For canine separation anxiety

DONNA SOUTHERS, L.VT, Alexandria, Virginia, has found six steps to treatment:

1) Owner education: Understand that the dog cannot help it and punishment has no place in this disorder.

2) Independence training: `Nothing in life is free.' The dog must respond to owner commands before anything positive is provided in return. This approach gives the dog a sense of order and structure. Ignore attention-seeking behaviors. Pet and talk to the dog only when the dog is quiet. Decrease following behaviors-teach the dog to sit and stay; the dog will be more relaxed. Ignore the dog before leaving and upon returning, until the dog has quieted down.

3) Counter-conditioning: The owner should teach a new task upon leave-taking. For example, teach the dog to sit or stay by the door for a food reward.

4) Habituation: The owner repeats the presentation of predeparture cues without leaving.

5) Graduated planned departures: The owner starts after one week of habituation, leaving for two minutes, then five minutes, and so on, only increasing the length of absence if no anxiety is exhibited upon the return.

6) Drugs: Clomicalm (clomipramine) can be given 2-4 mg/kg/day for one to four weeks if needed. It must be used with behavior modification.

These treatment recommendations are in line with accepted treatment protocols for separation anxiety. I think that it is especially germane that owner education appears at the top of this list. Owners often have a difficult time dealing with this type of problem because they misinterpret the cause, do not understand canine social communication, and have a faulty understanding of the appropriate application of behavior-modification techniques. -Wayne Hunthausen, D.V.M., Westwood, Kansas