Separation Anxiety- A Case Study
Pet Name: Millie
Breed: German Shepherd/ Harrier
Age/sex: 2 yrs./ spayed Female
Other pets in home: not in home, but shares some common space with neighbor dog
Presenting problem: Separation Anxiety
Identified issues: Separation anxiety, environmental enrichment issues
I was contacted this September to help with Millie’s separation anxiety issues. Upon meeting Millie, she was sweet and excited to have guests. She calmed down very quickly and mostly slept on the couch during our session. The house showed signs of previous destruction by Millie- ripped up carpet near the door, blinds ripped off the wall. She would also “raid” the kitchen if left alone but wouldn’t actually eat the food. She did, however, eat her own peanut butter during one of her raids. Millie also vocalizes when left alone. She is brought to daycare because of these issues, Monday-Wednesday for about 6 hours. She used to be excited to go to daycare but started showing signs of anxiety even when left for daycare. This seemed to happen when Millie’s daycare routine changed from being dropped off to play with other dogs right away, to being put alone in a room.
Millie is a dog that requires physical activity as well as mental stimulation. I recommended that Millie eat her meals via food puzzles/toys while performing her alone training exercises. Games and further mentally stimulating exercises as we progress in her training, will also greatly benefit her and keep her occupied and mentally stimulated. Millie is a breed that is used for pack hunting, so she prefers to be in the company of others and would be great at scent and “find it” games. I also recommended the use of sound such as fans, music, or even television for both a calming effect and to distract from other noises that may be heard from neighbors.
Separation Anxiety Treatment
Millie was showing signs of anxiety when left alone, such as destruction and vocalization. The fact that she ate her peanut butter when she was left alone, is a really good thing. We decided to use this in our favor. Her first day of training was spent leaving Millie alone in the house while the owner/s are still home but in another room with the door closed, while Millie is eating and working on one of her food puzzles. As soon as the owner/s return, they take away the food, and return to normal activity. Since the owners have access to video monitoring, I suggested using it during this time to see how Millie is reacting.
Over the next several days, we progressed the homework. Millie was already progressing so quickly that we tried the training exercises where the owners actually left out the front door for a very brief time, and we very gradually increased time spent out the door. Other steps included desensitizing triggers. Her triggers were actually exciting rather than anxiety-provoking because she always got to go with the owners when they put on shoes or grabbed their keys. Because of this reason, and the fact that she would eat when alone, we decided to go backwards with the normal treatment plan which would be desensitize triggers first, then work on the door. I asked that the owners pay attention to some of the triggers and things that they do that makes her excited to go with them. The desensitization of triggers will still have the same goal regardless of emotional state, to make departures uneventful.
We combined the triggers with an actual departure later, once both had been worked through separately and neither produced a reaction anymore.
Right away to help with her daycare drop-offs, the owners tried to have Millie put with dogs to play rather than be left alone again. It was going much better until Millie got into a scuffle with another dog and was again put in a room at drop-off. This seemed to start the issue up again with her anxiety when left so the owners really worked hard at their treatment plan. With her treatment plan in place, her owners and I were able to help Millie feel better about being left alone. They are great owners who were so committed to helping their dog. I’m impressed at the level of recognition of her behaviors and the things they had done already to help Millie. The reason that the outcome of cases, like these, are successful greatly depends on the level of commitment the owners have in helping their dog overcome their issues. They no longer have to take Millie to daycare on Wednesdays and are having no issues on these days.
I have been in touch with the owners and they report that Millie continues to improve everyday. For now, they don’t seem to have the goal of taking her out of daycare completely as long as it’s not causing her anxiety and it’s providing her with social interaction. She is improving with all aspects of being left alone. This case was a success.