This is my story about my dog’s separation anxiety. See how I identified the problem as separation anxiety, and the solutions I used together to help my dog conquer separation anxiety.
Many years ago I adopted a 6 year old female Irish Setter from a rescue group in Wisconsin. Molly was my very first dog while out on my own and she was dearly loved and spoiled! She had been owned by a “breeder” but was not leading a quality life, and we believe spent most of her adult life confined and having puppies. I’m sure that coming to live with me was her dream come true. The very first thing Molly did when she entered her new home was climb onto the couch, and sit there happily, wagging her tail.
Rightfully so, Molly became very devoted to me, and very slowly, started showing signs of anxiety when I would leave: whining, barking, howling, gnawing at her crate, etc. I thought she’d “get over it”, but decided to set up a video camera to see exactly what was going on. That happened to be the day poor Molly went over the edge. I came home from work and thought somebody had vandalized my home! The blinds had been ripped down & torn to shreds, the wall near the door was scratched terribly, the handle on the sliding door & the front door were dented and scratched, part of the molding was torn off, etc. Certainly Molly couldn’t have done this as she was safely in her crate, right? Wrong. She had gotten out…
|Watch this video to see just how how severe her dog separation anxiety was. Rest assured, Molly never physically hurt herself.|
I immediately visited my vet, and this is when I first found out about Separation Anxiety (SA). I had no idea it existed, and that it is fairly common with symptoms ranging from mild anxiety to severe. Molly’s case was severe. The first thing we did was put her on a course of medication called Clomicalm, which helps with anxiety. She was going to severely hurt herself soon, so the medication was of utmost importance. In addition, I brought her to my parents for a couple weeks until the Clomicalm was able to get into her system and help soothe her anxiety (my parents are semi-retired, and were home all the time). During this time, I researched what to do for Molly.
Dog Separation Anxiety Solutions: what worked for us
- I made my comings & goings CALM. No fawning or fussing over Molly when I left or came home. (I was always petting her and hugging her and doing very lively, active, entrances and exits…something we all do everyday with our pets, but not good for a dog with SA)
- I made ZERO eye contact or interaction with Molly 20 minutes prior to leaving home. Eye contact with your dog is just the same as speaking or touching them – so when you don’t make eye contact, they begin to relax and realize nothing is going on of any importance. This was the HARDEST thing to do. You don’t realize how often you make eye contact with your dog! Give it a try someday, you’ll be amazed!
- I filled a Kong with treats, sealed it with peanut butter, and froze it the night before. Then I put it in her crate with her when I left in the morning to give her something super tasty to distract her while I left.
- I put a blanket over her metal crate so it would be more “den-like”.
- All meals & treats were provided in the crate so it would be a happy place.
- We started Behavior Training. I would have her go in her crate (give her a treat) with a stay command, and then walk just a few feet away, while not acknowledging her. Then I would return and give her another treat for reward. I continued this several times every night, and would increase the distance when she became comfortable with the previous distance. Before I knew it, I was standing outside my home, with Molly sitting comfortably in her crate. We did this for weeks on end until she had no problem with me leaving and being gone for a period of time.
Once I had Molly on the medication for a few months, and she was behaving while I was gone (all the while continuing to do the Behavior Training), we started to wean her off the Clomicalm, as that would be the final test to see if we conquered her anxiety. Slowly but surely we weaned her off it, and she was just fine!
I cannot stress enough how important the Behavior Training was, on my part, and for her. Without that, we would never have succeeded. This was a very difficult experience to deal with, but I am proud that we were able to, and happy to share this story so that other people out there can learn from it.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from any level of Separation Anxiety, be sure to consult with your veterinarian. Molly’s case was severe; not all dogs need medication. Sometimes it is just about the behavior training, and other points I outlined above.
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