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A Dog in Distress

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Bob comes home after work to find his Persian rug ripped to shreds and a note from his landlord threatening eviction if the barking continues.

Bob comes home after work to find his Persian rug ripped to shreds and a note from his landlord threatening eviction if the barking continues. Wally a spaniel rescued from the local animal shelter is suffering from separation anxiety, an emotional response to being left alone. And Bob is suffering the consequences.

Dogs are social creatures by nature; in the wild they are rarely alone. But domestication has forced dogs to live in our world, and leaving them alone at times is part of that world. The resulting separation anxiety may be destructive and disturbing, but it is a normal canine behaviour.

Genetics and lack of confidence due to undersocialization, past abuse or abandonment can lead to separation anxiety as can certain owner behaviours. For example, some owners unknowingly feed into their dogs' anxiety by exaggerating hellos and goodbyes.

Punishment should never be used as a way of dealing with the symptoms of separation anxiety, as the dog would come to associate your arrival with punishment, causing even more anxiety. A wholistic approach that addresses behavioural, physical and emotional imbalances is always the most effective solution.

Modifying Behaviour

Dogs are extremely skilled at reading body language and learning routines. Teaching your dog to dissassociate your departures from departure cues is important. Put on your shoes and pick up your keys while you watch television with your dog. If you normally read the newspaper on weekends while you stay home, begin reading it on weekdays before leaving for work. Mix up as many cues as you can, and continue this process for several weeks. If your dog is unable to predict your departures, he will experience less anxiety.

Nutrition

Vaccinations, poor nutrition, chemicals and excess sugars in the diet can trigger negative behavioural patterns by creating chemical and emotional imbalances in the pet. Therefore, it is essential to feed your dog as you feed yourself, with a diet free of chemical preservatives.

Detoxifying your pet is also important as toxins can irritate the nervous system. Supplementing your dog's diet with a good quality multi-vitamin/mineral high in vitamin B-complex and vitamin C can also help.

Herbal Support

A natural alternative to prescription medication is herbal supplements. It is believed that people began using herbs as a result of observing how animals in the wild instinctively selected appropriate herbs when sick or stressed.

St. John's wort and valerian, which can be given in combination, are two excellent herbs for separation anxiety. A potent sedative, chamomile is also effective in reducing anxiety. Fresh or dried chamomile flowers can be brewed as an infusion and added to your dog's food or water. Other calming herbs include kava kava, catnip, skullcap and passionflower. It is advised that you consult your wholistic veterinarian before supplementing your dog's diet with herbs.

Other Remedies

Homeopathy and Bach flower essences are other healing modalities that work on a deeper level to correct emotional imbalances. Ignatia, Pulsatilla and Chamomilla are among the most recommended in the treatment of separation anxiety. A mixture of the three can be used if you are unsure as to the right remedy. A strength of 6C twice a day is recommended and should be decreased with improvement.

Exercise

Also, make sure your pet has plenty of regular, vigorous exercise. It is essential to good mental health, and it will give him new experiences to process every day. The use of a dog-walker or pet-sitter can also be a useful resource to help decrease your dog's anxiety.
A couple of good Web-sites to consult for more information on nutrition, herbs and other wholistic approaches to treating separation anxiety are:

  • faireepoms.com/SeparationAnxiety.html

  • petsage.com/art_whisper.html.
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