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THE ROLE OF TOYS IN MODIFYING BEHAVIOUR

2. SEPARATION ANXIETY

First broadcast on www.provet.co.uk  


This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

The Problem

Many dogs are left at home for long periods of the day and this can be stressful for the animal, resulting in undesirable behavioural traits. Toys can be helpful in reducing the stress that these dogs undergo.

Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may show a wide variety of abnormal behavioural patterns including the following :

  • Barking, howling or whining- often continuous noise leading to complaints from neighbours

  • Chewing furniture, fixtures and fittings and other household objects

  • Digging - carpets, floors, gardens

  • They may exhibit signs of fear - excessive salivation, trembling, cowering

  • They may be excessively boisterous when an owner returns home

  • They may show excessive attention seeking and be over-affectionate

  • Passing urine in the house *

  • Passing faeces in the house *

  • They may develop psychogenic vomiting or diarrhoea *

  • They may indulge in self-mutilation by excessively grooming or biting at themselves

Sometimes these signs may be due to a medical problem and not to separation anxiety, so dogs showing these behavioural changes should be examined by a veterinarian to rule out a medical disorder.

Managing the problem

  Management of separation anxiety can be difficult, but several different approaches have been tried :

  • If separation from the owner is the problem an item of the owners bearing their scent may help...for example leave a blanket or item of clothing with the dog when the owner is out

  • If the problem is isolation leaving the TV or radio on may provide enough human stimulation for the dog to be comforted

  • If the problem is boredom in a boisterous dog leaving a toy such as a Buster cube, or Kong can help to keep them occupied whilst the owner is out.

  • A vigorous period of exercise immediately before the owner leaves the home often helps to reduce this behaviour

  • Feeding the animal immediately before the owner leaves the house may also help reduce this behaviour because the dog will be concentrating on eating when the owner leaves, and dogs often settle down for a rest after food.

  • Drug therapy can be tried, but this should be a last resort 

  • Animal behaviourists prefer to try to desensitise the dog by gradually getting the dog used to the owner not being present :

    • One of the most successful ways of achieving this is to use a food-reward toy like the Buster Cube which will occupy the dog while it tries to get the food out of the middle of the toy. 

    • Another way is to use a chew-toy which is hard to breakdown eg the Kong

    These toys are introduced initially while the owner is present and then the owner leaves the dog for an increasing period of time, until the dog no longer worries when the owner leaves it because it is concentrating on playing with the toy.  It can take several weeks for a dog to accept long-periods of absence form the owner.

  • Sometimes the anxiety behaviour is triggered by a particular action - eg picking up a bag, putting on a coat or the sound of car keys being handled. If this is the case these stimuli should be avoided - don't let the dog see or hear these events.

Availability of toys

Toys can help in the management of dogs with separation anxiety to :

        Distract their attention from barking, chewing and other antisocial behaviour

        Occupy them whilst the owner leaves the home, and for some time afterwards

        To replace household objects as objects to chew

Examples of toys used to modify this type of behaviour are :

The Buster Cube play cube with food treat

The Boomer Ball play ball

The Kong chew-enrichment toy with food treat

The King Kong

Cool Kong

The Dental Kong

 


 

 

 

Updated October 2013