s furniture is easily purchased for the sole purpose of calming the anxious dog. An increasingly large number of products are becoming readily available to purchase both in pet stores and online to help dogs through the tunes of a solo piano without having to resort to extremes such as prescription medications.
Music CDs and tracks that can be downloaded can be found online so that you and your pet can begin relaxing immediately. There are even albums made specifically for car travel, a multiple dog household, noise phobias, and even for the anxious cat! They can be played on your trip to the vet so your pooch is already relaxed before going into a stressful situation or when you leave home for the day to work. Music therapy is not a hoax, and actually does work for most dogs.
Probably one of the most common things you will hear when it comes to relieving your dog of his destructive and fearful behaviors while he is home alone or during a thunderstorm is to train him. But what exactly do trainers, veterinarians, and pet store employees mean when they say to train them to help with this issue? Dogs, like people, can have confidence issues. They can become frightened when you leave, as stated earlier, for fear of having to fend for themselves until you come back, if you come back! Building a dog’s confidence, just like in a person, helps them to better cope with stressful and possibly threatening situations without it becoming too much for them to handle.
This is where training comes in! When a dog is trained using only positive reinforcement, such as clicker training, and never subjected to punishment or corrections their confidence builds, and it builds rather quickly. You do not have to put yourself and your dog through a seemingly boring obedience class to obtain this, but even doing fun trick training or learning Agility can greatly build your dog’s confidence in himself as well as in you as his human partner.
In Agility, you must help your dog learn to navigate an obstacle course that involves hurdles, an A-frame that must be climbed onto and a teeter totter that moves under the dog’s weight. All of these can be scary things without training and easy transitions. As your dog graduates from jumping over a short jump to a higher one, and from walking across the flattened A-frame to scaling one that is upright, he is building trust in your guidance and trusting himself to accomplish these behaviors. This bond between the two of you will grow and thicken, and when you are off to work, you can tell him to “Be good!” and he may calmly await your return home.
There is always hope for any dog suffering from anxiety, either from separation or at the vet’s office. Don’t give up on your pooch because you feel you are out of options or must result to a prescription drug. There is more than one way to take the edge off your dog’s fears. Try what you feel may work best, and move on to another if it doesn’t! You will eventually find that special combination that helps your canine companion relax and ease your mind!