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CHRONIC Separation Anxiety- please help

January 29th, 2008, 02:07 PM
Sorry for posting this so close to another thread, which I've just finished reading, on separation anxiety. But I feel there are a few specifics that I really need answers to that weren't covered by others.

I'm really at the end of my rope with my dog, and I need some support... I listened to the recommended podcast from the other thread... also I have read almost everything I can get my hands on about SA, have talked to other owners, etc... and my question is always, yes... but...?

For example, separation anxiety training begins with leaving the dog alone and coming back in increments, right? But what if the dog panics IMMEDIATELY that you are out of his sight? I've tried doing the leaving for 30 seconds then building up alone time, but even for a few seconds away from me, my dog panics. Surely if I then re-enter the room after a second or so, and he is already barking, he just learns that the barking brought me back, and I'm reinforcing that behavior? How can I begin to train him?

I've thought of so many things- another dog (but the previous thread assured me this doesn't work), drugs (but again, if they are used in conjunction with training, and training depends on a minimum amount of time spent alone, then this won't help, right?). Should I muzzle the dog and do the training so he can't bark?

I'm really beginning to have negative feelings towards my dog because of all of this- he's costing me more than I can afford having people sit him or come to walk him when I'm out, my landlord and neighbors are on my back about his barking and howling, and I feel trapped in the house. If I take him out and leave him outside a shop to get groceries, he will bark up a storm and people on the street will see the state of him and tell me I'm a bad pet owner, even if he was only left for five minutes. I'm angry at the people who abandoned him and gave him these issues (he was abandoned twice by the same people, I suspect because when they took him back the first time, he'd developed this severe anxiety and they simply abandoned him again, making it worse).

I also found him a crate and attempted to train him the "right" way, forming good associations with the crate, food and treats in the crate, etc. But then the first time I left him, his association went from good to bad immediately, and now he hates the crate. He whines and barks if I shut the door and go into another room, again, immediately, and when I return he surely must be learning that this behavior brought me back. Nothing distracts him since he watches me constantly, and he isn't very interested in toys. Times when I HAVE to be away from him are clearly damaging him and interrupting any incremental training that I try to do. At the moment, he is put in a crate in the basement- he barks and panics, but no-one can hear him. It's bad for him, but it seems to me better than giving him to a shelter, because his chances of adoption are minimal (he's ten years old, which is a disadvantage even without his behavioral problems).

I've walked him to the point of exhaustion some days- two hours walking and another two in the dog park until he looks ready to drop. But as soon as I leave him alone he suddenly looks like a new dog- jumping, barking, panicking.

Can I do anything for this dog? He's the perfect dog when he's with me, and I love him so much. It really hurts me to see him in such distress. Any advice is more than welcome.

January 29th, 2008, 04:05 PM
How is he if you leave him with his very favorite food stuffed in something like a Kong? Have you tried it? Would he eat it and then begin to bark, or would he ignore it and panic right away? If it's the latter, does he pick it up as soon as you've returned?

January 29th, 2008, 04:14 PM
He won't eat at all if I'm not there, not even his favorite thing in the world. I don't think he drinks either. I've tried him with beef sticks, which he loves, but the moment I head for the door he drops it and comes running. After that, he won't pick it up while I'm gone (but dives straight back to it when I come home).

January 29th, 2008, 04:19 PM
Can you give a little background on the dog? How old is he? How long have you had him, etc?

I know it's easy for me to say, but try to stay calm. Along with everything else, your dog will sense your frustration and anxiety. The people here are great and will try to help you however they can.

January 29th, 2008, 04:45 PM
He's about 10, although probably a little younger as the people who left him at the shelter only knew the year of his birth. He's an English Cocker Spaniel. I adopted him about a year and a half ago in France. At that time I was living with someone, but about 6 months after we split and I returned to the States taking him with me. He had been abandoned twice by the same people, who apparently came back for him a month later, then abandoned him again, and he'd been in the shelter for about another month when we adopted him. So he's had a fair bit of disruption in his life. He had separation anxiety from the beginning, destroying things, howling and so forth. In the States he actually got better for a while, but now I'm writing a dissertation, and the only person in the house, and the more I was at home for him, the needier he got. Now he seems much worse, and oddly, his response to commands ("come" in particular) is degenerating, too. He is a particularly loving dog, never, ever, snaps or growls, and tolerates even things he hates if I do it (baths, teeth cleaning, that sort of thing). I thought he was okay because I'd slip out of the house while he wasn't looking, and he'd stopped destroying stuff, but then my landlord and neighbors started to complain that he barks non-stop when I'm out. I really thought I had him up to an hour without bad behavior, but apparently not (I left him for increased amounts of time, I returned, nothing was in bits, it's all good, right? Wrong). When I waited outside the door to test him, sure enough, as soon as he realises I'm gone he barks and whines like someone is torturing him... this is actually the reason for a lot of the complaints, not just that he barks, but that he sounds so pitiful no-one can stand to hear it.

I'm trying to relax, but this is the third set of complaints about him, and I'm getting very frustrated that nothing seems to be working. Plus worried that my lease is up for renewal very soon and that my landlord might refuse to let me stay if the complaints continue. However, thanks, I'm taking a deep breath...

January 29th, 2008, 04:57 PM
Here's something that you can try but it's only a first step in many more to come. You have to choose whether you want him crated or not when you begin. Then stick to it as consistency is they key here. Which method is he less anxious? The crate, or loose? Try covering the crate with a blanket, we've found that it provides more comfort for our dogs, especially for the one who's separation anxiety is worse.

If you don't already have one, get a Kong. Fill it with the bestest yummies ever, whether it be peanut butter, cottage cheese, mushed up liver, whatever he prefers most of all. Never give these preferred treats at any other time. Let him have it when he's in the crate, but when you are in the room. Keep this up for a for days. Then give it to him about 3-4 minutes before you leave the room. Come back after 30 seconds or so if he doesn't react to your leaving. If he starts immediately once you've left, return and take the Kong away from him. Do not give it back. The next time, try again. The trick is to have him learn that if he reacts, his treat is gone. Eventually, you should be able to leave him for longer and longer periods of time. The result you should be looking for is that he wants his goodies more than he wants you.

Is there anyone else in the home with you? If so, you may want to try ignoring him for the next few weeks. This means having someone else feed him, take him on walks, pet him and so on. This is what we, as pet owners and lovers, find the most difficult. You want to sever his extreme dependence on you.

Because of his age, this may take you some time. It may never be fully resolved, there may be some setbacks. But as time goes on, it should get easier. We've had our Lucky for 1 1/2 years and there are still days that he doesn't fare so well, however, they are now rare.

Let us know what happens after a few attempts at the exercise. We'll be able to guide you from there.

January 29th, 2008, 05:05 PM
Sorry, I didn't see your last post about being the only one in the home with him. You can still try ignoring him other than to feed and walk. Go ahead and still try the exercise.

Medication (we used Clomicalm), in conjunction with de-sensitizing him to being alone may work better then just one or the other.

Another alternative (don't know how convenient it may be for you) is doggy-daycare for the days you have to be out of the home. We had a stay-at-home neighbor who loved our dog's company in the early months of helping him work through this.

January 29th, 2008, 05:08 PM
Luckypenny, thank you. I have been so frustrated reading advice that only tells you how to progress if what you're doing is sucessful, but never what to do if it doesn't work even for a few seconds. I'm going to find the yummiest, dog chop lickin'-est food I can find and start training him that way. I think he'd prefer a crate, but somehow the blanket always lands up in the crate in pieces (not sure how he always manages to pull it inside, but he does. I had paper taped to the sides of the crate for a while, too, because he seems to do better the less he can see, but eventually that got pulled in and shredded, too).

Is there any way that it might be his age that is making him like this? I ask because his anxiety level has risen along with his increased disobedience.

January 29th, 2008, 05:16 PM
I would have him fully checked out at the vet. Blood tests, hearing, sight, etc to rule out any medical conditions. As a matter of fact, he may not be a good candidate for the Clomicalm or other meds due to his age. I should have thought of that :o . Have you ever tried a pet travel crate? You would have to find one that is not too big, enough space to have him stand, turn around, and lay comfortably but not too big. Keep in mind that the goodies you use have to take him lots of time to eat which is why we prefer the Kong. You just stuff everything in real tight.

January 29th, 2008, 05:56 PM
Thanks for the advice, I really appreciate it. The travel crate doesn't help him so much as he rapidly destroys anything made of even the thickest plastic. He needs a metal crate that he can't chew up: with the travel one he made his gums bleed by chewing on the side.

I've started to ignore him today, which is totally hard because he has "cocker eyes", but, sigh, if it's for his own good. He simply comes as close as I'll permit and then sets up camp. But he's not getting anxious, which I take as a good sign.

I'm definitely going out to buy a kong and some goodies tomorrow. Thank you so much for giving me hope!!!

January 29th, 2008, 06:38 PM
Luckypenny, what good advice! That process worked so well for my GSD who just turned two, that when I now say "I have to go to work, go find your kong" it's like she can't wait for me to leave. It took a while and we still have our odd rough spots, but cockermother if you can get any relief at all it'll be worth it.

The only thing I can add is that I bought two kongs so I could freeze one overnight and always had one ready to go - and I used the smelliest treats I could find. I also used Rescue Remedy for a while.

I am so sorry you're having such a difficult time and your poor sweetie is so stressed. Please keep us posted.

January 29th, 2008, 07:47 PM
he may not be a good candidate for the Clomicalm or other meds due to his age.

How about the plug ins ? (can't remember the proper name :wall:) Diffuser with refills , suppose to calm anxious dogs ... you can get it at your vet.

January 29th, 2008, 09:52 PM
This might sound stupid - or maybe a repeat- but it seems to be working with my overly anxious foster dogs. I get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink and they both go wild thinking I'm going to be leaving and setting up a real howl for a long time if I actually DO leave.

I've mostly started ignoring them. I get up and they howl and I ignore them. I come back and sit down and ignore them. I put on my coat, wander around and take it off again. Go into another room and shut the door and open it again. I never wait for them to stop howling (because they won't - not even for an instant, I don't think they even stop to breathe!), I just ignore them 100% until they are both calm and settled again. Once they're relaxed and mellow I'll pet them and play with them.

I've been doing this for about 4-5 days now and I'm seeing a huge difference. I'm no longer a captive in my own living room! I can make a cup of tea- boil the kettle, let it steep, put my milk in, and pet the cat on my way back to the living room without getting much more than a curious look from the pupsters.

They still freak if I leave the house even for a second but if I'm out for very long at all they settle down in 2 minutes instead of 20.

Hopefully this is useful!

January 29th, 2008, 09:54 PM
Oh, pah. Apparently I can't read :P Seems you're already doing the ignoring-thing, so my method is just a less-intense version of one already recommended.

As such, disregard my information. You're getting lots of great advice already!

January 29th, 2008, 10:09 PM
Gibbons, you've added excellent info :thumbs up . I used to put on the coat and make myself a cup of coffee too :D . Or pick up my car keys and throw a load of laundry in the wash. Dogs with SA are extremely sensitive to the cues we give before leaving the house so sometimes it's helpful to have them associate these cues with boring everyday things.

January 29th, 2008, 10:19 PM
Actually, Gibbons, that is kinda useful, because it's nice to know that he will eventually stop barking and panicking. It's hard to do this, because, again, a lot of internet advice is open-ended ("ignore them until they stop, and then..."). And I'm left thinking, if he's still barking in ten minutes, in twenty minutes, in thirty, what then? What if he never stops? It's nice to know that he will settle after a while.

He's actually been better tonight (Catzig, probably because I'm less stressed after getting hopeful advice!), I've been able to leave him in another room for a few minutes. He scratched at the door but I let him in before he barked. Hopefully this means that training has begun!

January 29th, 2008, 10:44 PM
Cockermother, I remembered this site when I was replying in another thread. I used to visit it often when we brought our first adopted dog home from a shelter. Hopefully you'll find some of the info helpful as well.

January 29th, 2008, 11:12 PM
I need to thank you guys for the info. as there has been a big change in my home life compared to 4 weeks ago I did not even think about SA, I need to use some of your ideas for Sasha, I don't know if she will become SA but it is good to catch it before it happens. Hugh was home all day and now I am gone in the morning and back at lunch which I would like to stop if possible, and then gone and back 3 hrs later. well today is going to be different as she will be left at home while I travel for my Dad's funeral and leaving her with a great neighbor, but she will only be able to come in a couple of times aday and Sasha will be left alone at night. this bothers me as she sleeps with me. she will be alone for a lot of the day. when I come back I will have to remember not to get really excited about seeing her so she does not relate to me being gone and. don't know if this makes alot of sense as I am :crazy:right now. pbp

January 29th, 2008, 11:28 PM
Aw Patti....:grouphug: . I wish you lived closer :sad:, we'd take Sasha in an instant for a jammie party.

January 29th, 2008, 11:46 PM
I'm wondering if this dog would settle down sooner if outside the crate, lets say in the kitchen with baby gate. Maybe this is the dog's 1st. experience being crated and it looks at the crate like jail/confinement (like at the animal shelter) rather than a safe den type place? Every month for a few consecutive days I pet sit a 4 yr. old previous rescue dog who has been in her permanent home now for 8 mos. At her home she uses the crate as a time-out for naps as long as the crate door is open, different story when door is shut. When her owner's initially put her in it when they had to go out she howled, dug, chewed, peed, pooped, etc. After a couple of these episodes they put the crate in the kitchen using a baby gate and leaving the crate door open, she still paced and cried but as time progressed her frantic behaviour subsided. Within 3 months she had the run of the house with no separation anxiety. They tell her to go lie down - she gets in her crate with a stuffed kong and nothing is destroyed and she's not frantic. At my place she goes into her crate when she sees me getting ready to leave and is still there when I get back.

January 30th, 2008, 06:03 AM
This thread brings back horrible memories. Seven years ago we went through something very similar with Chloe. Frustrated like you I sought information from the web. I tried leaving for a few seconds and coming back in, gathering up my keys, putting on my coat and then sitting on the couch to watch tv (changing my routines). We tried Clomicalm, Rescue Remedy, excessive exercise, you name it. Crate training was disastrous so I had to give up on that. She would poop in her crate and then walk in it until we came home. I then tried putting her in the kitchen, gated with a baby gate. She pooped and then paced in it leaving my kitchen a disgusting mess. I was reluctant to leave her free in the house because she was destructive. The day after the kitchen disaster I left her loose with my other dog and came home to a clean house. It was short lived. A week later we went on a 3 day trip to Toronto. It was a planned trip and because of the way she was I had to put her in a kennel instead of leaving her with a friend. I spoke to the owner, made sure they knew how she would be and they assured me she would be fine. When I picked her up three days later she was exhausted and hoarse. She looked like she had lost weight. I am sure she paced and barked for the 3 days. When I put her in the car she immediately fell asleep at my feet which was very odd for her. She was much quieter for the next two weeks and the separation anxiety seemed to improve. We still came home to things destroyed but nothing like before. She no longer barked when we left. I thought it was because she realized we came back for her. She still gets anxious when we leave sometimes and while I blow dry my hair she stands beside me because she knows that is the last thing I do before I leave for work but she is much better. I still come home to find that she has pooped or peed but that too goes through stages.
What works for one dog may not for another. I don't want to discourage you but it is a life long thing but it does get better once the dog settles down and learns to trust. Try not to show your anxieties or anger, ignore her when you leave and come home. Even now when I come home I say hello to my dogs but don't touch them until I have taken off my coat, put things away etc...

January 30th, 2008, 02:15 PM
Just reading through all the posts here, and I feel for all of you who are experiencing the not so fun separation anxiety :sorry:! Like the last post states, what works for one dog doesn't always work for others, kind of a trial and error process. After dealing with SA for 3+ years, improvements continue for us over the past two weeks now, gone are the thoughts that we might have to eventually get rid of our dog :thumbs up.

It's been mentioned a few times now, but ignoring our pup has probably given us the best results. We never did the incremental 'alone time', but rather the route of not letting the dog follow us around the house, and giving her the minimal amount of attention possible (it sounds mean and is super hard to do, but we stuck with it). To reinforce this, we give her a chew toy and let her play with it, then leave the room and if she tries to follow, we say no and bring her back to the other room, stand there and let her play alone (while ignoring her), then try and sneak out again (we repeated many many times :wall:).

The other big helper was taking her out of the crate and putting her on a leash hanging from the ceiling (she basically has a 5 foot radius to walk around). She has only a blanket to lay on and one toy to play with. The important thing was that everything else was out of her reach (so she couldn't destroy anything).

I feel all of your pains and honestly wish you the best of luck with this. The key is have faith, try different things and take note of what works and what doesn't. I'm sorry to say, it's a long road, but although I didn't believe it for the past 3+ years, there is hope.

January 30th, 2008, 03:40 PM
Guys, I'm so excited! I ignored the dog all of yesterday, minimal contact apart from walks, barely looking at him, etc. During the night he was a little restless, pacing from room to room (but I think this might be the flea meds I had to put on him yesterday, I don't think he likes the smell).

This morning he was (da-dah!) asleep in a sunbeam in the living room. This may not seem like much, but from the super-velcro dog it seems to me a big step. Usually he's under the bed watching for my feet to hit the floor, or poking his nose under my arm to wake me up.

Oh, and copperbelle, kennels were absolutely the worst thing for Flap as well. I had to leave him in one once, and he returned, anxious and frantic, ran away from me on the street, which he never did previously, and worse, he smelled disgusting... I think instead of going into the covered part of the kennel, he just stood out in the rain barking and waiting for my return. I was horrified. Now, thank goodness, I have a regular dog sitter who takes him into her home when I have to be away (she has a husband and three dogs, so it's kind of his "pack" holiday). I think kennels are similar to rescues for the dogs and they think they've been abandoned again.

Pettit, if I could send my upstairs neighbors to Siberia for six months, I'd be doing things differently. Unfortunately for me, they're nurses (male nurses, and short-tempered frat boys at that, sigh) one of them works days and the other nights. This means he has to be in the basement where no-one can hear him and complain (and they do, not to me either, but straight to the landlord, despite my repeated pleadings that they tell ME first). But I think I might try this during the time I'm home, practicing with the crate in the kitchen and me still in the house.

January 30th, 2008, 10:29 PM
Cockermother, your whole tone of voice (tone of typing?) seems so much more positive and hopeful. Way to go!!!

January 31st, 2008, 07:13 AM
How about the plug ins ? (can't remember the proper name :wall:) Diffuser with refills , suppose to calm anxious dogs ... you can get it at your vet.

Are you talking about Comfort Zone with D.A.P. ( That certainly would be worth trying, and at least it doesn't do any harm even if it doesn't end up working. Also, for anyone that feels their situation is bad enough to need pharmaceuticals, there's another one called Reconcile ( that they could ask their vet about. It's Prozac for dogs, comes in a chewable tablet, and is not supposed to be sedating.

January 31st, 2008, 09:40 AM
Super exciting to hear the good news cockermother. Trust me, I totally understand your excitement. Like you said, it may seem like something very small, but if you've ever had to go through SA, a small sign like laying quietly in the sun in another room with no panic on their face is certainly something to throw a party over... so happy to hear the improvements.

sugarcatmom, we tried the "plug-ins" as one of our trial and ERROR solutions in the past with no success, but like it's always said... what works for one might not for another.

Once again, happy to hear good news.

January 31st, 2008, 11:36 PM
Thanks for the support, guys...

I have a new development to tell you all about. I had spoken to my good friend who also had problems with a dog, this one was an aggressive alpha female, also a rescue dog. He worked with trainers trying to manage her behavior (she was an extremely dominant, extremely high energy dog who actually bit him badly). He had a good experience with the trainers, but eventually the dog was deemed not able to be a city dog and sent to a farm (no, really, an ACTUAL farm) where she is doing much better. Anyway, although he was unable to keep her, he did a LOT of work with the behaviorists and was really impressed with them. When he heard how upset I was about my dog, he gave me their card, and told me that if Flap was really that problematic, I needed to see them for his sake and my own.

Well, I thought that I'd never be able to afford anything like that.... but today, I discovered that my visa status has changed here... meaning that I am no longer taxed... meaning that I can use the extra money to take Flap and I down to the specialists!!!

So I'm going to call them tomorrow and set up an appointment. Although ignoring him has already made a significant change in his behavior, I feel like since he's basically been holding me hostage and giving me a lot of issues with guilt whenever I'm out, I could really benefit from professionals who can watch me and my dog interacting together, and hopefully pick up on what I'm doing wrong and how to correct it.

I'm really excited to be able to take this step with him (and sooooo lucky that the lowest point of this problem and the change in my circumstances have coincided), and excited too to let you all know what I learn from it...

Again, thanks for the support, and looking forward to sharing some learning about severe SA!!!!

February 1st, 2008, 10:13 AM
Glad to hear you can work with a behaviourist! Good luck to all of you :D