DEAR DR. FOX: I was intrigued when I saw a question about separation anxiety in your column this morning.
Are you familiar with the work Malena DeMartini (malenademartini.com) is doing for dogs with separation anxiety? Almost two years ago, my husband and I adopted a frightened puppy mill-rescue beagle who suffers from separation anxiety. We worked with multiple vets, dog trainers, dog nutritionists and behavior consultants, and it wasn't until we began working with Malena last summer that Emma the anxious beagle finally started being able to cope with our absences.
Please inform readers about this effective training program to help dogs with separation anxiety. Malena DeMartini has devoted the last 15 years to working with separation-anxious dogs exclusively, and, along with more than 20 trainers certified in her treatment protocol, is helping clients across the globe. Her protocol is based on scientifically proven desensitization methods, by chipping away little by little at the dog's fear.
Each dog is paired with a trainer, who meets with clients via Skype or a similar app to watch the dog in his natural environment. Trainers assess how long each dog can cope with being alone (some are fine for five minutes, others can handle only five seconds), and then build a training plan from there.
Using shared spreadsheets, the trainers give clients a 20- to 30-minute "mission" to do five days a week, broken down into exercises, such as grabbing a briefcase and keys and leaving through the front door for different time intervals. The clients then type in how the dog behaved while they were gone and also how he recovered after they returned.
In order for the treatment to work, dogs cannot be left alone except during training missions. With the help of pet sitters, doggie daycare centers, friends, family and even businesses that allow employees to bring their dogs to work, clients are able to find creative ways to give Fido company. -- T.K., Ashburn, Virginia
DEAR T.K.: I am always open to encouraging people and their veterinarians and behavioral consultants to address the issue of separation anxiety in their canine companions through behavioral desensitization, and not just rely on psychotropic medications that can turn dogs into zombies. Associated confinement phobia and extreme boredom, compounded by escalating hypervigilance and self-mutilation, are on the rise with the dogs of those people who want a dog but don't have a lifestyle suitable for canine ownership. They would be better with two cats.
Keeping a dog in a crate all day is one of the worst mental cruelties for a pack animal. The book "Decoding Your Dog" by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists is a useful guide on this and some other dog behavior problems.
QUESTIONING THE WORLD WILDLIFE FUND'S PET FOOD INTELLIGENCE
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has a long history of turning half-truths into fact and missing the larger picture for reasons attributable to shortsightedness or vested interests. Their WWF magazine article "What's the environmental impact of pet food" is illustrative of the organization's limited perspective. Adhering to the nebulous dictum of sustainability, the article asserts that the increasing public demand for human-grade ingredients in pet foods is wrong-minded environmentally, and that cats and dogs should continue to be fed animal byproducts.
Millions of tons of diseased, dying and dead animals and condemned animal parts are recycled into pet foods and livestock and poultry feed, much of which is of questionable nutritive value and poses a significant health risk. High-temperature processing to destroy bacteria also destroys nutrients and creates carcinogens.
How much more progressive and visionary it would be for the WWF to address the rising human population and its insatiable demand for meat and other animal products and promote vegetarianism? Rather than making responsible and informed pet owners feel guilty, it should advise biologically appropriate, healthful whole food ingredients for companion animals.
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