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Separation Anxiety and you Dog

siris enjoys company

xxSeparation Anxiety
February 05, 2005, 02:01:13 PM by pittygrrl
Siris has big time separation anxiety.  It's a lot better now but it's taken us a lot of time, patience and consistency to get there. We had a bit of a set back in September when I moved into a new place but it looks like she's finally settling down again.  There is no real one cure, but there are a lot of things we've done to better the situation so I'll share a few of them with you and maybe they'll help.  Siris is a 5 year old pit mix that I adopted when she was about a year old - history unknown.  This will be probably a loooooong post so hope you stay with me!

1) Increased exercise - If I know I'll be away for quite some time and I have to leave the dog home alone, I'll take her out for a monster walk & frisbee session right before.  If she's tired, then she's less likely to act up in the house.  I also hired a dog walker who could come walk her during the day (preferably around the middle of the time I knew I'd be gone for.  This gets her some extra exercise and breaks up the day a bit for her.

2) Stuffed Kong - she gets this only when I'm leaving and it gets picked up when I get back.  It's her special treat that she gets when left alone and I will stuff it with Peanut Butter and Hot Dog bits, freeze it and then it takes up time and energy and concentration for her to get the goodies out.  When she's concentrating on that, she's not concentrating on scratching up my front door and front door frame. Works for me!

3) Treatball or puzzle-type toys - I fill these up and leave them out for her although she doesn't get these exclusively when I'm gone. She has to work get out the food, and she'll roll it around till the liver treats come out.  If you go this route, get a BIG one because I had a small one initially and it would roll under the couch or chairs and she wouldn't be able to get to it, rendering it pretty much useless.  There is also one called the Talk To Me Treatball that lets you record your voice and when the dog rolls it around it will activate your recording.. I had that for a while but got so sick of hearing "goooooood girl, Siris!" in my own voice I eventually turned it off.

4) Leave on the radio - preferably talk radio so there is chatter/ background noise going on.  Seems to calm down the dog a little.

5) DAP Diffuser - this plugs into the wall kind of like an air freshner type thing but is filled with Dog Appeasing Pheramones. These are supposed to mimic the scent of a lactating mother dog and be soothing to anxious dogs and generally calm them down a little.  It takes a while for it to work, and I'm not convinced it's a miracle cure or anything but when I moved I did notice an improvement with Siris and her destructive behaviour when I left her alone.  It's about $25 and the DAP lasts about a month - I think refills are about $15 or so.  Worth a try. 

6) DESENSITIZATION - this is you putting in the time and energy to help desensitize your dog to being left alone.  Make sure all entrances and exits are low-key.  Meaning, 5 minutes before you leave, ignore your dog.  Don't say a dramatic goodbye.   Just simply leave.  When you come back, ignore the dog until he is calm. Even if he's jumping all over you - ignore him for about 5 minutes or again, until he's calm.  If the dog picks up on cues before you're leaving, such as you picking up your jacket putting it on, grabbing your keys, etc... do these things randomly throughout the day and then don't actually leave. Just walk around with your coat on. Sit down, watch tv. jiggle the keys around.  This way the dog learns just because these things are happening, doesn't mean you're necessarily leaving.  Find a couple of days that you can devote to simply working with your dog on desensitization. Leave for 2 minutes. Come back - no big deal.  Keep doing it till the dog is okay with that.  Then, up it to 5 minutes.  Come back.  Then, up it to 10 minutes. etc.  If the dog starts showing signs of stress, reduce the time you're gone for. It's a long process, but it really helps.

7) Doggie Alone Time When You Are Home - when I got Siris I lived with my ex who coddled her ALL the time. Everything was about the dog. Petting her all the time, talking to her all the time, playing with her all the time, letting her lie all over him all the time, etc. She was my first dog and before I did a lot of reading I spoiled her a bit too I guess. But you can see how that might make the change very very dramatic from when you are home with the dog, to when the dog is home alone.  So we basically implemented a couple hours a day where we would ignore the dog even if we were home.  She would chill out in another room with a bone or a toy and we would act like she wasn't there at all. If she came over and tried to be pushy and ask for attention we would just ignore her.  It was hard at first but I got used to it.  We actually put her on the Nothing In Life Is Free Program but that was more for dominance issues.

Some things that didn't/won't work for Siris but that might for you:

Rescue Remedy - this is a herbal tincture that you dilute in water and is supposed to calm the dog - I really didn't notice a big difference at all when I used it with Siris but a lot of people find success with it.

Crating - if your dog is crate trained I highly recommend crating.  If your dog's anxiety isn't that severe and your dog will eventually relax in the crate, I say go for it - for the dog's safety and for the sake of preserving your house.  Siris, although she sleeps in her crate, would absolutely go into a full on panic when left in her crate alone. She bent wires, bloodied her nose and paws trying to escape, drooled and panted excessively to the point where she was starting to get dehydrated.  I tried for 45 minutes and this is what I came home to.  Even after doing a lot of work to get her used to the crate, it is not really an option for us because I think she'll hurt herself in the crate if unsupervised.  If you can't crate, you might want to consider gating your dog off in one room.  My apartment isn't really set up in a way that will work for this, and also I'd have to find about an 8 foot gate because Siris is a jumping queen. So I pretty much have to give her the run of the house.  But if it might work for your dog, try it - and at least you can contain the damage.

Dog-Daycare - this might be an option a couple days a week if you can afford it. Siris can get snarky with dominant females and a lot of our dog daycares won't accept pits or pitty-mixes so it's out for us - otherwise I would consider it. 

A good thing to do would be to set up a tape recorder or video camera in your home so that you can get a glimpse of exactly what happens and when it does when you leave the dog alone.  Most SA dogs do most damage and are most anxious within 30 minutes of you leaving.   This way you'll know if the dog is barking non-stop while you're away for example or whether that only lasts say 5 minutes.  You'll also know how long the destruction at the door and the blinds goes on for.

And more background on Siris's behaviour when left alone - at first and now. At first she would whine and bark throughout my absence. Barking loudly for about 30-40 minutes and whining to herself for the rest of it. She'd jump on furniture, looking out the windows, and scratch scratch scratch at the doorframe and the door. I literally had to replace the door on my old apt when I moved out.  She would get into garbage if I left it out.  She luckily did not eat furniture or carpets or curtains or anything.  She drooled excessively. Everything at the door or near the windows would be covered in drool when I got home.  It was really gross.  After months of reading, research and trial and error we got it under control. In the old house, she stopped scratching the door completely. I eventually came home to a sleeping dog. It was fabulous! .... and then, I moved.  I'll have to replace this door too when I move out, but it's getting much better already..

I'm sure your dog's SA is pretty minor but these are what worked for us. Thanks for bearing with this super long post and please let me know if you have questions. Feel free to PM me any time.  I have lotsa experience with SA. Heh. Oh, and the book Calypso recommended is a great one.

Andria & Siris
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