Dogs mental health

Nowadays there is a growing awareness of the importance of good mental health. There is an increase in the number of people seeking help and counseling. People are striving to improve their quality of life by using medications not only for severe mental problems but even for mild mood disorders. Well, did you know that our canine friends may suffer from mental disorders as well?
Dogs mental problems usually manifest in behaviours that annoy and aggravate their owners. This results in anger reaction of the owner that may exacerbate the dog’s problem.  This vicious cycle can be resolved by understanding the dog’s behaviour and the management options.
The most common behavioral problem of dogs is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in dogs is usually manifested by destructive and inappropriate behaviour when the dog gets left alone even in a familiar environment.  The most common complaints I hear from owners are that the dog constantly howls barks or whines, destroys by chewing various objects in the house, furniture ,doors and windows. Some dogs urinate and defecate in the house despite being house trained.

This condition is extremely irritating for the dog’s owner but it is crucial to understand the nature of this behaviour. These are symptoms of severe stress. Dogs are social creatures, they consider the family as their “pack” in which they are an equal member. It is not natural for dogs to be separated from their owners and some dogs get very distressed by it. When they express destructive behaviour it is not done out of vindictiveness, it is their way of trying to free themselves. Soiling the house may represent a sign of severe emotional distress.

Because we can not converse with the dog, the diagnosis of separation anxiety is tentative and is done by ruling out other medical problems that may result in a similar behaviour. Puppies may show destructive behaviour as a part of teething and not due to separation anxiety.

Punishing the dog will not help solving the problem. On the contrary,when you punish your dog when you return home, it may associate the punishment with your return rather than with the mischief it caused. This may stress it even more when you will leave home the next time.

The management of this condition is not straight forward. This problem will not go away on its own. It requires perseverance in a process that is meant to ensure the dog that when you are leaving you are not deserting it and you will be back. I strongly recommend to the owners of dogs who suffer from behavioural problem to consult a behavioral specialist. The treatment process usually involves desensitization training in which the dog learns to cope with periods of separation that are gradually extended. It is also important to create a safe area for the dog  in which it will feel secured and its ability to cause damage will be limited. The key is to confine the dog without making it feel isolated. leaving an object with your smell such as shirt may help the dog feel closer to you.

Behavioural modification medication are available for dogs. These medications are similar to human antidepressants and anxiolytics. Most people find these medications very effective in reducing their dog’s stress level without sedating them.

Owning a dog with a behavioral disorder will affect both the dog’s and the owner quality of life. There is no need to suffer any longer. If your dog is trashing your house it is probably a call for help. Consult your veterinarian about more information on how to manage your dog’s behavioral issues and help both of you to live a better life.