separation anxiety in dog
April 11, 2009 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Severe separation anxiety in mini poodle? We adopted a mini poodle about 3 months ago. Before my husband and I adopted her, she was with 9 other dogs. We adopted her alone and I don't know if that's part of the problem. Our problem is that she can't be left alone for even a few minutes.

When home, she has to be with me constantly. If I leave for any reason (even when my husband is home) she will howl. I or my husband take her to work most days, but on the days we both have meetings, we leave her out in the back yard with access to a bathroom if she wants to lie down and be warm. We leave plenty of toys behind. My neighbor is a retiree and informs me that she howls all day. When my husband takes her to work, he can't even go to the bathroom for five minutes without her howling. I paid an expensive trainer and he gave me advice for how to handle her (e.g. act like an alpha dog, go through the door first, don't greet her immediately when you come home), nothing he told us helps with the anxiety.

She hates, hates the crate, but if we put her in there at night she's quiet. Lately, we been letting her sleep on the bed since she seems much happier with that. If I thought the crate would help, I'd put her back in but it doesn't seem to make a difference.

The easy solution is just to pay for doggie day care on the days we can't take her to work, but it's expensive, so I'm hoping we can help train her. We also need to be able to leave her alone for periods of time at work. I'm thinking about puppy prozac.

Any advice welcome...
posted by bananafish to Pets & Animals (6 answers total)
I'll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell might be useful (be aware: it's not a full-length book, per se, but more of a long-ish pamphlet), even though some of it you will have heard before (calm arrivals and departures, etc.). In particular, her tips on developing a desensitization and counterconditioning procedure -- what she calls the foundation of treating separation anxiety -- sound like they may be the key for you.

Basically, you very gradually teach your dog to learn to bear the "triggers" of your leaving that start sending him into the fear/panic mode even before you're gone. She says: "I've learned that in most cases the critical part of the entire process is to get the dog comfortable with you leaving the house. If these dogs are fine when you walk out of the house, they're fine for the rest of the day." This can take a while (several weeks, or a month or more), so be prepared to be patient and (gently) persistent. I don't think there's really a simple overnight solution. Good luck!
posted by scody at 2:10 PM on April 11, 2009

I workat a Humane Society and rescue small dogs. The Vet reccommended Xanax, it worked like a charm. I've had several dogs that were helped by it. See your Vet.
posted by misspat at 3:49 PM on April 11, 2009

It sounds like the trainer was using techniques that work really, really well for dogs with dominance issues but not so much for those with anxiety- or fear-based problems.

How old is she? Did she grow up with those other eight dogs or was this a short-term foster situation? Any info you can get about the dog's background and prior behavior is helpful. Whatever organization you adopted her through may be able to offer some advice too.

I haven't dealt with these kinds of issues firsthand but the book scody recommended looks very good (as do the author's other books). For a broader perspective, you might want to check out Animals Make Us Human.

And scody's right that there isn't a quick fix here. You and your husband clearly are willing to put in a lot of effort make the pooch comfortable, which is lovely. You're doing the right thing, looking for productive ways to focus your energy and effort. It's worth it.
posted by dogrose at 4:19 PM on April 11, 2009

Is a second dog an option? Perhaps an older, rescue dog with a more sedate, motherly personality?
posted by twistofrhyme at 5:05 PM on April 11, 2009

My dog (also likely a mini poodle mix) had very similar issues when he was younger. We would try to leave him for short periods of time pretty often, things like taking out the trash, getting the mail, several times a day. He howled at first, but then gradually would just yip a couple times, and now (he's 11 months old) he mostly doesn't make any noise. We did crate train him, and now he's totally fine to spend an entire work day alone. I know 3 months seems like forever, but my dog really started to improve at around 6 months. We also did just let him howl sometimes and never came back in until he was silent (even if he just stopped for a second, I'd go back in)

I might try crating him inside when you have to leave him for the day when you have meetings. If he's an adult dog, he can very likely hold his pee long enough, and my dog is a lot more calm in a small area like a bathroom. There are a lot less distractions, and the dog can just sleep.
posted by mjcon at 5:22 PM on April 11, 2009

I just finished up a group puppy training class, and the trainer recommended feeding the dog in the crate to make it a "happy place." Also, give her a treat every time you leave.

I wouldn't leave her out back--it's not fair to you or the neighbor. She's probably more stressed being there than if inside.

Have you done any regular puppy training? I recommend it, too.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:50 AM on April 12, 2009

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