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Effects of preadoption counseling on the prevention of separation anxiety in newly adopted shelter dogs

By M. E. Herron, L. K. Lord, S. E. Husseini

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Separation anxiety is one of the more prevalent and difficult to treat behavior problems in dogs. The associated behaviors can be undesirable to dog owners and damage the human animal bond, leading to relinquishment or return to an animal shelter. Due to the high prevalence of separation related problems in recently adopted shelter dogs, shelter staff hold a critical role in advising and educating owners on how to prevent separation anxiety post-adoption. The aim of this study was to propose a form of that preventive counseling as a means of preventing the development of separation anxiety in recently adopted shelter dogs. The efficacy of preadoption counseling in the education and prevention of separation anxiety problems was tested in a prospective, randomized, parallel-group study. Participants included 133 new owners of dogs 6 months of age and older. At the time of adoption, sixty-six of these owners were randomly selected to receive five minutes of counseling on the prevention of separation anxiety, while the remaining sixty-seven owners served as the controls. A follow-up survey regarding the signs associated with separation anxiety and other potentially related behaviors was conducted one month post adoption. Results showed that 19 owners reported their dogs as having separation anxiety. There was no significant effect of adoption counseling on the prevention of separation anxiety. Owners in both groups were equally as likely to perform most of the recommendations given during counseling. Dogs that were reported to have separation anxiety were significantly more likely than dogs without reported separation anxiety to show nervous or panicked behavior as the owner prepared to leave ( P=0.0001) and were more likely to be reported as being "needy" ( P=0.031). Having another dog in the home was not protective against the development of separation anxiety. Owners in the counseling group were more likely than those in the control group to put food inside a toy at the time of leaving the dog home alone ( P=0.0001), suggesting the counseling recommendations were indeed followed by the owners. Owner compliance supports the idea that counseling is a useful tool for owners. Separation anxiety is a disorder whose course may be difficult to alter in recently adopted shelter dogs using only basic, interventional information. Brief counseling and a toy do not effectively prevent the occurrence of this complex behavioral condition. Further investigation should be done to find more specific, effective prevention tools for owners to use in the home to minimize the development of separation anxiety and shelter should be prepared to provide interventional resources to owners whose dogs develop separation anxiety despite these efforts.

Publication Title Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
Volume 9
Issue 1
Pages 13-21
ISBN/ISSN 1558-7878
DOI 10.1016/j.jveb.2013.09.003
Language English
Author Address Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, 601 Vernon L. Tharp St., Columbus, OH 43210,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal health and hygiene
  3. Animals
  4. Canidae
  5. Canine
  6. Carnivores
  7. Counseling
  8. Dogs
  9. Education
  10. Effect
  11. Follow-up studies
  12. Guidelines
  13. Incidence
  14. Mammals
  15. pathogens
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. Pets and companion animals
  18. prevention
  19. training
  20. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed