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Article

Mental Health Disease or Preventable Problem? Australian Dog Trainers’ Opinions about Canine Separation Anxiety Differ with Training Style

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Wild Things Veterinary Behaviour Services, Rosanna, VIC 3084, Australia
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Dog and Cat Behaviour Consultations, Sunbury, VIC 3429, Australia
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School of Animal & Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Roseworthy, SA 5371, Australia
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Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA
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School of Mathematical Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(8), 1393; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10081393
Received: 24 July 2020 / Revised: 1 August 2020 / Accepted: 10 August 2020 / Published: 11 August 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Human-Animal Interactions, Animal Behaviour and Emotion)
Separation anxiety is common. Signs are seen when dogs are alone or separated from their owner, and include destructive behaviour, vocalising, restlessness, and house soiling. Many dog owners do not seek help from veterinarians but might see a trainer. The Australian dog training industry is not regulated. Trainers have a range of experience, education, and qualifications, and use a variety of techniques. We surveyed trainers’ opinions about separation anxiety and found significant differences between reward-based and balanced trainers. Reward-based trainers rated involvement of a veterinarian and use of medication as more important than balanced trainers. More balanced trainers reported that medication was rarely necessary in the cases that they saw. Half the reward-based trainers believed separation anxiety was preventable compared with 95% of balanced trainers. We conclude that opinions about separation anxiety vary between trainers using reward-based and balanced training. Trainers are not taught, expected, or legally allowed to diagnose anxiety disorders. This study found that balanced trainers were less likely to recommend involvement of veterinarians who can make a diagnosis and rule out other causes of observed behaviours. Understanding differences in trainer attitudes may help to improve communication between trainers and veterinarians to better support dogs with separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is common. Many dog owners do not seek help from a veterinarian but might consult a trainer. The objective of this study was to investigate Australian trainers’ opinions about separation anxiety. An online survey was distributed via training organisations, resulting in 63 completed surveys. Descriptive statistics and Fisher’s exact tests were applied. Respondents were grouped into reward-based (n = 41) and balanced (n = 22) trainers. Most trainers (82.5%) used multiple methods to identify separation anxiety but only 7.9% referred to a veterinarian for diagnosis. Reward-based trainers ranked assistance from a veterinarian and owner’s willingness to try medication as more important than balanced trainers (p < 0.05). More balanced trainers reported that medication was rarely necessary in the cases they saw: 50% balanced compared with 4.9% reward-based trainers, with 95% CIs of [28.2, 71.8] and [0.6, 16.5], respectively. Almost all (95.5%) balanced trainers believed separation anxiety was preventable compared with 52.6% of reward-based trainers (p < 0.05). We conclude that opinions about separation anxiety varied between reward-based and balanced trainers. Trainers are not taught, expected, or legally allowed to diagnose anxiety disorders. This study showed that balanced trainers were less likely to recommend involvement of veterinarians who can make a diagnosis and rule out other causes of observed behaviours. View Full-Text
Keywords: dog; dog trainer; separation anxiety; trainer perceptions; separation related behaviour dog; dog trainer; separation anxiety; trainer perceptions; separation related behaviour
MDPI and ACS Style

Hunter, T.; van Rooy, D.; McArthur, M.; Bennett, S.; Tuke, J.; Hazel, S. Mental Health Disease or Preventable Problem? Australian Dog Trainers’ Opinions about Canine Separation Anxiety Differ with Training Style. Animals 2020, 10, 1393. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10081393

AMA Style

Hunter T, van Rooy D, McArthur M, Bennett S, Tuke J, Hazel S. Mental Health Disease or Preventable Problem? Australian Dog Trainers’ Opinions about Canine Separation Anxiety Differ with Training Style. Animals. 2020; 10(8):1393. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10081393

Chicago/Turabian Style

Hunter, Trepheena, Diane van Rooy, Michelle McArthur, Sara Bennett, Jonathan Tuke, and Susan Hazel. 2020. "Mental Health Disease or Preventable Problem? Australian Dog Trainers’ Opinions about Canine Separation Anxiety Differ with Training Style" Animals 10, no. 8: 1393. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10081393

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