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Addressing Canine Separation Anxiety Using Systematic Desensitization and Counter-conditioning

A canine’s distress response to the owner’s absence such as vocalisation, destruction and inappropriate elimination is a welfare issue, as ongoing occurrences of the behaviour can lead to a canine being relinquished, re-homed or euthanized. I aimed to identify if systematic desensitization or counter- conditioning were effective interventions at reducing separation-related behaviours when implemented individually without the support of additional behavioural techniques. Five canines that displayed separation-related behaviours were recruited for treatment. Video cameras were used to monitor the latency and frequency of separation-related behaviours for every absence during each condition. Each canine was randomly placed into either treatment Group A, applying systematic desensitization first then counter-conditioning, or Group B (applying counter-conditioning first then systematic desensitization). Treatment was changed if separation-related behaviours did not display evidence of reducing during the first treatment. Implementing systematic desensitization or counter- conditioning independently did not reduce or eliminate separation-related behaviours of canines as a long-term solution. Using a video camera to observe separation-related behaviours was beneficial for identifying if the owner-reported behaviours were occurring, as well as observing additional behaviours elicited by the owner’s absence that did not produce evidence. In this research, owner compliance reduced during systematic desensitization which resulted in an increase in, or no change in separation-related behaviours. However, due to the fixed location of the video camera, separation-related behaviours may have been over- or under-reported during data collection. Further investigation into different combinations of behavioural techniques that are effective and practical to apply for owners is suggested.
Type of thesis
Babington, O. M. (2019). Addressing Canine Separation Anxiety Using Systematic Desensitization and Counter-conditioning (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12551
The University of Waikato
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