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Separation anxiety is a neurological problem that manifests as a psychological response when your dog is separated from the people to whom he or she has become attached. It also seems to manifest when your dog suspects a high probability of punishment for some action that he or she has committed. Far from being a simple behavioral problem, your animal is suffering from a legitimate medical condition and requires specific treatment if improvement is to be expected.
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Separation anxiety is most often seen in younger dogs, and particularly those who grew up around a large number of people and other animals, such as those who are adopted from animal shelters. In certain cases, animals that begins to lose their sensory perception such as hearing or sight can become so dependent upon their human owners that they suffer separation anxiety when parted from them for even a brief period of time. In general, the more opportunity an animal has had to become severely attached to and dependent upon a human being, the more prone they are to develop separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is diagnosed by observing the animal's behavior during times in which he or she is separated from human contact. An animal suffering from separation anxiety will usually display several clinical signs such as urinating or defecating in inappropriate places, destructive behavior such as chewing or scratching, anxious behavior such as continually pacing a room, and vocalization of distress in the form of constant howling or barking. As with most diseases, a thorough medical history and blood analysis will be required to rule out other possible causes of similar symptoms.
Treatment usually involves a drug called clomicalm. These drugs alter the dog's behavior by subtly increasing the level of serotonin and norepinephrine in their bloodstream, thus producing a calming effect that reduces mental distress and makes the animal more susceptible to learning and training.
This type of medical intervention is most effective when used in conjunction with behavioral training. Prolonged attempts to desensitize the animal to your departure and acclimate him or her to the idea of temporary separation are usually quite successful. Be aware, however, that positive feedback should be your strategy here. Punishing your dog while it is in a state of anxiety will only increase said anxiety and make your problem worse.
Once you feel you've got separation anxiety under control, always be certain to spend sufficient time with your pet and regularly exercise him or her to get rid of excess energy. Always be aware of the possibility of future outbreaks when undergoing major lifestyle changes and take steps beforehand to get your dog used to these changes in a gradual manner.
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