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What to do with anxious dogs

Stephen Sheldon
Vail, CO Colorado

My wife, Roni, and I decided we had had enough.

Enough incessant barking, enough running away when taken off the leash, enough fear of going outside in the summer afternoons for fear of thunder, and enough territorial pooping and peeing in the house.

So we put our two male, neutered dogs ” Ralph, age 2 and Lincoln, age 1 ” on medication for anxiety; technically the medication, called Clomicalm, is for separation anxiety.



I often joke that what do dogs have to be anxious about ” forgetting where they buried their bones? But dogs live fairly identical lives to ours and, not surprisingly, they suffer many of the same medical conditions, anxiety disorders included.

They are part of our family and they know it. So when you leave for the day they get upset. When another dog comes into the family they have issues. When you pull the suitcase out of the closet they know something is up. When the sky goes boom they shudder like Chicken Little.



Behavioral disorders are the No. 1 killer of young dogs. Want to know why? Because unacceptable behavior is often treated with abandonment or euthanasia.

When dealing with a behavioral problem most veterinarians want to get to the root of the problem. Owners need to provide as much information about the dog’s behavior as they can.

A program called “behavior modification” is one treatment. The classic example for separation anxiety is to go through your leaving-the-house procedure in front of the dog. Get your keys, kiss your spouse and kids, and leave the house. Then re-enter and repeat, and gradually extend the time you spend outside the house.



What you are doing is de-sensitizing your pooch. I often suggest using a trained professional to do an on-site consultation with you and your pet. (Fortunately for us we’ve got a great resource in the valley, with Mark Ruark and his staff at Wags and Whiskers.)

Often times we must turn to pharmaceutical help. I am not a big drug pusher, but I believe drugs can help a pet understand that, “whew, life is OK without mom for a few hours. I’ll survive.”

These drugs were to be used only for a few months. But they can be used long-term if needed. And yes, a new one ” Reconcile ” is approved for dogs and is essentially doggie Prozac.

There are many more drugs, including Valium, anti-histamines, Clomicalm or clomipramine, sedatives like acepromazine, and drugs for senility; most take three to four weeks to begin working.

I am happy to report that Ralph and Lincoln are doing well on Clomicalm and sit un-tethered on the porch with me in the evening without chasing or barking at passing dogs. They are still on house arrest because I can’t get the stain out of my carpet from their last battle in The Poop Wars.

I’ll pull them off meds in another 30 days, hold my nose, and report the results in a blog on our Web site.

Stephen Sheldon, DVM, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital in Gypsum. He can be reached at 524-DOGS, drsteve@gypsumah.com or http://www.gypsumah.com.


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