Dog Behavior, 1-2021, pp. 35-43 • doi 10.4454/db.v7i1.135

Stephane Bleuer-Elsner a, Sylvia Masson b

  • a Veterinary Behaviorist, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • b Veterinary Behaviorist, Voreppe, France.

Abstract

The closure related to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on the management of separation-related
disorder in a dog. Eight weeks before the first COVID-19 pandemic closure, the patient, an 8-year-old female
neutered cross breed dog weighing 6 kg, was presented for nonstop barking when separated from her owners, 8
hours a day, 5 days each week. Before the first consultation, 4 years of training based on desensitization without
medication helped the patient but never lowered the barking beyond two hours a day, which remains way too high
to provide a correct quality of life to this dog. The patient welfare was at stake, and the neighborhood complains
were growing. The patient was prescribed fluoxetine at 20 mg (3.3 mg/kg) PO q24 h. and trazodone PRN before
separation at 25 mg (4.2 mg/kg) PO. A behavioral modification plan based on extinction and calm reinforcement
was prescribed. Eight weeks after the treatment onset, just before the first COVID-19 pandemic closure, the dog
improved significantly, lowered daily barking up to 15 minutes. During all the successive closures (i.e., one year),
the dog was never left alone. When the closures ended, the barking relapsed, straight at the first separation event,
reaching 1 to 2 hours daily, even though the fluoxetine had never been interrupted. Therefore, gabapentin was prescribed
PRN before separation at 100 mg (16.6 mg/kg) in place of trazodone that triggered excitation in the patient
when it was previously tried. The behavioral plan was completed with additional conditioning learning before separation.
The dog improved quickly to a short tolerable time of barking (i.e., 5 to 10 minutes). This outcome remains
stable by the time the paper is written i.e., 3 months after the end of the closure. The patient’s evolution emphasizes
two important topics in the treatment of separation-related disorder: firstly, medication is needed for most cases to
lower the level of emotional reaction, and secondly, interruption in the exposition to the fearful context may have
rebound effects when the context will be encountered again. The long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
remains unknown on both human and dog’s welfare. More extensive studies should be conducted to measure its
impact on separation-related disorder in dogs.