Q: We inherited a Weimaraner when he jumped into our car while on a trip. We have grown to really like him; however he has separation anxiety that is not fun! We have tried several things but absolutely to no avail. He can be destructive when we have tried to leave him in addition to barking the whole time - and his bark is very loud! He weighs 70 pounds or more. Any help you can give us will be appreciated.
A: To give you a little history on Weimaraners, they were originally bred for hunting large game like wolves and bear in Germany. Because of that, they are known to be alert, fearless and active. Their need to be part of a family or a pack can be why you are having the trouble you are having with him. They don't like to be kenneled away from their family and are not above letting you and the whole world know it.
That being said, Weimaraners are not the only breed to be affected with separation anxiety; 14 percent to 17 percent of all dogs may be affected with this disorder. Many are older dogs, and those adopted from shelters and rescues as adults are also affected.
It makes you wonder why he jumped in your car in the first place and what his early start in life was like. That may help to explain a part of his behavior.
There are two components to treating and curing this condition. One is through behavior modification techniques, and the other is through medical management.
To start a behavior modification program, you need to do everything you can to educate yourself about this condition including consulting with a behavior specialist who is board certified. (People have called me certifiable, but not board certified.)
This person can guide you through many steps including how to restructure your relationship with your dog. Namely, you need to have more structured and focused interactions with him to persuade him to be less attached. This means you ignore all attention-seeking behavior and reward calm behavior. Providing him with a bed or mat and teaching him a calm cue will aid in this task. If you teach sit/stay on the mat, in time he will learn it will earn him the attention he deserves.
Then you will work on departures and returns. Several times daily at first, you will need to go through the habits of leaving, like picking up your keys or purse, without actually leaving and then give rewards for calm behavior. During these exercises, the pet will need to be ignored for 15-30 minutes before departure and after arrival. Before you leave, you also may refocus your pet's attention on a treat or food, or a stuffed toy on his bed, so he associates your leaving with a treat.
Gradually, you will need to lengthen your departures and continue the same structure that has been working for the shorter departures.
Some experts suggest leaving a TV or radio on if your departure will be shorter so the pet will have less anxiety as to when you will be returning. Most separation anxiety behaviors start really kicking in after 30 minutes that the dog is alone, experts believe. For longer departures, use some re-focusing food measures. He will learn to differentiate longer versus shorter trips over time and hopefully be less anxious as to when you are returning.
Another option to consider is a doggy day care as an alternative on some days. Reputable cage-free day cares or pet sitters in the home can also be explored. There are air diffusers that emit pheromones to help reduce anxiety. They plug into the wall and are good for 30 days.
In addition to all this training, oral medications are important in the management of this condition. There are two licensed products on the market. One is called Clomicalm, and the other is called Reconcile. In studies with Clomicalm, after two months of treatment in conjunction with training, dogs were taken off the medicine and 50 percent had showed improvement. With Reconcile, 73 percent of dogs treated for two months showed improvement when therapy was coupled with training. Both medicines are given daily and can take up to four weeks to show any effects. Therapy may be needed for months for continued success.
As you can see, you inherited a dog that has some work ahead of him. Know that consistency is the key to alleviating his fears, and with proper guidance and patience, you can have that dog that you read about when you read that Weimaraners love their families and are friendly, fearless and well adjusted.
Send questions for Dr. Allison Dascoli to "Ask the Vet," Charleston Daily Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston WV 25301 or email them to askthe...@dailymail.com. Comments or suggestions can be submitted the same way.