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I Need Your Help . . . Separation Anxiety

Since we're in the middle of a travel series here on the site, it's the perfect time to address this question from Phasekitty for our next group problem solver. This cutie pie pup, Brando, suffers from separation anxiety when he's all alone – doesn't he look sad?

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Even though I had dogs growing up, this was something I'd never experienced until I got Brando. As a young puppy, most books said it was normal, but now that he's nine months old, I feel he should be starting to grow out of it . . . and instead it's getting worse! He's crate trained and won't cry at night, but during the day he'll bark the second I step out of the apartment. If I leave him in a place that's not his crate (like say, the hallway or the kitchen), he'll chew and destroy anything he can find from the floorboards to the gate that's holding him in, even though he has tons of chew toys and bones with him. If I leave the apartment for even a second to run down and get the mail or put in some laundry, he'll whine and cry, running around and wreaking havoc until I get back – even if my boyfriend is in the room with him!

He's very well exercised (he gets two long walks a day), has a TON of toys (varying from hard and chewy to soft and snuggly), and generally well disciplined when I'm around (as much as a puppy can be). I've tried leaving for small intervals and only coming back when he's not barking, scolding him when he does bark by giving a stern "no," as well as having him sit and ignoring his excitement until he sits patiently when I first come in the door. All of this doesn't seem to be getting very far. I know there are medications for anxiety, as well as pheromone plugs, but I'd like to think I can do it naturally – I see these as a last resort. Do you think you can help? Any suggestions?

redheath redheath 9 years
My girl developed seperation anxiety so bad it turned into crate phoebia. These phoebias were in addition to noise phoebias. We tried a bunch of different things, pharamone sprays, blankets we slept with, training all to no avail. I scoured the web and found a bunch of articles on Melatonin. I found many articles referencing the use with Goldens, but I have found it extremely helpful with my dalmatian. It def takes a few weeks to become highly effective, but once it does it's amazing. On the really bad days with noise (we live near a miltary base) she does sometimes need more than the Melatonin, but then again, on those days I usually do too! This article touches on it as well as dosage. I would recommend starting at 1 pill a day and working your way up. Also, don't get any of the "blends". If your dog is small I've also seen Melatonin sold in 1 mcg pills at costco behiend the pharmacy counter. Otherwise just any old plain melatonin works. I hope this helps. Good luck & tummy rubs for the puppers :)
numbersgirl numbersgirl 9 years
We had a problem with our "girls" crying when we left but we got a CD from Brookstone that seems to have helped. Here is the link: Hope it helps!!
ladyr ladyr 9 years
I agree with TokiDoki that dominance is a major issue. There was a great episode of the Dog Whisperer where he worked with a dog named Fella who had severe separation anxiety. I think you can get Dog Whisperer episodes on iTunes. If you are not the pack leader (ala Cesar Milan), then your dog will be more upset when you leave because the pack does not leave the leader without permission. It is also important to have a well controlled walk with your dog, especially if you are going to leave for a while. If you perform an exercise in which you are being the leader, such as a walk, it will be helpful. Even just practicing some tricks or commands with your dog before you leave may help some if you stay calm and accomplish the task well. The crate can also be a very important tool. If you work hard with the dog, you can eventually get them to the point where you can leave them in the crate with the door open and they will stay in it.
maggieleigh maggieleigh 9 years
I have a shih tzu who will sometimes cry when I leave. My husband and I give him a treat before we go, put toys out for him and leave the tv/radio on. He's gotten much better, and now he just makes a sad face when we start putting on coats! I think he sleeps while we're gone, but one time I came back and he had found a picture of me (must've fallen off the table) and was taking a nap next to it :P - I wish I had had my camera!
PrincessTracy PrincessTracy 9 years
That's a tough one...especially with Beagles. You CAN get herbal drops (not Bach's...there is another one I have) that is supposed to calm them...I only used it once but geez...I wish I knew the answer!! Get him/her good and tired before you leave so they sleep quicker and don't tear the house up...
TokiDokiMi TokiDokiMi 9 years
My dog Gogo had really bad separation anxiety and our trainer told us it was a dominance issue, if you haven't established dominance in the house then the dog thinks they're taking care of you instead. If you leave it's like they can't do their job and they're failing. (What the trainer said) and it seems true because after of a week of barking at my dog in public places and making her follow me up stairs and through doors it went away and she stopped pulled the fur off of the end of her tail. (Another seperation anxiety thing she had) We trained her through barkbusters for the separation anxiety and it stopped in about 3 days. Hope this helps because it used to break my heart to hear her cry when i left.
ufshutterbabe ufshutterbabe 9 years
If you're leaving a radio on for the dog, make sure its on the right station!
Aphrosette Aphrosette 9 years
I've noticed that many people have suggested busy toys as a remedy. Just thought you all might like some additional remedy toys. This is a site that sells puzzle toys for dogs. They are pricer than a kong, but can give your dog some variety if they lose interest in one busy toy. If you are going to use a busy toy for your dog. You should make sure to have a lot on hand b/c they will get used to one and it will lose its effect. (this website was also listed in the WHOLE DOG JOURNAL it's a great resource for animal tips/advice, and training!)
Tsybrant Tsybrant 9 years
My dog is just about 2 1/2 years old and she had a little bit of anxiety early on, she was a rescue and was very nervous. A couple of things- one I agree with a kong type toy- peanut butter and plain yogurt mixed and frozen the night before keeps them busy for hours. Another thing that really helps is having some sort of noise on in the house, we leave the tv or the radio on in the house when she is home alone. I don't know if you said if your pups crate is in your room or not, but I have read a lot about having the dogs crate in the same room as you, really can help. Good Luck!
mslisash mslisash 9 years
Good luck breaking Brando of his anxiety's. I know how hard this is. We have a Silky Terrier who is 6 years old now, up until about 2 years ago he was fine. Now he yearns for my husband! I am home with him all day, he WAS "my dog" for the first 4 He has now abandonded me and took up with my husband, I mean to the point where I have to move in slowey if I want to give my husband a little kiss or something, he will sometimes actually growl and snip at me. Along with all this behivour; he goes right back into the bedroom after my husband leaves and grabs the sweat pants or tee shirt he had worn to bed and drags it out into the living room and lays on the couch or chair with his head laying on it. He has gone so far as to put both of my husbands tennis shoes up on the chair one time while we were out to eat. I don't see this getting any better, in fact it is growing. I just don't know what to do for the little guy. In the daytime if I am sitting I sit with him and pet him, we talk (I usually do the speaking) all day long,he knows I love dearly and I don't like knowing that something must be bothering him. I want him to be happy and not looking so sad when (and cute at the same husband is not there. Does anyone have any advice on this? Maybe I should mention the medication to the vet, I had never heard of any kind of meds for this.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I have the same problem and I've tried most of these and it hasn't worked. If my dog even thinks I'm leaving (If I put on socks, do my makeup, ANYTHING) he won't even look at a treat or a toy. He refuses them. And while we're gone he won't eat or drink anything either. He HATED rescue remedy, I don't think it did anything at all for him (not saying it doesn't work for other dogs). I tried the positive reinforcment, but like I said he doesn't care about treats when he's in freak out mode. I think it's harder for him because I work from home so am with him a lot more. But we leave him everyday, we go to the gym, the store, I leave for lunch. I can't even leave him along for more then a couple hours. I tried to crate him quite a few times, but he actually freaked out so much he knocked the crate over and I was scared he'd actually hurt himself trying to get out. He doesn't usually bark while we're gone, which is nice, but he just gets SO worked up, it's worrisome. But I'll keep trying all these things, I hope one day he'll catch on! He's almost 2, so maybe he'll get calmer as the years go on!
catstod catstod 9 years
I used the kennel to train my dog as well. But I also found putting in a tshirt that I had worn helps. Some dogs feel comforted by just your scent.
ufshutterbabe ufshutterbabe 9 years
Your puppy is still young, and it sounds like there's a few good tips here that you might not have tried yet. However, I just wanted to add, it is my belief that just as some people have chemical imbalances in their brains that need to be corrected with prescribed medication, some dogs also need pharmaceutical intervention. I have a dog walking client (a boxer) who had such severe separation anxiety that she had to go on medication for it. The benefit was that the medication allowed her to calm down enough to respond to behavioral training, which was impossible previously. After a while, they were able to wean her off the meds. I wholeheartedly agree that you should try other methods first, but I also don't think anyone should entirely rule out medication because of whatever stigma they might have attached to it.
Aphrosette Aphrosette 9 years
Positive reinforcement and praise will really work wonders for your puppy. I have one puppy that reacted very similar to yours until just recently when we read an article in the Whole Dog Journal called "Uncommonly Calm" in it, it suggested clicker training your dog for calm behavior and gave very specific reasons why which I will do my best to summarize. (It was a long article) For a dog like yours that gets very worried/hyper it is EXTREMELY important to reward the calm behavior the instant this happens. Getting a treat in their mouth the second all four paws are on the floor can be a timing nightmare, so you clicker train them. It is much easier to click the second all four paws are on the floor and essentially earn yourself an extra few seconds to get the treat to them. You start by "super-charging" your clicker. Basically repeat this process over and over. Click-give treat, Click-give treat..... Quickly they will learn a click means a treat is on its way. Do this when you are around and the dog is calm. Eventually, start adding challenges to this. For example, when you are gone and your boyfriend is there have him reward the desired calm behavior. Then you can work on leaving for a few seconds and returning, reward the calm behavior. Gradually, increase this time and you will increase his length of calm behavior. Of course eventually you will be able to phase the clicker / treat out (treat first then clicker) and still have your desired behavior. I would also work with him on the command stay. Again in baby steps. There are 3 things to work into a good stay and you shouldn't work them in together. Try one at a time. Distance away from your dog, length of time, and amount of distraction. A 9 month old puppy should be able to do a 1 min sit stay with you about 6 feet away from him. Put he should also be able to do a short sit stay where you walk behind a wall (entirely out of site) and return. This practice is important for him to learn so that he KNOWS you will come back. He'll get it eventually!! If I were you I would also look into some kind of training class (preferably a positive reinforcement one) for you and your dog. If you stick with it, and practice the training at home. You dog will have more confidence in you and in himself and his separation anxiety will start to subside. Plus they would be able to give you lots of tips on how to work through separation anxiety with you dog. (But I would strongly recommend staying away from a leash correction type place they might make an anxious dog even more anxious and that is the last thing you want.)
Phasekitty Phasekitty 9 years
Wow guys, sorry I'm coming into this post so late, but I really appreciate all your help! For a few months now I've been giving him a cookie in the mornings and saying "Be a good boy" and quietly leaving for work. So he has that association down, but he still tends to bark about 3 times out of 10. It's worse on the weekends or at night, he barks probably about 8 times out of 10, even with the same routine. It seems to be due to how sleepy or energetic he is, which makes sense, but is still hard to deal with when you've got plans and he's just woken up from a nap. While we do make our "eh eh" noise when he barks, we've only recently started praising when he stops, so hopefully that will take and control the barking when we are home. He is very clingy and we try to encourage him to do things on his own. He does not sleep with us, he sleeps in his crate, so it's a step but from the moment he wakes up he is following us around the apartment. I think I will try giving him a treat when I come home in addition to the praise when he sits calmly. I know the key here is patience, but it is hard because he does seem to be getting worse. We'd love to be able to trust him out of the crate while we're gone, but this anxiety seems to be preventing us from doing that anytime in the near future
wren1 wren1 9 years
I have so much trouble with this issue, too. I just ordered "The Dog Listener" :) There are so many helpful comments here. Good luck Phasekitty and Brando! Such a great question, and thanks PetSugar for sharing with everyone.
mangopassion mangopassion 9 years
Oh man- I just realized how totally harsh my response was. We love the Dog Whisperer too, but the book from the other lady just did so much for us. It breaks your heart to see them so sad, but it is better in the end to be a little stern and consistent to get the end result.
cubadog cubadog 9 years
I would also recommend a little Rescue Remedy in his water or put the cream on his paw so he can lick it off. I used this for my doxie and it seemed to help along with the tips above.
I saw this on the Dog Whisperer...When you leave, give your dog a treat. When you come home, immediately give him a treat. Make sure you have one in your pocket or purse, etc. What this is telling him is that it's a "good" thing when you come home. I learned that any "trick" or "behavior" usually takes about a month (depending on the dog). I have a 14-month old who hate when my boyfriend and I step outside for 10 minutes. She would go and pee in the house. We tried this. When we would go to walk outside, we'd give her a treat and say "we'll be back". When we came back in the house, regardless if she peed, we'd say "we're back" and give her a treat. So, it worked. The other thing is that even though she's past a year, she's still a "teenager" until she's about 2. We put her in her crate EVERY time we leave the house. However, she is never left in the crate for more than 4 or 5 hours at a matter what. Hope this helps! -DOGGYLOVER
genxjules genxjules 9 years
We have a dog that not only had extreme SA but confinement issues and cannot be crated. Our dogs get a "high value" treat when we leave (we used a Kong filled with velvetta). The Kong kept him busy for awhile went we left, and he associated our leaving with something good. We also wanted to keep things natural, but the phermone plug-ins really did help went we broke down and bought one. We only plug it in when we're gone, so it's again something he associates as being good, and only happens when we're away. We turn on the TV or music too. We learned our dog got anxious when he heard the neighbors car doors and thought it was us, which caused him to be destructive because he thought we were there, but not coming in. So if they can't hear cars parking and doors it helps him. We keep channels and music that we listen to when we're home. Hope this helps! Good luck!
mangopassion mangopassion 9 years
Like everyone else said, this has to do with not making a big deal out of leaving and coming home. When you leave, don't say a word or have a particular routine with the dog- like patting it on the head right before you leave. When you get home- totally ignore the dog until he settles down and goes to a different activity than trying to get you attention. This really all revolves around the alpha deal and the dog not knowing its place in the pack. If you dog was just a member of the pack it wouldn't much care where you are or when you are coming back. But it sounds like your dog is seeing itself as the alpha or parent dog and you as one of pups. This anxiety is about wondering when you will be back so he can care for and protect you, like a parent dog does. I would really recommend the book "The Dog Listener". Not the Dog Whisperer. The woman who wrote the Listener is named Jane. I got so much out of her book. We have trained our guy to know that the word "ouch" means stop playing so rough and he just back right off when we say it and sits down. It's great! She also talks about the importance of having "people on zones" in your home to help ease the separation anxiety. We used our bed room for a while and we also kept him off the couch until he was asked up. He still sees it as a privilege to be on the couch with us. It is tough work, but it's so worth it. The important thing is for you to be the alpha in the relationship.
Rally-RE Rally-RE 9 years
not making a big deal out of leaving is key. each of my pups gets a cookie that takes them a few minutes to eat. i'm able to leave without them focused on me. and, i leave a variety of toys to keep them occupied while i'm gone. however, i think they mostly sleep.
melizzle melizzle 9 years
In addition to what bsebllgrl said, encouraging your dog to be more independent in general helps. For example, does your pup sleep in bed with you? Is your pup always following you around? By discouraging these things, your dog may begin to understand that being alone isn't awful.
wakeupandora wakeupandora 9 years
our basset foster was horrible with seperation anxiety. unfortunately i think our shiba dog sort of deterred most of his anxiety because we moved their crates together after we realized it would 'help' our basset while we were gone. we never really addressed the issue because we lived in an apartment and really couldnt afford to have him barking the entire time we were gone and messing in his crate all the time. our vet offered to give us 'clomicalm' to help him but we didn't want to medicate him! A friend of mine told me to do it in baby steps, crate the dog for a little while, giving him a 'return' word, like get your keys together to leave and say 'see you Brando' or something, then come back in a minute or two, let him out. Do it again for a little longer, saying those words so he knows when he hears them, he can associate them with you returning eventually. Good Luck!
linb linb 9 years
Awwww. Is he attached to anything (besides you, of course)? A blanket, a certain toy? If not, try out different toys and stuffed animals, and try to find one that he really enjoys, and leave it near him when you leave. Also, you mentioned that you scold him when he does bark, but you reward him when he doesn't? If your boyfriend is there when you leave, have him try to calm Brando, and give him treats when he stops whining and barking.
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