Separation anxiety

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JudyN
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Separation anxiety

Post by JudyN » Sun Nov 09, 2014 4:18 pm

Emmabeth has OKed this, but if anyone has any suggestions for improvement, please let me know and I can edit accordingly :D

Separation anxiety

Do you come home to a dribbling, overexcited dog? Or to ripped up sofas and doormats, or to puddles and poo on the carpet? Does your dog even start panting and following you around the moment you pick up your keys? Maybe your dog seems OK when you get home, and the house is in one piece, but your neighbours report hearing your dog barking and howling. You may wonder why on earth your dog is unable to cope without you – surely he realises you always come back – but a dog’s family is very important to him, and separation anxiety is one of the most common behaviour problems in dogs.

Separation anxiety or separation fun?

If you come home to ripped up books and relocated slippers, it may be that your dog isn’t distressed, but has been finding ways of entertaining himself in your absence. This is something relatively easy to solve: make sure he is tired and ready to sleep when you leave, put your books and slippers out of reach, and leave him with alternative entertainment – for example stuffed Kongs (maybe frozen so they last longer), cardboard ‘destruction’ boxes and boxes of treats wrapped up in twists of paper. If your dog is left for several hours, consider finding a dog walker to visit during the day.

If you aren’t sure if your dog has separation anxiety or not, try video- or audio-recording him – you should be able to see from your dog’s behaviour how distressed he is. But take it from me, listening to a recording of your dog howling is extremely stressful in itself!

OK, so my dog has SA…

It is possible to overcome SA, but it can be a lot of work. It is particularly difficult if you have no choice but to leave your dog at times, as the key to success is never to leave him for longer than he is comfortable with. If at all possible, investigate dog daycare, or find a dogsitter. Do you have a friend or relation who would be happy to look after your dog when you have to leave him? This doesn’t have to be for ever, but it isn’t possible to predict how long it will take to cure your dog’s SA.

Start at the beginning

If your dog trails around the house after you, and doesn’t ever want to be parted from you, it isn’t surprising that he will find it harder to cope when you aren’t even in the same house. So start by getting him used to settling in a different room from you. Teach him a ‘settle’ or ‘on your bed’ command, step outside the door for a second or two, and return, then gradually increase the time you leave him for. You can also make the most of when the sun is on the sofa and your dog is tired – if you go into a cooler room with no comfy beds he may be disinclined to follow you! Some people recommend moving from room to room until your dog is so fed up he can’t be bothered to follow you any more – I tried this once and after two hours my pup and I were both utterly exhausted and fed up, but he would still drag himself up and after me before collapsing in the next room, time and time again. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for either of us so try it by all means, but don’t persevere if your dog is clearly unhappy.

Some people recommend not allowing your dog in your bedroom at night so he learns to be more independent. But if your dog isn’t happy being apart from you, you could end up with a dog who feels even more insecure and unhappy about your absences. It is also possible to have a dog who clings to you the whole time you are in the house, night and day, but is fine about being left, and also to have a dog who will happily sleep all night on his own and who doesn’t care where you are in the house, but still goes into meltdown when you get ready to leave, so teaching independence in one area often doesn’t necessarily lead to success in other areas!

Leaving the house

Dogs are very cued in to our body language and some dogs with SA seem to know we are planning to go out and leave them almost before we’ve decided ourselves. At one time, I only had to put my pen down for my dog, Jasper, to start to get het up, and that’s just because he thought I was going to go to the bathroom without him!

The key to curing SA is to work within your dog’s comfort levels. So if he gets stressed the moment you put your shoes and coat on and pick your keys up, put them on, pick them up… and sit back down again. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until your dog no longer thinks it’s a big deal. Then, put on shoes and coat, pick up your keys, walk to the front door and put your hand on the doorhandle… and sit back down. Once he’s OK with that, open the front door, and shut it. Then open the front door, step outside, and come back in again… You get the idea. Step outside the door and shut it and stay out for one second… then two… then three… then maybe jump to five or ten seconds. Repeat several times a day, building up the time according to what your dog is comfortable with. You may be able to go from five to ten to fifteen minutes in a matter of days, or it might take weeks. As I said, this is hard work, but remain fixed on the target – even if it takes you a year to be able to leave your dog for a couple of hours, that is far better than spending the next twelve or so years with a dog who gets terribly upset whenever you step outside the front door. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I work from home, but for months, the café over the road became my ‘second office’ where I would work while Jasper had his ‘home alone’ practice.

It’s important to be aware that dogs don’t generalise at all well. Jasper was eventually happy with me leaving him during the working week, but it took a lot longer for him to be OK with both my husband and me leaving the house at weekends, even if we left one at a time. Evenings are still a work in progress, though that is simply because we have been lazy about working on them and rely on our sons or a dogsitter to keep Jasper company.

When you do leave your dog, you improve your chances of success if he is ready for a sleep, or has something to occupy himself. I wouldn’t leave Jasper without him having had a good walk first, and I always leave him with a stuffed Kong, which as well as giving him something to occupy himself, signals to him that I am going to leave. What works best for you depends on your dog. Jasper isn’t one for entertaining himself so it wouldn’t occur to him to play while I am gone, and being a hound, he will naturally settle down for a nap when nothing interesting is happening. Therefore there would be no point in leaving out toys and activities for him. For other dogs, it will be vital!

When you come home

It is often recommended that you ignore your dog for ten minutes or so when you return, so that he doesn’t see your return as a big deal and doesn’t spend all day anticipating it. I don’t recommend this – if you have a good, positive bond with your dog, he will see this as strange behaviour which will be quite unsettling for him, just as it would be for you if your partner returned home and didn’t say anything at all to you for ten minutes. On the other hand, you don’t want to act as if you have been away for months and your return is the most important thing ever. So come in, casually say ‘Hi’ to your dog and give him a stroke or pat, then take your coat off, sort out your bags, and then give him a bit more calm, low-key attention.

A few more ideas to try

Some dogs settle better with certain ‘tweaks’ to their environment, so you could try the following:

• leaving a loud ticking clock near the dog’s bed
• playing the radio – talk shows or classical music can work best
• leaving the TV on
• playing a CD specifically designed for dogs: check out Through a Dog’s Ear: http://throughadogsear.com/
• Adaptil diffusers release a calming pheromone – this works very well for some dogs
• giving Rescue Remedy shortly before you leave
• confining your dog to his crate (if he has one that he regards as his safe place) or a single room
• alternatively, giving your dog the run of the house; if you don’t normally allow him in your bedroom or on your bed, you might want to relax this for when he is left alone
• leaving your dog with some of your unwashed clothing.

Please don’t consider getting a second dog purely to keep your dog company. It is your presence your dog craves, not that of another dog. Although this has worked well for some people, often the new dog will sense your dog’s anxiety and so you could end up with two dogs with SA, quite possibly with a whole host of additional problems such as fights over any Kongs you leave with them.

And finally, if you work full time, please don’t expect ever to be able to leave your dog at home for the whole day. Some dogs are fine with this, but most would be far happier if they could have a lunchtime walk or game with you or a dog sitter. Dog day care is an alternative, but do check it out thoroughly – not all dogs are suited to being in a group with other dogs they don’t know, and not all day care establishments will notice if dogs are scared or unhappy, bullied, or bullying other dogs.
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by Nettle » Tue Nov 11, 2014 2:34 pm

Reckon you've got it covered there - will be very useful for people to read :)
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bc417
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by bc417 » Fri Nov 14, 2014 1:34 pm

Thank you so much for this post - my husband and I are currently starting a training program to help our pup through his separation anxiety. Our dog is almost 7 months, a rescue we've had since he was 2 months. He's a lab mix, maybe with some Great Pyrenees in him, not sure what else. We were using a crate any time we were gone for the first few months, and he was fine. We filmed to make sure - and he would usually finish his Kong in 10 minutes or so and then settle in to sleep until we got home a few hours later. For some reason in the last month, this changed, and he would be panting, yelping, barking, whining, etc. on and off the whole time we were gone. These were behaviors we never witnessed when we were around - only when he was left in his crate. We thought he might be getting too big for his crate and perhaps that was part of the problem, so we tried a test of "leaving" and went out to the garage to wait. After he finished his Kong, he freaked out - jumping at door, yelping, howling, etc.

We have flexible schedules enough that we have committed to someone being around ALL the time until we've worked through the anxiety. We've been working with him 4-5 sessions per day, having him sit/stay in various places in the house while we move out of sight for several seconds, close the door for a few seconds, etc. and then come back and give a treat. He is highly food motivated and very trainable, and he's been doing great with these exercises. We've gotten to the point after just a few days now of being able to go out the door we typically leave, sometimes closing it all the way, staying there for a few seconds and coming back in. We will introduce the Kong as part of the exercise in a few more days once he can stay inside the closed door calmly for more like 15 seconds or 20 seconds.

I was interested to read that the writer does not suggest the ignoring of the dog for 15 minutes or so when arriving back home. This is suggested everywhere, but it seems like with our dog too, a quick hello and then moving on would curb his excitement way faster than avoiding him altogether for 15 minutes. It's like he just keeps trying to get our attention, but if we just said hi and went about our business, he may move on as well much faster. Thanks for the suggestion, and we'll have to see if this works better than complete avoidance.

Also good to read that with the writer's dog, the conditioning/desensitization is working well. I've read instructions on helping with separation anxiety everywhere on the internet, but it's hard to find personal accounts of people sticking to a plan, following through, and seeing the results. It's a good affirmation that we are doing the right thing and can expect what we're doing to work since someone else can vouch for it.

Thanks again!

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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by JudyN » Fri Nov 14, 2014 2:30 pm

You're welcome, bc417 :D Do let us know how you get on, because every dog is different!
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by bc417 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:05 pm

Back to report on our progress. After a few weeks we seem to be going in the right direction though I can see why so many people give up on this process. It is sure tedious and requires some serious dedication. We read "Don't Leave Me" by Nicole Wilde and got some more ideas and information from there, too.

Arriving home and doing a quick, calm greeting and then moving on is VASTLY more effective at curbing our pup's excitement levels. He moves on to something else pretty quickly now, after maybe only another minute or two of tail wagging and hanging around by me when I come in the house. We were originally having new people also ignore him when coming over or meeting him on the street, etc. But having new people do a calm greeting initially and THEN ignore him somewhat has yielded a lot better results, too. This was a great suggestion that I'm so glad I came across.

As far as the SA progress, we are doing okay. We've been working on being in different rooms from the pup while we're home - maybe closing the door so he can't come in while I'm in the office, bathroom, etc. Often I'll have my morning coffee in the other room where he's currently gated out of. There was whining at first when we did this, but now he doesn't care and will just relax in a different room. I feel great about this and think it is major progress even if it's just his behavior when we're home.

We've also been making good progress on desensitizing him to leaving cues. We'll put our coats on, pick up keys, put on shoes, flip the lock on the door, turn the knob, etc. and then just put everything back. He used to SPRINT from whatever room he was in at earliest hint of these cues - now he often doesn't even come in to investigate. More great progress.

We WERE at the point where we'd have him relax on his mat in the kitchen (just inside the door where we leave), go out the door, wait up to 30 seconds or a minute, and then come back in. However, my husband and I realized one of our mistakes. We hadn't been doing our FULL leaving routine - for example, we hadn't been putting on our coats sometimes to do our "fake leaves." Well, we tried doing one training where we BOTH put on our coats, phones in pockets, grabbed keys, etc., and the pup freaked out. We realized it was too much, too soon because normally it had been only one of us doing fake leaves at a time, and sometimes we wouldn't even put our coats on. The pup obviously knew they were fake leaves and when we put our coats on he panicked that we were doing a REAL leave ... It was amazing to see the set-back this caused. We had to build back up from basically just opening and closing the door. Now we are back at the point of being outside the locked door for a minute or so. It is frustrating work, but we are trying to stay hopeful and keep moving forward.

One question I have for others is: how many times did you do "fake leaves" in a typical day when building up the time the dog could be alone? I feel like maybe we're not doing enough reps of this in a day for it to really stick with the dog. I'm tempted to just go all out on this and do reps every twenty or thirty minutes in a day just as long as he's not getting anxious from any of the reps.

JudyN
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by JudyN » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:32 pm

WELL DONE for seeing the progress you have made, and not feeling frustrated that you can't yet even nip down to the pub for a quick half :D It's frustrating how good dogs are at recognising 'fake leaves' - sometimes you can't even work out how they know what you're planning, they must be psychic :lol:

I can't remember how many fake leaves I used to do - I think there's a balance here, and it depends on the individual dog and your sanity levels :wink: There may come a point where your dog is so perplexed by you putting your coat on every five minutes that his stress increases and he can't relax at all. As long as you're tuned into his feelings, which you clearly are, and are prepared to stick it out for the long haul, I'd go with what feels right to you.
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

bc417
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by bc417 » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:37 pm

Thanks for the encouragement, JudyN! Certainly funny about dogs recognizing the littlest cues ... I realized after a few times that our pup would check the kitchen table to see if my cell phone was still there when I was putting my coat on and getting ready to do a fake leave. He obviously knows I put it in my pocket when I leave for real.

bc417
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by bc417 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 1:18 pm

Just another update here and some observations. Hope the frequent updates aren't annoying - I'm partially hoping the detail will help others who are going through the same thing and partially hoping making frequent updates of our progress will help us stay motivated.

Anyway, our SA progress is moving along slowly but surely. We continue to improve on the "when we're home" behavior. Pup relaxes in rooms away from us more often now and doesn't mind being shut out of rooms we're in. Today for the first time I closed bathroom door while showering/getting ready (usually I leave door open a crack) - it was maybe 15 minutes - I didn't hear any barking, scratching, or noise, and when I came out he was plopped on his couch watching out the window. Good progress!

Yesterday my sister came over while we were gone to stay with pup for the afternoon. I panicked that his anxiety might flare up when I left (because we haven't left him with someone else for a long time now, and especially since his SA started up). He didn't care at all when I left, and he and my sister proceeded to relax and watch some TV. This gives us more confirmation that his anxiety is more isolation anxiety than SEPARATION anxiety from us in particular, but I'll keep using the SA label anyway since there is so much crossover.

I have continued to work with the pup on fake leaves. On a few different days now, we've worked up to just over two minutes of being behind the locked exit door. Most of the times, he's remained laying on his mat - watching the door but not escalating to panic or even bothering to get up. One time when I came back in he had his head down and looked super relaxed. I had to keep my excitement in check at this progress! When I leave I always say the same thing: "I'll be right back" while holding up one finger, and when I come back in I always say a super casual "Hi Leo" (his name's Leo by the way!) and move on right away.

One important factor I've noticed is what a difference it makes for him to be TIRED when we do these sessions. If he's aroused or alert, it's difficult or nearly impossible to get any amount of time during a fake leave. He's too wound up. I have started only doing the sessions when he's already tired out from a walk or just already relaxing/taking a nap on his mat. This makes all the difference, and it is a reminder to be very consistent with walks and exercise.

One challenge we're having now is that when my husband tries to do the sessions with the pup, he's not as successful. We're trying to figure out what is different about when he does it, but I think he might just have more fun when my husband is around, so things are more hyped up. It might be that I'm just more boring (I'm definitely around the house more with the pup) and I keep things calmer than my husband. If that's the case, we're talking about some ways he could tone it down when he and the pup are together so things aren't so fun/exciting all the time.

That's all for now. Will continue with the updates as they happen. I was trying to add a photo here to give a better idea of this little monster we're working with :D but I couldn't get the attachment to upload. I thought I was decent with technology, but maybe not :? Would appreciate any help on how to add a photo!

JudyN
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by JudyN » Wed Dec 10, 2014 4:16 pm

That's brilliant progress :D I'm not sure it's worth spending too long trying to work out why Leo is more likely to get upset when your husband leaves, but just accept that he will have to progress a bit more slowly - Jasper was (is) much more iffy about being left at weekends, when OH is around, even if OH leaves first and I leave shortly after, even though he's happier with OH leaving in general.

I don't think it's possible to upload a photo as an attachment - you need to host it somewhere online (Imageshack, Flickr, etc.), grab the url, and then paste it into the post between Img tags (in the line of boxes just above the pane you type your post into). Hope that helps!
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

bc417
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by bc417 » Mon Dec 15, 2014 12:46 pm

New record set today of leaving for five minutes. I'm sure I could have waited longer but didn't want to push it since our previous record was right around three minutes. When I came back inside he was laying down, actually not even facing the door. He turned to look when I came in the door but went right back to chewing on one of his favorite bones. It was fantastic to see the progress!

One thing I've noticed is that it seems it was a lot harder to get those initial fake leaves to be successful compared to just building up time later on. It took us a lot more attempts and trials to get him comfortable with just five seconds, then ten seconds, then twenty seconds, then thirty seconds, etc. Now that he sort of knows the drill, I am optimistic that it will go a little faster increasing from a few minutes to five minutes to ten minutes to fifteen to twenty, etc. Today was an example of this, since it seemed he barely even noticed that I increased the fake leave by two whole minutes this time. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all those couple-minute sessions of hanging out in the breezeway - maybe I need to stash a book out there ...

Here is an attempt to add a recent photo of Leo ... for some reason it's sized too big when viewing it in the forum, but if you open it in a new tab it's fine. He'll be eight months in a few days.

Image

JudyN
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by JudyN » Mon Dec 15, 2014 12:55 pm

He's gorgeous! I love his fluffy tail :D
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

bc417
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by bc417 » Fri Jan 02, 2015 2:07 pm

Back with an update. We made it through the holidays! Lucky for us we were able to bring Leo along to family parties, etc. and avoid leaving him at home. We didn't do much training or fake leaves over the last week or so due to all the festivities going on, but we're back at it now. We decided to buy a camera that could stream to our smart phones so we could see what Leo was doing while we were on a fake leave. We got the cheapest one that would suffice for quality and put it up in the kitchen yesterday - wow, does it help with the fake leaves! We can leave and see exactly what Leo is doing, what his anxiety level is, and know exactly when to come back in without pushing the boundary too much. Today, after some playing and running around the back yard, Leo was in a relaxing and sleepy mood. I did a fake leave for 15 minutes, setting a new record! It was very helpful to be able to watch the camera the whole time to see that he was comfortable, sleeping, etc. the whole time. He woke up once around 10 minutes, looked around, and then passed out again. I could have waited longer than 15 minutes but I was freezing standing outside in the garage, lol. Great progress and very motivating.

The absolute most important thing seems to be that he is very well exercised and ready to relax or take a nap when we leave. We are trying to figure out now how long it takes after going on a long walk or running around outside for him to transition to relaxing/sleeping mode. When we figure that out, we'll be able to better gauge how to schedule exercise and fake leaves. I guess we are also getting to the point of transitioning from fake leaves to real leaves now that we've hit the fifteen minute mark.

bc417
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by bc417 » Mon Jan 26, 2015 11:26 am

Wanted to provide another update of our progress with Leo's separation anxiety. We are now able to leave him (either my husband and I both, or one of us separately) for a much longer time - we've been consistently doing between 25 and 45 minutes. The most important thing we've still found to be true is that Leo needs a lot more exercise than we originally thought. Two walks a day - each 30 minutes - is great for him but definitely not enough. He needs time at least once a day to really run. I have been taking him to the nearby dog park (though it makes me nervous because of the unpredictable dogs that might be there ...) and then leaving him alone about an hour or two after that. He is always ready for resting or a nap by then, and this makes a MAJOR difference in his response when we leave. It has been an adjustment for us to figure out how to provide him with opportunities every day for intense exercise, but it is making a huge difference and is probably making us healthier, too :)

I have also perfected my Kong-stuffing techniques, and this has really helped get Leo past the first few moments when we leave. I have been making different, tasty, interesting Kong combinations and then plugging the small end with peanut butter. Then I fill the inside with some water and freeze it overnight. It makes it take much longer for Leo to finish it - usually between 20-30 minutes but sometimes up to 45 minutes if I've made a really good one :D I always give him the Kong a minute or two before I'm going to leave so he can get into it a bit and realize it is tasty and not something he wants to give up on just because I'm walking out the door! We still monitor him on the camera we got - I can't emphasize enough how instrumental that's been in helping us with this process. We should have gotten it sooner. Once he finishes the Kong he usually looks around a little, gets a drink of water, and then plops down in front of the door. We've waited between a minute and more like fifteen minutes before coming back while he is laying around just to gradually increase that time. Also, when we come in and just say a quick, unemotional "hi Leo" to him, he is usually happy to see us and wagging his tail, but definitely not over-the-top like it used to be.

It is SUCH a relief to be seeing such great progress. We have had just one or two instances where he's obviously not been relaxed enough when I've tried to leave, so I come right back in when I see that his behavior is not the usual. Generally when that happens I've been able to try again in twenty minutes or so with success.

Again, just wanting to share all these details in case someone is reading this and trying to deal with their own dog's SA. It was so helpful for me to read all the accounts of people's SA experiences that I could find online. It is such a challenging issue, and some of the hardest parts for us have been turning down invitations to things and not being able to go out together for so long. Most people (even dog owners) have not understood the significance of this issue when we explain it to them - most people just say something like "well don't you think he'll just get used to it over time?" It takes all my power not to lose it at these kind of comments. I just remind myself that I have done the research, and I know what I'm doing is right. It's also been helpful talking with the place we go for training classes because they are positive training professionals and can offer a lot of support for dealing with SA. I have read a lot of places that if your dog can make it through the first 30-40 minutes of being alone without anxiety, they will likely be able to increase to longer times with less trouble. We are cautiously optimistic that this will be the case with Leo, and we'll be slowly increasing the times now to more and more. Our local coffee shop is benefitting a lot, as it is the perfect distance to hop over to and linger around at while we wait and monitor the camera. I'm sure people think we're crazy, but we don't care when we see on the screen our happy, calm dog snoozing peacefully until we get home :D

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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by JudyN » Mon Jan 26, 2015 1:32 pm

Brilliant :D
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Re: Separation anxiety

Post by mansbestfriend » Mon Jan 26, 2015 7:18 pm

8)
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Sit.

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