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Advice for Educating Someone on Separation Anxiety

September 22nd, 2008, 03:39 PM
My sister got married in May. Her husband has a Springer/Brittany mix he raised since a puppy, but had to leave with his father for four years while he was stationed overseas with the army. After their wedding, they were stationed to a base in Seattle, so they were finally able to get his dog back from his father and bring him with them.

Helmet is 8 years old and now has severe separation anxiety that seems to have developed while her husband was overseas. He didn't have it before then. My sister's husband is still in the army, so usually gone from 4:30am to 7-8pm at night and my sister is home alone all day with Helmet. She works from home, but can't get anything done because Helmet goes crazy from the moment her husband leaves until he comes back. He paces and whines and barks and cries no matter what she does. He doesn't know how to settle himself and will only calm down if she pets him. But she can't obviously pet him all day long as she needs to work. Kenneled or loose, it's the same behavior. If kenneled, he gets so worked up, he'll have an accident and he also chews his pads. If they kennel him when they leave, he will bark and throw the kennel around the room. The upstairs neighbor has complained.

I've suggested everything I can think of: She walks him three times a day, gives him as much attention as possible, takes him with her everywhere she goes, practices his obedience commands, does NILF, and gives him kongs and bones and chew toys to try to distract him, and practices leaving for just a few short minutes and coming back in to build up the away time. I am at a loss of what else to suggest at this point, so I told her to ask her vet.

Right now, her husband is in Germany for a month and Helmet is getting worse and worse. He's been gone a week and will be gone at least three more weeks and has gone progressively downhill. My sister did a consult with the vet yesterday who suggested medication. She told her husband this today and he just laughed it off. He doesn't believe how bad Helmet is and that medication is needed and doesn't even really seem to believe in Separation Anxiety. I told my sister to video tape Helmet while he's gone so he can see for himself how bad it is. But I also wanted to gather some links and such on SE for her husband as well. I know he has a lot of respect for me because he is a big dog lover like I am and sees my dogs and is very impressed by them and by how much I know when he asks me questions on various training topics and dog food and such. He loves Petey and Belle almost as much as I do and misses them so much! It's cute. :) But he is frustratingly "old school" in his beliefs on dogs and medication. We think if it comes from me, he might listen a little more or at least keep an open mind and read the links.

Does anyone have any good educational links they could share? I have no experience with SE myself. She is going to pick up some Rescue Remedy today to try, although I warned her I've read mixed reviews on it, especially for dogs as severe as Helmet. Helmet is very well trained and they unfortunately can't afford a behavorist, so the vet is recommending a course of medication. She is desperate for help and desperately wants to try it, but needs to convince her husband of this first.

Any links or suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! :)

September 22nd, 2008, 05:03 PM
First, let me say that I don't have any personal experience with SA either. I do know of a fairly new medication developed specifically for dogs with SA, that doesn't have the same sedating effects of some other options. It's called Reconcile ( Although I'm definitely not one to jump to use meds right off the bat, I do think in severe cases of SA like you're describing, they can have a profound benefit. Using something like Reconcile can allow training and desensitization to be more effective, and the goal is to eventually wean the pup off of it.

Some basic info:

Here's a podcast worth listening to. Scroll down to "Dec 18 2007":

September 22nd, 2008, 08:57 PM
First, let me say that I don't have any personal experience with SA either. I do know of a fairly new medication developed specifically for dogs with SA, that doesn't have the same sedating effects of some other options. It's called Reconcile ( Although I'm definitely not one to jump to use meds right off the bat, I do think in severe cases of SA like you're describing, they can have a profound benefit. Using something like Reconcile can allow training and desensitization to be more effective, and the goal is to eventually wean the pup off of it.

Some basic info:

Here's a podcast worth listening to. Scroll down to "Dec 18 2007":

Oh, thank you so much!!! I really appreciate it! My sister says thank you too! I had her write down the name of the medication to ask her vet about as well. He didn't tell her what specific medication he was thinking of trying, but did say it would be temporary. We are hoping that if her husband understands it's temporary and has lower side effects, he might be more open as well. As a rule, I don't like to medicate dogs either, unless as a last resort. But I know it also has its place as well. So hopefully they can find that balance and come to an agreement with their vet.

Thank you!!!!

September 23rd, 2008, 12:31 PM
I don't have any recent personal experience with SA, although we had a GSD when I was young that would jump out windows if left alone in the house.

I do know that BeagleMum has extensive experience with severe SA as her beagle, Spencer, has had a really rough time with it. She has tried all sorts of medication as well as modified exercise routines, etc. She even set up a cam-corder to film Spencer while she was gone so she could see if he ever settled down during the day or just kept freaking out. I do know that through her research, she found that some experts believe that a high protein diet contributes to elevated SA. Spencer's SA is finally under control and he's not on any meds now. I'll point out to her that this thread is here and maybe she'll have some suggestions for you - and possibly links to websites where she found useful information.

September 23rd, 2008, 01:33 PM
Oh boy, where do I start? Well, I guess I can start with a little bit of history on Spencer and what we have gone through to get where we are at right now.

We got Spencer as a puppy when we was about 7.5 weeks old. When he was about 5 weeks old, he had been kept in an outdoor kennel in the middle of January (in Canada so it was quite cold) and through the night one night he got out of the heated area and his tail actually froze off. This has been suspected to be what stemmed his SA. From day 1 when we had him, he would bark and cry when we would leave him alone. We would never make a big deal when we left or came home and I just expected him to get over it. I really thought that with time he would just learn that we would always come back home, boy was I wrong.

Spencer is very destructive when left alone, he has destroyed everything from the coffee table to blinds to boxes to mail off the counter. The wall, door frame, baby gate, you name it, it likely had Spencer teeth marks in it. The worst of it was one night when I had stopped at my dad’s to drop something off and left him in the back of the SUV while I ran in quickly. When I came back out, he had eaten a hole through the head liner and there were shredded pieces everywhere (did I mention that it was leased?)

We decided at this point that maybe he needed a sister so he didn’t feel so alone all the time. Sure enough, after getting Sydney absolutely nothing changed. We moved into our new house just over a year ago and after that move things got progressively worse. We had decided that we were going to crate the dogs at the new place because we really didn’t want to risk having out whole house torn apart when we were gone (they had been crate trained before this point). I had been crating them in the same crate (it was 3ft x 4ft) and as Kandy said, I set up a camera to see how bad it really was. I was absolutely shocked when I got home and watched the video to learn that he had been in a frantic state for a constant 3 hours and 20 minutes after we left. I had been coming home to torn up paws from his trying to get out of the crate. This was when I decided to buy an outdoor kennel for him that I have put up in my basement that is 6ft x 10ft, it is big enough that he is not so confined but still small enough that he is safe and can not hurt himself by trying to make his way out the house after us in the morning.

At this point we decided to contact the veterinarian and a behaviourist because it was way worse than I had ever imagined. We started off using the Rescue Remedy but it did absolutely nothing. It is actually just a herbal oil that is supposed to have some natural calming effects but I truly believe that when you are dealing with a case this severe, it is not useful at all. We eventually tried Clomipramine (generic brand of Clomicalm) and it also did nothing for Spencer. After trying that for a few months with no results we tried Amitryptiline (human anti-depressant medication) and it as well did nothing. I had looked into the Reconcole as mentioned by someone else but it is not out in Canada yet so that was not an option for me.

At this point I was feeling very defeated and had just told myself that this was something I would have to live with for the rest of my life. Well sure enough as soon as I calmed down and stopped stressing out about it so much, Spencer started to improve. With very intense exercise and a strict routine we have managed to keep him calm most of the time when we leave. So, I know that was a bit of a long story but I sort of wanted to let you know where I am at least coming from.

Here is what worked best for me:

1 – Exercise, exercise and more exercise!!! What I had thought was enough exercise wasn’t even close to enough. I had been doing similar to your sister and giving him a few walks a day, getting up at 4:30am even to make sure to walk him before work. I have now increased that to biking with him daily for about 5km. When you have a working breed dog, they are not used to just a walk here and there. They need at least 30 minutes of tongue hanging out exercise a day. I have found that no matter how long the walk is, it is always just a warm-up for real exercise.

2 – I try to ignore the dogs for 10 minutes before I leave and 10 minutes after I get home, it should never be a big deal if I am coming or going.

3 – I give them a kong as I leave, if it has not been eaten by the time I get home, it gets taken away. The point of that is that good things happen when I leave and bad things happen when I come home. The kong is also ONLY used for when I am gone, they do not ever get them if I am home. It needs to be a nice special treat for when I am not home.

Canine SA is definitely a serious thing and should never be taken lightly. I know some people really don’t understand the extent of it and until you have had to live with it, you will never really understand.

In regards to the high protein foods, I have read mixed opinions on this one so I am not too sure what my feeling is. I do know that both my ver and the behaviourist suggested going to a high quality low protein food. I actually have Spencer back on a high protein food (Orijen 6 Fish) and he is still doing ok.

Here are a few links that I have found helpful.



There is also another medication that was suggested to me called Xanax but I never tried that one so I really can not comment on it’s effects.

The book by Patricia B McConnell called “I’ll Be Home Soon” is a great read, it is a very short book but it explains things very well.

I would also suggest the book called “The Dog Who Loved Too Much” by Dr. Dodman was an excellent read.

These Pheremone diffusers were also suggested to me but I never tried them either so I am not sure how well they work.

September 23rd, 2008, 07:45 PM
Kandy, thank you so much for showing this thread to BeagleMum! I really appreciate it!

And BeagleMum, WOW. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with Spencer and what did and did not work for you. I emailed my sister this thread so she could read it all as well and show it to her husband. We were wondering if increasing his exercise even more would help. That is something she can start doing immediately until her husband gets back home again too. She talked to her husband a little more today and he does not want to discuss any medication until he is home and can talk to the vet himself. But she was encouraged that he was at least willing to go to a vet consult at least! I recently got bike attachments for my two dogs and LOVE them, as do my dogs. I think I'll send her one as an early Christmas present since they don't have a lot of extra money right now and can't afford to buy one. I find that to be much more effective exercise with my own dogs, so maybe it could help with Helmet too.

Thank you again so much for your insight and suggestions!!!!

Oh, ETA: In regards to the food, my Petey has mild anxiety (fear of many things, but thankfully not separation) and I've also been told to feed lower protein. I feed Orijen 6 Fish with supplemental raw and have not noticed a difference. In fact, he continues to get better. I've seen a lot of mixed studies on protein levels and IMO, high protein is incorrectly blamed for a lot of things. IMO, it's the protein quality that makes the difference. Studies on low quality protein, ie, chemically created proteins in cheap dog food compared to "real" or high quality proteins found in raw or good quality dog food show the difference. It's not protein that's the culprit, but the source and quality of the protein.

Unfortunately, Helmet is not on the best food. I'm still working on that one! I did finally just convince her husband to stop feeding Science Diet and to try Eagle Pack instead. It was the best quality food from the options they had in their area that still fit their budget as well as it was only slightly more expensive than the SD. So they are working on switching him now. It's a mid-level protein from what I remember.

September 23rd, 2008, 07:56 PM
I just ordered both of the books you recommended for my sister as well. Thank you again so much!

September 24th, 2008, 06:32 AM
I really hope that she can find a way to get through this. I really do think though that an increase in exercise will do a lot of good, it might not cure it completely but it will definitely help. As you know, a tired dog is a good dog.

As for the rescue remedy, that is something that she can try if she wants and does not need a perscription from the doctor for it. It is a natural holistic treatment used for humans, I wouldn't consider it to be a medication so I don't think that her husband would object to that one. I never had much luck with it but I know people who have.