Separation anxiety is the main reason veterinarians prescribe dog antidepressants. Rescue dogs are prime candidates for all sorts of behavioural problems and in order to keep them in their forever homes, dog antidepressants (along with other behavioural training techniques) is sometimes the best answer.
Is your dog tearing up your house when you’re not home? The most loving dog owners in the world can get really frustrated with this.
If you’ve rescued a dog the last thing you want to do is bring him/her back to the shelter. Some breeds (whether they come from shelters or not) are just a little harder to train than others.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s anxiety and/or aggression issues, there are things you can try before filling a prescription. Antidepressants for dogs can help; however, if you’re looking for some alternatives you’ve come to the right place.
Make sure to read: 5 No-Fail Steps for Weaning Your Dog from Prozac
#1. Your Reaction + Your Dog’s Anxiety = Dog Antidepressants
What does this mean? Well, it’s hard to do sometimes, but we have to realize that as loving dog owners, we sometimes go overboard with the love.
How can you go overboard loving a dog?
Dogs need love and affection, but they also need limits and boundaries. A happy, well-adjusted dog is one who knows that you are in charge. That does not mean you need to be loud and aggressive with your dog. Actually, it means the opposite. A good pack leader is confident and decisive. Here’s an example:
When you leave the house for work in the morning…
Your dog watches you run through the kitchen collecting your things. You’ve got your keys, your lunch, briefcase, purse, wallet, jacket. The whole time you’re gathering your things to get to work you’re saying, “It’s okay….I’ll be home soon….you’ll be a good dog riiiiiiight? You’re gonna get lots of treats when I get hooooome. I looooooove you.”
Does that sound about right? What you’re feeling is guilt. I feel it too! I hate leaving my dogs home alone but the reality is, most of us have to work. Unless you can afford doggy daycare (which I cannot), you’re going to have to leave your dogs for a period of time.
Anxiety will stay with your dog for a long time and that will make it harder for your to behavioural train. At some point, dog antidepressants may actually make behavioural training a little easier.
None of this is easy, so don’t despair if you’re having trouble. There’s nothing wrong with certain antidepressants for dogs, but if you’re looking for alternatives it might be worth trying some of the methods in this post.
Wouldn’t Dog Antidepressants Make it Easier to Train My Dog?
The problem isn’t the love you’re trying to offer your dogs, the problem is that they pick up on your guilt and anxiety. When you impart that uneasiness, it stays in the air. Your anxiety hangs around your dogs like a dark cloud all day.
They absorb that energy and use it to destroy your home when you’re gone. Maybe they bark and whine all day. Maybe the urinate on the floor (or worse…the furniture).
If you’re having a really hard time and your dog continues to show extreme signs of anxiety, dog antidepressants may help.
Dogs can’t understand the words you’re saying, but they certainly absorb the nervousness and guilt in your voice.
While you’re preening, hugging, and kissing your dog trying to make them feel okay about you leaving the house, they’re just picking up the sense that maybe their leader doesn’t know what’s happening.
In other words, you may as well be saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I may be home later and I may not. I hope you’re going to be okay because this is a big scary house when I’m gone.”
Are dog antidepressants the solution?
Veterinarians have been prescribing antidepressants to dogs for many years. Although they’re not FDA approved for use in animals, veterinarians have clearance to prescribe. Sometimes dog antidepressants can help a dog establish a good chemical balance in the brain. Once that happens, the dog may be in a better position to learn new behaviours.
The First Step in Establishing Boundaries.
Gather some of the things you’d normally take to work WITHOUT saying anything. Don’t tell your dog you’ll be right back. Don’t make a sound. Just gather a few things, your keys, and leave the house.
The Second Step in Reassuring Your Dog
Move away from the door. You’ve stepped outside, locked the door, and now you should be heading outside. Your dogs are going to be a little confused at first, but they won’t have that anxiety/guilt hanging in the air.
The Third Step Brings You Further Away from Dog Antidepressants
If you live in an apartment or condo, just go to the elevator. Maybe head downstairs, grab a coffee, and come back. If you live in a home, go out to the car and start it up. Back out of the driveway, drive around the block, and then come home.
As you go through these steps, keep in mind that dog antidepressants may still be an option. In particularly hard to train dogs or in dogs with extreme anxiety/behavioural issues, medication may be required.
The Fourth Step Closer to Success
Enter your home after ten or fifteen minutes without saying a word. That’s right. No greeting. Do not say, “Did you miss me? I love you so much! You probably thought I was gone forever but I’m home. I’M HOME! Where’s my good doggy? There’s my good doggy!”
You’re saying I can’t greet my own dog?
I’m saying you can’t greet your dog immediately. When you walk in the door, your dog will probably be jumping all over you. He/she will be barking, whining, clawing at you, jumping up and doing everything possible to get your attention. This is all behaviour you want to avoid. It all adds up to anxiety.
Yes, you’ll get a chance to give your dog love and affection…but not yet.
The Fifth Step Away from Dog Antidepressants
Put everything away calmly. Do not acknowledge your dog while he/she is overexcited. If he jumps, snap your fingers and say DOWN. He/she probably won’t listen to you at this point. Ignore. Turn away, put your stuff away, and keep telling your dog to stay down. That’s it. Nothing more. Too many words will ruin the exercise.
Step Six and You’re Almost There
Pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee (or water…anything you want really) and go sit down on the sofa. Everytime your dog jumps on your legs or the sofa, just say no and push his paws away. You can tell him to sit or stay. Whatever normally works. Again, say nothing else but those few words.
Remember, you’re not angry. You’re not anxious. You’re the boss and you’re giving your dog boundaries. You’re saying, “This is how I want you to behave” without actually saying it.
Don’t Give Up Now! Step 7 is Here.
Eventually, your dog will sit or lie down. THAT’S when you can give a little affection. Don’t suffocate dogs with hugs and kisses. Just say “good boy!” or “good girl!” Pat him or even offer a little treat.
All of this might seem labour intensive, but the idea is to get your dog into a whole new mindset. What your dog will see is a calm, confident handler who leaves the home calmly and comes home calmly.
It’s not going to run perfectly every time. Try leaving your dogshome alone longer and longer. Hopefully, he/she will learn the new routine and act accordingly.
If not, there’s another option…
#2. Crate Training to Reduce Anxiety in Dogs
Dogs feel safe in crates as long as they’re not used as punishments and the crate is the appropriate size for the dog.
Now, this is a little tricky because it only works if your dog is otherwise getting plenty of exercise and play throughout the day. Dogs who are not exercised will become bored and anxious.
Locking a dog in a crate because of pent-up energy isn’t the idea. The idea is to create a safe-space for your dog to rest in while you’re out of the house. This can be tricky.
Crates should be size-appropriate. You might think that a huge crate will give your dog plenty of space to roam but that really defeats the purpose.
It’s actually the coziness of the crate that makes a dog feel safe.
What type of dog crate should I get?
You want to buy a sturdy gate that gives your dog enough room to stand up and turn around. You can put a small dog bed in the crate and one toy.
This is a good setup for nervous dogs when you’re going to be out of the house for a few hours. However, if you’re going to be at work all day, I’d consider another option.
The Best Crates for Nervous Dogs Include the Following…
#3. Bone Up On Expert Tips and Tricks
Nobody understands what dog’s need better than Cesar Milan. His books are inexpensive and you can watch him on television over and over again until you get it right.
Yes, it takes time to perfect, but a well-adjusted dog is worth every minute. It’s one thing to read the books or watch the videos, and another thing to put his methods to the test.
It can be overwhelming to read all of the books and try to incorporate everything all at once. To help you get focused, I highly suggest “Be the Pack Leader”. If there’s anything you take away from this post, just remember to use “calm, assertive energy” when teaching your dog the behaviour you expect.
#4. Buy/Install a Doggy Cam
Before we talk about doggy cams, I want to say that this isn’t the way to train a dog. If anything, a doggy cam is more for the owner than the dog. I understand how awful it feels to leave your dogs behind but,
if you’re like me, you have to work for a living. How else are you going to afford all of those doggy treats?
A dog cam can at least give you the peace of mind that nothing terrible is happening to your dog while you’re away.
What kind of doggy cam should I buy?
There are some great doggy cams on the market. Contrary to what marketers will tell you, I suggest buying the most basic, least expensive camera there is. All you really need is to be able to see what your dog is doing all day.
Getting a doggy cam is for your benefit, not the dogs. Some of the high-end cameras allow you to talk to your dog, chuck treats at him/her, and even have two-way views so that your dog can see you!
I don’t suggest using any of these features.
Gasp! What are you talking about?
If you want to avoid dog antidepressants, you need to eliminate anxiety, not encourage it. Having a device in your house that “talks” to your dog probably isn’t going to do much to instill calmness.
Instead, your dog will be waiting for your voice to come through that camera all day. Your dog will think you must be in the house somewhere, even if he/she can see you in the camera.
Hearing your voice and not being able to pinpoint where you are isn’t a great idea. Remember, this is only for your comfort, not your dogs.
There’s nothing wrong with installing a camera for your own piece of mind. However, using it to try and communicate with your dog simply isn’t going to work.
Can’t I use a doggy camera to continue training my dog when I’m not home?
You can try it, but I don’t think it’s the ultimate solution. If you’re not home, your dog needs to know that everything is okay. Letting your untrained dog have the run of the house and using a camera to say “NO!” or “GET OFF THE CHAIR!” will just confuse your dog.
Confusion = anxiety = behaviour you don’t want. This is a formula that might lead to the need for dog antidepressants.
#5. Limit Roaming Options With a Gate
Have you ever had too many choices and felt overwhelmed? That feeling of being overwhelmed quickly translates into anxiety and uncertainty. While some dogs are perfectly fine to roam the house when you’re not home, other dogs need a little more structure.
Confining a dog to one room in the house is the perfect way to avoid mishaps without setting your dog up for failure.
It’s easy and inexpensive. All you need is to chose the room, set up a sturdy gate, and ensure your dog has a little food and water.
Keep your dog safe in that space…
You’ll want to remove anything that could harm your dog. Puppies like to put things in their mouth so make sure to remove anything that he/she could swallow or choke on. Unplug lamps so that your dog doesn’t accidently yank the cord, put out a few “accident” pads if your puppy hasn’t been potty trained yet, etc.
Leave your dog’s favorite toys, food and water nearby.
Tip: Leave an Opened Crate Nearby
You don’t have to lock your dog in a crate all day. What you can do is section off a room in your house AND leave an opened crate nearby. If your dog has been in that crate before and feels comfortable, he/she will use it as a safe space to relax when you’re not home.
Leave something with your scent on it, a small dog bed, or a dog toy inside for added comfort.
#6. Quality Exercise Could = No Antidepressants for Your Dog
Dogs were built for exercise. Regardless of the breed or size, dogs need the appropriate amount of exercise during the day.
A short walk might not seem like a lot of exercise to you, but it does more for a dog than you realize. When you walk a dog, they use more than their legs. It’s actually all of the sights, smells, sounds, and activity that a dog needs to be well-adjusted.
A Dog’s Sense of Smell is up to 100,000 Times Greater Than Ours!
A dog’s brain lights up with activity as the nose engages. Imagine the excitement of smells on your daily walk, if only they were available to you. Dog’s have been trained to detect cancer, find bodies, locate landmines, and hundreds of other things we – as humans – cannot do with the power of our noses.
A Sniffing Dog is a Dog Who is Exercising His Brain
That’s okay. It’s all part of the exercise routine for a dog. Everytime your dog stops to sniff something, it’s exercising a part of his brain. That’s what you want to do! At the end of the walk, you want your dog to be physically AND mentally tired.
#7. Engage and Play
A healthy dog needs you to play with him/her. This doesn’t mean absent-mindedly chucking a ball while you’re texting someone with one hand. Trust me, dogs know when you’re not really engaging with them.
You’ll need to take at least 20 minutes a day to engage with your dog. Sit on the floor, run in the park, throw a Frisbee at the beach….whatever it takes to get engaged with your dog.
Sadly, people can underestimate how much time it takes to raise a happy, well-adjusted dog. Providing shelter, food, and water is the easy part. Providing one-on-one individual attention is just as important. When you are actually paying attention to your dog while throwing a ball, you’ll be surprised at how quickly he/she tires out.
Play attention isn’t the same as loving attention. It all boils down to love at the end of the day, but there’s a specific energy that comes with the interaction of playtime.
Of course, dog breeds vary in their needs. A chihuahua may not need as much of your undivided play-time attention as a pitbull mix might. But they still need your attention.
Spend some time laughing, lunging, jumping, and engaging with your dog and you will be amazed with the results.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety don’t always show it in a big way. For example, you might not come home to a shredded furniture. Instead, your dog may have spent the last two hours in a corner obsessively licking his/her paw.
On the surface, this might not seem so bad. However, overtime, the fur will wear away and the skin my break open. When this happens, it leaves an open wound at risk of infection. This type of wound is known as a lick granuloma.
Signs Your Dog May Need an Antidepressant for Separation Anxiety
The more obvious signs of separation anxiety in dogs is excessive barking, howling, pacing, chewing furniture, urinating or defecating in the house, and trying to escape.
You might notice claw marks at the doors or windows. If your dog is hurting himself and there is a risk to others, antidepressants for dogs might be part of the solution.
Medical Issues versus an Antidepressant Prescription for Dogs
If your dog was fine and all of a sudden exhibits strange behaviours that mimic anxiety, call the veterinarian for an assessment. Dogs can’t tell you that they don’t feel well. Instead, they may try to show you through various behaviours and actions.
The main behaviour that could indicate a medical problem is urinating and/or defecating in the house. Healthy pets simply won’t do that (after they’re trained of course).
A sudden change in behaviour may not be a sign that dog antidepressants are the answer. It might be a treatable medical condition.
Antidepressants for Dogs Does Not Make You a Failure
Every potential dog owner should know that it can be just as difficult as it can be rewarding. Garnering the trust and love of a dog is well worth the effort. Some of these tips and tricks might work for you and some may not.
Ultimately, make sure to keep your veterinarian in the loop if you’re having serious issues with your dog. The last thing you want is a fearful dog prone to bite. Take every precaution you need to keep your dog, and your family, healthy.
It takes a lot of patience, confidence, time, and practice to shape a dog into the perfectly trained pet you’ve always wanted. Do not despair!
The best thing you can do for your dog is get the experts involved. That means talking to your veterinarian, a dog behaviourist, reading Cesar Milan books, and taking advice.
Have an anxiety-free dog with an appropriate diet, boundaries, and exercise.
Best of luck! I know you can do this. Send me an email to let me know how it’s going: [email protected]
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PBS.org: Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell
Cesar Milan: Dog Psychology