Jack Russell Missing Grandma


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Q: “I have a 12-year-old Jack Russell. I have been living with my 98-year-old mother for seven years. I work but my mother was able to be there with Jack even though she did not walk him or take him out. Still, Jack was still there.

Now my mom has had to move into assisted living and she sold her house in a very short time.  I am living alone, and my dog is a mess. He is so anxious over me leaving and going to work. Even though I’ve hired a dog walker he knows I’m going to be leaving and he just whimpers all morning and it’s so disturbing.

My vet gave me Trazadone to calm him. I am just concerned about giving it to him. Do you have any suggestions?  I cannot afford doggy day care.”  N.K., Ventura, CA

A:   Your dog may have separation anxiety, at the very least he is distressed about you leaving and simultaneously may be missing your mom and companionship she provided.

That’s one issue – which I will address, but first, a second issue might be that you have a high energy breed with a great deal of hard-wired drive, and zero outlets. While all dogs are certainly individuals, and while I haven’t met Jack, in general Jack Russell’s require lots of goal directed activities. You might be surprised at the difference enrolling Jack into a scent discriminating class or even a canine sport like agility might make. Activity with a focus (more than merely long walks – not that there’s anything wrong with long walks) may be the “drug” your dog needs.

Definitely enhance indoor enrichment, and for a Jack Russell specifically – hide food in food dispensing toys. Like most folks, I suspect you feed your dog from a food bowl or dish a few times a day. I suggest you take around 20 percent of your dog’s daily intake and deposit it inside the food dispensing toys (purchased at most pet stores and online). Begin with placing the toys with food inside near the food bowl, but gradually place them further and further away, eventually actually hiding them. Do this before you depart for work. And to enhance motivation – place some really tasty treats inside the toys too, at least to start with.

If Jack has no interest in the food and treats when you leave the house (remember at first they’re right near the food bowl), that tells me it’s more likely Jack truly has separation anxiety. And, or if Jack is destructive when you’re not home and/or having accidents indoors, for sure, I’d try the trazadone because that is what your veterinarian is suggesting..

We don’t know, of course, exactly what dogs with separation distress are thinking – but we do know they are ridden with overwhelming anxiety. That can’t feel good. And if a drug can help, why not?  If the drug doesn’t help, there are others that will help, so keep in touch with your veterinarian.

If Jack’s issue is more anxiety and merely missing your mom, my suggestion is to further enhance enrichment. Instead of leaving out the same toys all the time, rotate. Also, surprise Jack with periodic novel scents. For example, spray some cologne on a piece of paper or a scent like Lavendar (which some studies indicate may also have a calming effect).

Plug in a few Adaptil diffusers. Adaptil is a copy of a pheromone that calms and can help dogs feel more comfortable in their own environments. Also, ask your veterinarian about a calming Probiotic from Purina, called Calming Care.

And, if it’s possible to take your Jack Russell to see your mom. I suggest these visits would be great for your dog as well as your mother.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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