Canine Behavior/Indoor Urination... Probably Separation Anxiety
Dear Madeline, I have read you biography and I promise to read and rate your response within three days. I understand that your time is valuable, that you are most likely spending at least 45 minutes of your time in response to my question, and I understand too that when questioners read and rate your responses fairly that you make random donations to animal shelters to help homeless animals. In the interest of being appreciative of your time AND helping shelter dogs and cats, I agree that I will rate your response and give you fair feedback.
My dog Sherlock has what I would call moderate separation anxiety. When he is home alone, he doesnít chew, destroy, bark, cry, or whineÖ but if I leave him home by himself for more than an hour, 90% of the time, he urinates. Itís always in the SAME place in the hallway (even though we always washed, steam clean, and remove the scent).
Sherlock was a rescue that came with his own little bundle of anxiety issues that, for the most part, we have resolved. We just cannot seem to fix the urination. Iíve tried exercising him hard before I leave the house, de-sensitizing him to me getting ready (putting my makeup on, getting my jacket and keys, etc), pushing his nose in it when I get back, teaching him tricks to build his overall confidence, leaving him one of those complex puzzle toys with his favorite foods in it (which he doesnít touch until I get home, and then he goes to town on it), and leaving a puppy pad on the floor in the hallway where he usually pees. Nothing has worked. Iíve gotten him to a place where the act of me leaving doesnít stress him out seemingly at allÖ but at some point, while Iím gone, he urinates.
Here is what I know about his history: he was born in West Virginia, and dropped off at a shelter within his first year. When he arrived at that shelter, he was violent, aggressive, and anxious. They were going to euthanize him, but a border collie rescue group picked him up. He bounced from foster home to foster home for a year or two before he finally came to me. He is a VERY relaxed (pretty lazy) dog who HATES the outdoors. He goes outside to pee and poop, stays twenty seconds, and then runs back in the house. His anxiety issues are minimal to none inside the house, but as soon as he takes a step outside, heís on high alert, and acts as though every sound is terrifying to him.
Let me just say that Sherlock isnít going anywhere. He is with me for life. If he pees in the house every single day until the day he dies, thatís fine. Iíll deal with it. Iím not sure there has ever been a dog as loved as this dog is by me. He is a piece of me, and thereís no way I will ever turn him away for something as menial as urinating in the house. HoweverÖ it would be really nice to have a solutionÖ
I should add that he has been evaluated and has no medical diagnoses that would lead to this behavior.
First, let me start by saying that my heart is warmed by your closing comments. It is so good to hear that Sherlock is so loved and that you are committed to him for his life.
It sounds as if you have done all the training that can be done with a dog such as Sherlock. The only part that I would not suggest doing is "pushing his nose in it" when you get back. All the other training and behavior modification techniques you have tried are sound, except for that one, which is not a training or behavior modification method, only something that Sherlock probably regards as punishment which he most likely does not associate with the inappropriate urination at all, as the punishment is not proximate in time to when the event occurred, but takes place much too late for a dog to associate it with his behavior. While I'm not a proponent of positive punishment, I am well aware of the learning theory behind why it can work, and the association between the event and the punishment must be seconds. There are other factors to consider when using punishment as well so that punishment never tips over to abuse, but this is the aspect of punishment most relevant to your comment about it. I hope you take no offense at my suggestion that you stop using that particular method.
While it sounds as if Sherlock does have a separation distress issue, more important, it sounds to me as if he has a much more serious anxiety issue, that of generalized anxiety. I have worked with many, many dogs on the type of "high alert" that you describe. In my view, those dogs are suffering and unable to enjoy walks and the outdoors as dogs can and should and are being deprived, and the suffering due to the generalized anxiety needs to be addressed.
Toward that end, I would strongly suggest that you find and make an appointment with a veterinarian behaviorist (see www.AVMA.org), which is a veterinarian who has specialized in behavior, and there are only a handful of these in the United States as this is a specialty area for veterinarians. Most veterinarians who don't specialize in this area are not well-versed in canine behavior. Trainers who have taken course work in this area, which I have, are more well-versed in canine behavior than veterinarians who have not specialized in this area.
This is what I know about generalized anxiety, and I hope my comments will give you a starting point and a basic understanding of the issue and possible options to discuss with a veterinarian behaviorist. Only your vet can prescribe these medications, and will most likely want a full chemistry panel on Sherlock before prescribing.
One of the options to address generalized anxiety in canines is a tricyclic antidepressant. These are daily use drugs which take time to build up in the dog's system, usually several weeks. Some of the drugs commonly used for this issue in dogs are Amitriptyline, Imipramine, Doxepin, Clomipramine (also known as Clomicalm), to name a few. These drugs are used mostly for fearful behaviors, noise phobias, separation distress, aggression, compulsive disorders. Amitriptyline is not used as much as some of the other drugs mentioned, and it can have a sedating effect in some dogs. I have seen Clomicalm work very well for dogs with compulsive disorders and moderate to severe separation distress. Some side effects of these drugs can be gastrointestinal upset (which may be temporary), constipation, urinary retention, increased anxiety and/or agitation (sometimes also temporary), dry mouth, orthostatic hypotension, cardiac arrhythmia, sedation. These may sound like a lot of side effects, but usually most dogs experience only two or three, and should be closely monitored with the vet behaviorist in order to assess whether the side effects seem to be temporary and abate over time so that the drug can be efficacious.
Another class of drugs are called SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). They're used for anxiety and fearful behaviors, also for impulse control disorders, emotional dysregulation, to name a few which I think are relevant to your situation.
Side effects can incluse appetite suppression (sometimes temporary), especially with Prozac; lethargy/sedation, increased anxiety/agitation (sometimes temporary and abates), aggression, to name a few of the most common side effects. Drugs in this category include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), setraline (Zoloft). It's best to use the first line of these drugs, as generics can sometimes fail, and when switching to a generic there may be differences in the drug composition that can adversely affect your dog's progress.
Along with the SSRIs, a drug called buspirone (Buspar) is often used as an adjunct and can be very useful when used with the appropriate SSRI.
Selegeline is an MAOI which is often used for anxiety issues.
Trazedone is another daily use or intermittent use drug, and I lean towards this drug for dogs which present with the issues you describe in Sherlock. In discussions with a prescribing veterinarian where I am the trainer, I will often request this drug. It's use is for anxiety, phobias, and separation distress.
I also like benzodiazepines. They're good intermittent use drugs, and I like them because their effect is quicker than the SSRIS. These include xanax, klonopin, tranxene, and ativan. They address fear and panic. However, their effect is generally not for more than a few hours. I wouls suggest using these if there is any reason Sherlock can not be put on any of the daily use drugs. The way I would utilize the effect of these drugs is to administer the drug, wait until the drug is having the desired, observable effect, and then do the training and behavioral modification (outdoors, in Sherlock's case) while the drug is in effect. I request these from veterinarians for my customers for dogs with thunderstorm phobias, as one example. The side effects can be appetite stimulation, disinhibition and/or impulsivity, and aggression.
Clonidine is another drug which can be used daily or as an intermittent use drug. It addresses anxiety and hypervigilance, and this is one of the drugs I think I would suggest if I were working with your vet as it sounds right up Sherlock's alley.
There are natural remedies as well which you can try before deciding to use a pharmacological intervention, such as a collar Sherlock could wear which contains DAP (dog appeasement pheremone). These Adapto collars can be used with any of the medications mentioned, unless your vet suggests otherwise.
Understand that if you decide to go the pharmacological route, that Sherlock MUST be undergoing behavioral modification training as well, even before the drug "kicks in," as the drug alone will not do all thw work - you also need to work to change the neuropathways in the brain affecting behavior while you have the window of opportunity that the drug is opening - and also because you don't know when the drug will start having an effect, and you want to "right there" with behavioral modification and training as soon as the drug starts working, even if the signs that the drug is working are too subtle for you to see at first.
Understand that Sherlock is not enjoying his life fully, though I understand and fully acknowledge how much you love him and your connection to him. I feel that he is a dog who is missing out on all the outdoor pleasures all dogs should be able to experience in the absence of panic and anxiety. I have seen pharmacological intervention along with training and behavioral modification work wonders for many dogs. I am conservative in suggesting the use of drugs, so when I do it's because I feel their use is necessary and that the dog can potentially benefit greatly from the correct drug(s).
I appreciate your question. It has given me an opportunity to put on the Internet information which I feel may be of great benefit to dog owners whose dogs may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorders, who may possibly be people who don't know that there is pharmacological help out there for their dog when nothing else or when training and behavior modification alone have not worked.
It sounds as if you have a good grasp of training methods. I hope these suggestions will help you and Sherlock.
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Delray Beach Dog Trainer
Hoboken NJ Dog Trainer
NYC Dog Trainer