Assessment Techniques for Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Canine separation anxiety (SA) is a behavioral disorder marked by a dog’s excessive anxiety when left alone. It is usually manifested as destruction of the owner’s property, often vain attempts to escape, and other behaviors that may be injurious to the dog or annoying to people sharing the dog’s environment. It is important to note that, with separation anxiety, these behaviors occur only in the owner’s absence. The dog is not attempting to “get even” with his owners for leaving him; he is truly distressed at being left alone.
The condition can be treated through behavioral modification techniques and medication. However, the veterinarian will want to make sure the animal suffers from separation anxiety, not simply from boredom, before recommending a specific course of therapy, particularly if the treatment includes drugs. To this end, the veterinarian may ask the dog’s owner to fill out a questionnaire designed to help him or her assess whether a dog truly does suffer from separation anxiety.
What Will an Assessment of Canine Separation Anxiety Reveal?
Separation anxiety is considered to be a syndrome of pathological attachment of a dog to its caregivers. It usually presents as a constellation of behaviors, a syndrome, not just as one or two isolated behaviors. Correctly diagnosing separation anxiety requires veterinarians to consider the various behaviors expressed and to determine whether they fit a pattern. A number of other conditions that may be confused with separation anxiety must be ruled out before a diagnosis of separation anxiety can be confirmed.
How is an Assessment for Separation Anxiety Performed?
Owners fill out a questionnaire that encompasses factors such as the dog’s background (known to influence the development of separation anxiety), its attachment to them, pre-departure and post-departure behaviors, and greeting behavior. The questionnaire should be filled out at the time of a dog’s first veterinary visit for early detection of the syndrome. That way, corrective measures can be taken before the condition exacerbates.
In addition, all owners of newly acquired dogs should be asked to complete the questionnaire to detect separation anxiety so that, if necessary, they can be advised on about “independence training.” Owners of any dogs exhibiting behavior problems when their owner is away from home should be asked to complete the questionnaire so that a definitive diagnosis can be made.
Canine Separation Anxiety Assessment
Owners may be asked to complete a questionnaire similar to the one below, checking yes, no, or don’t know to the questions relating to the dog’s history (background). While not all dogs with separation anxiety have had a disturbed background, many have, so positive answers in this section provide an element of suspicion that SA is involved. Questions under the heading “behavior” relate to the dog’s attachment level, pre- and post-departure cues, behavior in the owner’s absence, and greeting behavior. Here, affirmative responses may be qualified as mild, moderate or severe. Scoring the behaviors (see below) gives an indication of the severity of the condition.
Note: The following sample of questions and interpretation sections are meant for information only. Any assessment should be done under the supervision and guidance of a veterinarian. Owners should not attempt to diagnose separation anxiety themselves.
Interpretation of Canine Separation Anxiety Test