Dr. Walt's happy tails: Leaving your dog home alone

By: Dr. Walt Ingwersen

Author: Canadian Living


Dr. Walt's happy tails: Leaving your dog home alone

By: Dr. Walt Ingwersen

Dear Dr. Walt: I inherited a friend's one-year old black lab puppy, when they left the country. She is a lovely dog with a great temperment and very rarely barks, but if she is left alone in the house she starts barking and bouncing off furniture. This is also the time that she chews blinds if they obstruct her view, and urinates on the carpet. I have tried leaving the house for short periods and returning, I don't make a fuss when I leave or return, but we've only made it to about 10 minutes before the 'panic' starts. She has had a change in owner and location, so I guess she is nervous about being left permanently, but is there anything I can do to reduce her stress levels (and mine)?!

I can appreciate how stress levels are rising on both accounts! First and foremost, and based on the age of your new family member, one course of action that will help regardless of underlying etiology is exercise. A critical component to addressing many behavioural problems is exercise, exercise, and more exercise. Many dogs will be much more accepting of time alone if they have had an outlet for their energy and are ready for a nap.

What you describe is a condition that is commonly referred to as separation-anxiety. There are a variety of reasons for this behaviour to manifest itself, from underlying medical conditions to having inadvertently trained the behaviour. Needless to say, the actual treatment employed will vary on the underlying diagnosis. I would recommend taking her into the veterinarian for a diagnostic evaluation, including a thorough history and physical examination, and supplemented by laboratory evaluation as deemed appropriate by your veterinarian. If an underlying illness can be eliminated as a cause, behaviour-related separation-anxiety becomes the most likely diagnosis. In this scenario, treatment is often a combination of behaviour modification and the use of anti-anxiety medications. Neither cure the problem alone, hence the dual therapeutic approach.

To safeguard both your sanity and your home, the first step is getting your pet acclimatized to a crate environment so that during your absence, she has a comfortable and secure area to lie where she cannot harm either herself or your home.

Subsequently, behaviour modification is attempted and generally follows protocols based on desensitization and counter-conditioning whereby animals are exposed to the anxiety causing stimuli and rewarded for calm behaviour. Over time, the exposure to the stimulus is intensified and prolonged. If anxious behaviour occurs, a step back to the previous degree of stimulus exposure (one that did not cause anxiety) is taken and gthe process repeated; punishment is never given as this heightens the anxiety for the pet involved. You are already pursuing this form of therapy and your efforts may be aided with the input of a veterinary behaviourist and/or the use of medication that modifies an animal's response to the stimulus that causes anxiety. For the former, ask you veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary specialist in your region. For the latter, one drug has that been very successful for treating anxiety-related disorders in dogs is clomipramine, which is sold through veterinary clinics by prescription under the trade name Clomiclam.

Regardless, treating this condition requires patience and perseverance - two characteristics you are already clearly demonstrating. My best wishes on a successful outcome!

Winter pet care tips

 As noted in my previous column, many pets truly enjoy being outdoors in the winter. Nothing is more enjoyable than watching our pets frolic in the fresh snow or amusing than seeing how many paws can be held in the air while negotiating for the shallowest passage through a fresh fall of snow! However, the cold can pose some health-related concerns; therefore, some tips to avoid problems include:

• Pay attention to cold weather warnings and weather alerts given by radio or television stations. While generally directed towards people, they apply to animals as well so take heed and modify your outdoor activity accordingly.

• Avoid streams or unknown lakes during the winter. Unless tested, ice may appear strong enough to bear your pet's weight, but tragically this is often not the case. Also, some pets still enjoy a swim in the frigid waters but may pay dearly for it if the current carries them under the ice or the cold weather results in hypothermia.

• Many pets with longer coats have fur build-up between their toes. This area often accumulates snow and ice making walking uncomfortable. A good idea is for the pet owner or their groomer to trim the coat between the toes regularly. Alternatively, some pets are more comfortable if provided with pet-specific boots.

• Antifreeze is a common engine ingredient for the winter season but contains a chemical (ethylene glycol) that can be deadly to your pet, even if only small amounts are ingested. Never leave a container within reach of your pet as the sweet taste is very attractive to both dogs and cats.

• While car engine housings leave little room for anything else under the hood, some cats still try and keep warm by climbing up under the hood and onto the car engine. This may lead to disaster if the cat is still under the hood when the engine is turned on. Therefore, it is suggested that a quick thump or two on the hood as you are walking to the driver's door will frighten any unwary cats away before tragedy strikes.

About Dr. Walt Ingwersen
Dr. Walt Ingwersen is Chief Veterinary Officer at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is a 1982 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he has the distinction of being the first Canadian editor of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a position he currently holds.

Involved in many aspects of the national and international veterinary community, "Dr. Walt" is the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession awarded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). He is also Chief Veterinary Officer and Chairman of the Veterinary Advisory Board at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. – Canada's leading provider of insurance for dogs and cats.
Share X

Dr. Walt's happy tails: Leaving your dog home alone