My dog has separation anxiety. Halp?

Guest post by TA
Is there a way to solve doggy anxiety without medication? By: Mike McCuneCC BY 2.0
One day we were asked to puppy sit for a week. The agreement was we’d get to play with a puppy for a week and make $50 in the end. A year later we’re just as broke as we were before and the puppy is now an awkward 60-pound dog they never came back for.

Training has just recently started working so there’s hope on the horizon, but my fiance and I are still stuck at home with him all the time. He has the worst separation anxiety and barks (and barks and barks and barks) and scratches up doors when we’re gone. Assuming he would ever calm down and stop is a mistake. He’s done it for hours on end before.

I need help. I have absolutely no idea how to calm him down. Our cat and other dog are his best friends and they stay home with him, so it’s not like he’s totally alone. Can any offbeat homies help me with my dog’s separation anxiety? Someone tell me there’s hope beyond medicating him. -TA

Ah, separation anxiety…

Surprisingly, since I work at home full time, my dogs don’t have it. But my neighbors’ dogs do. (Imagine the sound of several apartments surrounding a courtyard full of non-stop barking.) Sadly, the only solution for one of my neighbors was to use a bark collar. Hey, it definitely worked to keep the barking down, but I doubt it took care of the actual anxiety problem.

Anyone have advice for treating separation anxiety without using meds, or just treating the symptoms?

Comments on My dog has separation anxiety. Halp?

  1. ROUTINE-95% of the time I am the morning caretaker, the 5% that I’m not the man doesn’t necessarily do things in the “right” order. Like toddlers dogs thrive on routine. There are days where he walks before feeding and I have to leash her walk outside let her sniff one tree and bring her back in so she’ll relax.

    Second for us the destructive behaviors are as much boredom as anxiety. She’s on restricted exercise (oh, so fun for a border collie/golden retriever mix) Puzzle games are awesome. We have a ball that we fill with a 80/20 kibble/treat mix and I try to set it down in an obvious spot but not have her see me so she finds it later in the day. She has to roll it to get the treats and it’s not easy. Since we added the ball she hasn’t chewed anything crazy.

    On the Thundershirts, the consensus I’ve heard from our vet family (in-laws own a clinic) is they work. . .when used sparingly. They aren’t an everyday solution.

    Crate training, the pheromone defuser, a vet-visit and a trainer are all very valid and had they not been mentioned I would have thrown them in as well!

  2. What about leaving the radio on for him? My mom used to do ths for our last dog when he was a pup. Beyond that, maybe leave a blanket for him with your scent on it?

  3. This same thing happened to us. We tried Corey on three different meds, and then he just seemed depressed all the time, but still not well. A few months later, we got a kitten, and he followed her around the house. Became a dramatically different dog. Problem completely solved!

  4. I know some of this may be repeats, but it just means it’s worked for more than one person so it might be worth a try!

    A crate definitely helps a lot of dogs. I have shelter dogs, and one in particular had bad anxiety when left alone (even with other pet friends in the house) and would destroy things when we were out. The crate really helped her feel more secure and it has even become her safe little haven….if she gets upset, she goes in her crate. She goes in there on her own to sleep a lot too. We also give her toys in there so she has things to keep her occupied.

    Another thing to look at is if there is a specific ritual of events you go through before you leave for a long time that your dog might pick up on…such as, do you usually have the tv or radio on most of the day, but turn it off when you leave? Sometimes dogs pick up on this, and when the noise go off they start to panic before you’re even gone. Maybe leave the tv or radio on while you leave as background soothing sounds. And don’t make a big fuss about leaving or when you return…act like nothing is happening. Maybe a peanut butter filled kong toy in his/her crate every time you leave will keep her occupied and relaxed, and more exercise will help! Good luck!

  5. Just repeating the crate training advice. It really helped with our first adopted pup who had bad separation anxiety. He loves his crate now.

    Tips: Feed your dog in his crate, always have fresh water (I’ve found one of the bowls you can attach to the crate is better than the hamster-water thing), leave off the collar, and only leave rope or Kong toys (ones that they can’t choke on).

    If you can afford it, doggie day care might also be a good thing.

    Good luck!

  6. Hi, I have two retired greyhounds and our first one adopted had some separation anxiety at the beginning. The advice we were given was this: condition your dog to see your leaving as normal and even fun. One way to do this is to leave and come back at intervals. So get your keys, walk out the door then return 1 minute later, then 2 minutes, then 3 and so on. Don’t wait for your dog to freak before you come back, make leaving and coming home so normal (by repetition) that is boring and predictable. Also leave your dog something awesome (like kong stuffed with treats and peanut butter) that they can only have when you’re away. Good luck!

  7. Sorry–couldn’t read through all the comments but I wanted to share what worked for me. This will probably be kind of long.
    When I brought my dog home from the shelter, she had extreme separation anxiety manifesting as constant vocalization (barking/whining) for the entire time I was gone (no matter how long that was). She would do this even when I was in the bathroom. As I lived in an apartment at the time, I had to deal with it quickly.
    We started with meds (Xanax and a dog one, I think it was called Chomicalm or something). She was only on these for about 3 months total.
    Then I did some significant systematic desensitization. I created a routine for leaving (getting dressed, picking up my purse, turning on the radio) and chose a “leaving phrase” that I said every time. “Bye, Asha!” Then I started by going in the bathroom and closing the door. I gradually increased the time I was in the bathroom until she could tolerated a couple of minutes. Then I did the same thing with leaving my apartment, starting literally with standing right outside the door for 30 seconds.
    She is mostly fine now, with very little anxiety and no meds as long as I follow these guidelines:
    Spend a few minutes getting ready to leave without interacting with her. No eye contact, no kisses, nothing.
    Do not make a big deal out of leaving. Don’t act like it’s a big deal, and more importantly, don’t feel like it’s a big deal. Don’t feel guilty, or sad, or they will know.
    Don’t go home and then leave again right away. I never go home unless I’m going to be there for at least an hour. This requires some planning but it is worth it.
    Feel free to contact me if you need more info. I spent a couple of months working really hard on this but it was totally worth it!

  8. When I rescued my fur baby she had been abandoned by her previous owners in a strangers fenced yard, needless to say she has an extreme case of separation anxiety. She would chew everything and anything when I wasn’t home or just in the next room. So I did the worst thing possible and made her follow me room to room, this just made it worse. I originally didn’t crate her but after coming home to find the gas knob on the stove clicked on (from her chewing on them) I knew it was time to crate her. Over one weekend I worked both days with her and got it to where she would voluntarily go into her crate on her own. The other product my vet recommended that actually worked was Adaptil, D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) Collar for Dogs. What a difference this collar made in my trembling 50+ pound baby. Within 2 days of her wearing it she had calmed down considerably and now she crates up on her own when I put my shoes on to leave. She come a long way. I recommend checking out the collars, I’ve had incredible results with them!

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