Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s, regarding behaviour modification techniques to treat Rufus, a theoretical case, who suffers from Separation Anxiety. Yesterday I wrote about how Bach Rescue Remedy could help Rufus by making it possible for him to get into the right frame of mind for behaviour modification techniques to be implemented.
Treating Rufus’ Separation Anxiety will require several sessions, desensitising him to the trauma of being left, as well as counter-conditioning him to regard his carer leaving as a normal everyday event, and nothing to worry about.
Rufus may well have learnt the signals that his carer is about to leave the house – the jangling of keys, putting on of shoes and coats, carrying a handbag, putting on a hat or scarf, opening the door etc. He knows the exit door is where his carer is last seen and where she reappears, that is why he chooses to stay close to it, so he can be the first to greet her when she reappears. It’s all rather like a game to Rufus, not a good game, but one filled with dread and despair. For example, when his carer picks up the house keys or car keys, Rufus associates this with her leaving, so he will go to the exit and may even try to stop her from going out, by blocking the door with his body or attempting to rush out past her legs. Or, if he sees her dressed up and putting on her shoes, he knows she’s about to go out.
In order to desensitise Rufus to his habit of staying by the exit door and his ability ot anticipate his carer leaving, I would suggest to his carer to, over a period of time, try a combination of these methods:
. staggering the times she leaves the house
. changing at random the exits she leaves the house by
. leaving and coming back at random times, so as to be unpredictable
. getting dressed and pretending to leave the house, but only going out for a couple of minutes and then returning. Or, even not getting dressed up and just leaving the house.
. gradually lengthening the time she’s away from the house, interspersing short periods with longer periods, so that there’s no pattern that Rufus can learn
. not to make a big fuss of Rufus when she leaves and returns
. perhaps getting Rufus used to having other people in the house, coming and going at random, so he gets used to them as well and learns not to miss his primary carer so much when she’s away; this is particularly useful for when she has to go away for a few days and needs someone else to look after Rufus
. going out of the house by one exit, and returning by another, keeping it random so Rufus cannot discern a pattern
. playing hide-n-seek with Rufus, so he gets used to her leaving the room or the house
. leaving treats hidden around the house for Rufus to find when she goes out, making a game of this, perhaps integrating with hide-n-seek
. introducing Rufus to an enrichment toy first while remaining in the house; not using the same treat-filled toy (such as a Kong) all the time, but switching toys at random, so Rufus does not learn to associate one particular toy with the event of his carer leaving (the “Jackpot Effect”)
It would be best to have Rufus in the house with constant company for the first 2 weeks before beginning starting any desensitisation techniques. This time will give his cortisol and adrenaline levels a chance to dissipate, so he isn’t in a hyped up state.
I would also try using an Adaptil collar on Rufus. The Adaptil collar contains natural dog pheromones that work to provide the dog with a sense of well-being and security. The pheromones used are the same as the ones secreted by female dogs from the glands next to their teats, when they lactate and feed their puppies. The pheromones are undetectable to humans, but dogs can scent them and will feel secure and at ease. (http://www.adaptil.com/au/Adaptil/Adaptil-Collar) In Rufus’ case, the Adaptil collar may work to lessen his separation anxiety.
There is also another product on the market called Pet Remedy (http://www.petremedy.co.uk), which is available as a plug-in and as a spray. The company is UK-based, but delivers worldwide. Pet Remedy is Valerian-based.
Hopefully a combination of these complementary therapies and desensitisation/counter-conditioning methods will work on getting Rufus to become accustomed to being alone at home but no longer anxious to the point of being destructive.