Labrador Retrievers are companion dogs who find it extremely stressful to be left alone, especially for long periods of time. They are rated as one of the most common breeds for separation anxiety. Anxiety and its effects can be devastating for both the dog and owner, and is a major reason dogs are harshly punished, neglected, re-homed or taken to animal shelters.
Separation anxiety in dogs is a neurological distress reaction to separation from the person to whom the dog is attached. Signs of canine separation anxiety are howling, barking, whining, inappropriate urination or defecation, depression, obsessive licking, pacing, panting, drooling, destructive behavior, digging, scratching, destroying walls and doors, as well as escape behavior, including breaking through doors and leaping out of windows.
Other Types of Anxiety
Fear of loud noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms are another common phobia in dogs, most likely to occur in Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Hounds, Huskies and any mixes of these breeds.
Stranger & Situational Anxiety
Breeding may cause some Labradors to be high strung and prone to anxiety, phobias and shyness. A history of trauma, abuse or abandonment may cause a Lab to develop serious anxiety problems. If the dog has a frightening experience that isn't properly dealt with, it may develop a life-long phobia towards a person, situation or object. Anxiety and fear may lead to submissive behavior in some labs and fear of biting in others.
Your veterinarian must conduct a thorough history and physical exam to rule out other medical issues. When separation anxiety is confirmed, there are numerous treatment options available.
Successful treatment of canine anxiety involves medical, natural and behavioral interventions. Because anxious dogs are suffering and may be capable of harming themselves, early treatment is essential.
An anxious Lab can often cause owners to lose their patience and become frustrated and angry, but punishment will exacerbate your dog's stress and anxiety and only make things worse.
Depending on the severity of your Labrador Retriever's separation anxiety, your veterinarian may recommend pharmaceutical treatment such as clomipramine, fluoxetine (Prozac®) or amitriptyline (Elavil®) and Valium. Do not try to treat your dog with your own prescription medicines or with over the counter medication.
Natural approaches for treating canine anxiety include herbal remedies such as Tranquility Blend, Rescue Remedy, Valerian Root, and Melatonin, an insomnia remedy recommended Dr. Nicolas Dodman, a veterinary specialist in Thunder & Noise Phobias.
When a substance called DAP is placed in an electric diffuser and plugged into the wall Dog Appeasing Pheromones, similar to those produced by lactating female dogs, are released and can ease anxiety and stress-related behavior in dogs.
Methods to alleviate stress include positive crate training, providing a secure area where your dog can hide, and obedience classes that boost confidence, allow for socialization, and help dogs feel more in control.
Behavior modification techniques, such as leaving your house for short intervals and slowly increasing the length of time away, will help your dog become accustomed to being alone. Be consistent and offer rewards and praise. Give your Lab something special, reserved for times when you leave, such as frozen treat-stuffed Kongs to divert your dog’s focus onto something enjoyable.
According to Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, "Mother dogs control and comfort their young by putting pressure on the bridge of their nose or behind their ears. You can mimic this by using a special head collar called a Gentle Leader … which some dogs find comforting during storms or fireworks. Anxiety Wraps can be purchased or homemade and have been shown to calm dogs by providing the soothing sensation of being held and hugged.
Fearful dogs often seek small, enclosed spaces. Dr. Myrna Milani, veterinarian and author of "Dog Smart," recommends "unzipping a sleeping bag near your pet's favorite … spot, so … she can burrow inside and hide. If it smells like you, this will provide additional comfort."