Dogs – Separation Anxiety and Obsessive Behaviour – Part 1

This is from my ISCP Diploma Coursework, shared here hoping that it might help someone having problems with their own dogs. Part 1 today talks about Rufus’ case and describes how Bach Rescue Remedy works on dogs. Part 2 tomorrow tackles Rufus’ Separation Anxiety issues.

Q: You are asked to work theoretically with Rufus, a Parsons Jack Russell Terrier with a severe anxiety issue that resulted from the experience of being tied to a tree and abandoned. This manifests as Separation Anxiety and obsessive behaviour.

When left alone, Rufus howls for prolonged periods, he is destructive, he soils close to the exit door, he obsessively chews his toenails. When his carer comes home, Rufus greets her ecstatically by bouncing up and down. Otherwise, in company he is happy and well-behaved.

Which type of complementary therapy do you think would be most suitable for this dog? Why would you choose this therapy? What behaviour modification would you suggest for this dog?


A: Rufus certainly has a bad case of Separation Anxiety. From the case notes, he’s perfectly contented, even happy, when his carer is around, or when he is in company. But when left to his own devices, his anxiety manifests in destructive form. His mental trauma stems from having been tied to a tree and abandoned. Whenever his carer leaves the house, or when he’s alone, Rufus panics and does whatever he knows to placate himself – for example, chewing toenails has a soporific effect on animals, as it releases endorphins that make the animal feel safe. So, for Rufus, chewing his toenails makes him feel good, and he will become obsessive about it, in his desperation to feel better when on his own. Some dogs suck or lick their flanks to the point of opening up sores; in Rufus’ case he chews his toenails. This is known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the same kind of OCD as found in humans. We are not the only ones who can suffer from it!

Rufus is a Parsons Jack Russell Terrier, and the breed is known to be active both physically and mentally. To treat Rufus, I would recommend first treating his mental anxiety symptoms and calming him down to some semblance of normalcy. There is no point providing Rufus with enrichment toys or food treats or games at this early stage, as his mind is not in the right place for those activities. He will simply ignore any toys or treats, and may pace up and down just by the door, he may even scratch or bite the door to try to get out to where he thinks his carer is. The fact that he is soiling by the door indicates that Rufus is not leaving the area even to defecate, preferring to soil where he stands, in case his carer comes back and he misses the event. Right now he is not in a position to learn anything new.

Veterinary medication takes time to have an effect on animals, and sometimes it could be weeks before any effect or change in the animal’s behaviour is perceived. Also, such medication could have contra-indications and some animals may have physical reactions to them, or over time become dependent on them. I would instead try complementary therapy first on Rufus, mainly because these therapies are far less invasive/intrusive on animals, and also because their effects can be seen almost immediately. Unlike veterinary medication, homeopathic remedies can be used safely on both humans and animals with no side-effects and no risk of overdosing.

Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a product that can be bought at Health Food/Homeopathic stores or online. (I’ve copied this information from the web):

Rescue Remedy for Pets
Active Ingredients – HPUS 5x dilution of Helianthemum nummularium, Clematis vitalba, Impatiens glandulifera, Prunus cerasifera, and Ornithogalum umbellatum.
Inactive Ingredients – 80% Glycerine, 20% Water).

Here’s how the ingredients in Bach’s Rescue Remedy work:

Star of Bethlehem​ – Orithogalum umbellatum
Helps animals that have experienced abuse, trauma and shock, whether experienced recently or in the past. Helps the animal let go of the trauma and enjoy life.
Rock Rose​ – Helianthemum nummularium
For situations in which the animal experiences panic or terror such as an accident, going to the vet, thunderstorm or fireworks.
Cherry Plum​ – Prunus cerasifera
Helps animals who seem to have lost control of their actions such as constant barking, scratching or licking.
Impatiens​ – Impatiens gladulifera
Helps those animals who are impatient and can’t wait for for their meal or going for a walk. Also for animals who are prone to being snappy/nippy.
Clematis​ – Clematis vitalba
For animals who seems to be sleeping too much and not really paying attention to what’s going on around them.
Inactive Ingredients:​ 80% Vegetable Glycerin, 20% water
Direction: ​Add 2 drops of Rescue Remedy Pets in your animal’s drinking water and you’ll see how quickly they return to normal.
You can also add a drop to a treat, on food or rub it on the paws or ears.

In Rufus’ case, Star of Bethlehem will assist Rufus in letting go of his past and present abandonment issues. Rock Rose will help him remain calm when the time of separation from his carer looms. Cherry Plum will be useful to help curtail his barking, scratching and in particular his toenail licking. Impatiens may help in controlling his anxiety or worry while waiting for his carer to return, and may get Rufus calm enough to carry about his business as usual in his carer’s absence, instead of being destructive and soiling his area. Rufus is certainly not sleeping too much if he’s agitated while on his own; however, Clematis may help him concentrate on being present rather than fretting about being on his own, and may help him calm down enough to be able to eat and play normally.

With this treatment in place and ongoing, and Rufus’ mind in a much healthier place, I would then be able to treat the other part of Rufus’ anxiety – abandonment issues.

You can read about this in Part 2’s post tomorrow.




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