Now that I've been MIA for long enough for you to completely forget about this series, let's talk miscellany! Nothing like odds and ends to grab your attention and bring you back in. Everything in this post may have an effect on your dog's battle with separation anxiety, and you should try as many as possible.
It didn't help Charlie (actually made him more anxious), but these tight-fitting shirts have worked incredibly well for many dogs and I regularly recommend them for my clients (and even sell them in my store!). They work by applying constant, even pressure along the body of your dog which has a pretty amazing calming effect for most dogs (similar to a big bear hug for people). They're meant to be worn tight for the best effect, so if your dog, like Charlie, doesn't like wearing things, this may not work for you.
They work best in 20-30 minute increments with a break in between, but if your dog is very anxious and the shirt works well, you can keep the shirt on 24/7 if you need to.
Dog Appeasement Pheromone is a synthetic pheromone meant to replicate those excreted by mother dogs while nursing puppies to help calm dogs (there's even a version for cats too - it's called Feliway). They come in a plug-in version that you can attach to an outlet in your home, a spray that you can put on a bandana for walks outside or to spray a blanket or crate, and a collar that your dog can wear all the time. DAP doesn't usually have an easily visible immediate effect, but many people have shared that (in the case of using the plug-in) they notice their dogs becoming anxious and whining when the plug-in runs out, and relaxing after it is replenished. Most pet supply stores carry them.
There are so many herbal supplements, I can't even begin to list them all. Some work homeopathically, others utilize Traditional Chinese Medicine, and others are just herbs. A common herbal remedy is "Rescue Remedy" which is a combination of various flower essences. I've tried this with Charlie with no effect, but many have seen great results, so it's certainly worth a try.
There are other interesting herbal anti-anxiety supplements you can look into, including L-Theanine (active ingredient in green tea), and Melatonin. Be sure to research dosage, and drug interactions before giving these to your dog, and talk to your vet (or find a homeopathic/holistic vet near you) if you have any questions.
I cannot underline the importance of getting a full thyroid blood panel on your dog if she is anxious, fearful, or aggressive. Thyroid imbalance has many, many effects on the body, many of which are still not well understood. Dr. Dodds is the expert in the field, wrote an excellent book on the subject, and has a lab dedicated to running thyroid (and other) panels. Her lab was less expensive than my local vet's lab, so I highly, highly, highly (did I mention highly?) recommend going there first.
After finding out that Charlie was hypothyroid (low thyroid levels, and his were just barely low) and getting him on medication, he calmed down significantly, even though he'd been on anti-anxiety meds for over a year at that point. I've now been able to lower his Prozac dose quite a bit, thanks to the thyroid imbalance getting sorted out.
I realize this may seem like a no brainer for most - but it's worth mentioning. Charlie pre- and post- neuter were two different dogs - totally different dogs. I really can't emphasize this enough (doing a lot of that today - eh?), especially for males - if your dog is intact and displaying abnormal levels of anxiety and/or aggressive behavior, neutering has a good chance of minimizing those behaviors. And if your dog is displaying abnormal behavior, there's no reason to keep him intact (you don't want to pass those genetics down to any puppies).
The effect of spaying a female on her behavior is less understood than neutering on a male, so I will hesitate before recommending it only to alter behavior. That said, if she is displaying abnormal behavior, she should not be bred, and for that reason alone you should strongly consider spaying.
(Let me just take a moment and offer this PSA: there is a serious dog and cat overpopulation problem worldwide. So many pets have accidental [and poorly planned] litters, the offspring of which often end up at the shelter, and are then euthanized because there simply aren't enough homes for all the homeless dogs and cats. Yes, it is nice to have purebreds, but in my humble opinion, only responsible, well-educated, experienced, and knowledgeable breeders with the resources and know-how to breed for health and temperament in order to better the diversity, working ability, and strength of their breed, not to mention a PhD-level understanding of genetics, should have any access to intact dogs for breeding purposes. If you have an intact dog and are anything less than what I have described above, please either alter your dog, or be 100% certain that she or he will not have an accidental litter.)
If you have an intact dog without major behavior problems who you are not planning to breed, the best time to spay/neuter is around 1 1/2 - 2 years old. This gives their body time to mature fully, and growth plates to close naturally (if you adopted a dog who was altered before this time, don't worry - the major effects are generally benign) . If your dog is younger than that and experiencing behavior problems, it's time to talk to your vet, a professional trainer, and even a veterinary behaviorist.
When Charlie was younger (he's 11 now!) I had him exercising with a back pack. It helped him exercise harder (carrying weight) and gave him a job to do, which helped keep him focused. It was also quite useful on long hikes because he was able to carry some of his own stuff.
The general rule of thumb is no more than 15% of the dog's body weight (including the weight of the pack). As with most all things dog, you have to start slowly and build up your dog's strength. Every dog will be different and will have a different tolerance for weight.
My all time favorite (because I have a favorite everything) back packs are made by Ruffwear. They have pretty much anything you might need and something to suit everyone!
The next two posts will be the last of the series! Woohoo! They will be a two-part discussion of the actual training that needs to go into a separation anxiety behavior modification program. I'm hoping to crank them out sometime soon, though I don't recommend holding your breath.
Once I finish off this series (finally!) I'll probably spend some time talking about Emma-related stuff like allergies and urinary incontinence. Maybe even delve into her fear based reactivity (no more series for a while, so don't get excited about that one). I'll also try to get some training videos up, especially of the kitties.
If there's anything you'd like to see covered, feel free to suggest. Though I doubt anyone actually will. There's so much info out in the internet-osphere it's hard to add something meaningful!