Help with new rescue dog's severe separation anxiety
August 24, 2014 10:30 AM   Subscribe

We recently adopted an incredibly sweet dog from a local shelter-- Frances is a three year old dachshund/chihuahua mix. She's super mellow and calm when we're with her-- never barks or chews, perfectly housetrained, doesn't react to other dogs or people when on walks... basically perfect and incredibly lovable... EXCEPT... when left alone, she becomes a nightmare destructo-dog.

Here's what we've been doing:
-Crate training: Training her to like the crate with lots of treats, toys, and meals in the crate. Closing her in the crate overnight at the foot of our bed (she does fine with this).
-Exercise and routine-- lots of walks, meals, and training sessions.
-Obedience classes-- we're enrolled and she's doing very well.
-Herbal calming serum recommended by the shelter, "composure," in her breakfast.

Here's what she's been doing:
When we leave her alone in her crate, she cries and yelps incessantly. She will chew anything she can reach, except a stuffed kong or appropriate chew toy, which she will ignore. She drools and pants to the point of extreme thirst.

We've reached out to the shelter as well as a dog behaviorist and our dog trainer, and we've been following their suggestions religiously.

Our trainer recommended trying to leave her unconfined. We did this today-- watched on a webcam, she seemed calm, we didn't hear any barking from outside the house. Returned thirty minutes later to a note from our neighbors stating that she had ripped through a screen and escaped onto a second story roof (a tiny, steeply pitched roof!) where she was freaking out until they rescued her with a ladder. Huh-- not the outcome we were hoping for!

We have a vet appointment Friday where I will ask about / ask for doggie xanax or something similar. Her panic attacks in the crate leave her literally bouncing off the walls, moving the crate, chewing on it, etc. to the point of self-injury.

I have taken her to doggie daycare, which she seemed to enjoy. It's expensive as an every day solution, though-- and we want to be able to leave the house for an hour or two on weekends and not return to extreme destruction.

We're not open to getting another dog at this point. We can't take her to work. We really need her to get comfortable being alone for medium stretches of time-- what can we do?
posted by bonheur to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you ever put her in the crate while you're home and awake? Maybe for short (increasing) lengths of time, including some while you're in another room?
posted by J. Wilson at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start putting her in the crate while you're home and slowly increase the amount of time before you let her out, maybe feed her in her crate and then let her chill out for a little bit after that. Then do the same but leave. Seriously start off by putting her in the crate with a treat, go out the door then turn around and come back in.

I read somewhere that it's a good idea to give your dog a treat or just a little bit of food when you come home as it helps them think that you'd just been out hunting which they won't stress out about as much.
posted by VTX at 10:59 AM on August 24, 2014

This is not an objection to the crate, this is real panic at being alone, and I don't know what you're going to do between now and Friday unless you're just resigned to the expense of daycare for at least this week.

I'm sure the trainer wants you to leave her for short periods like you did today, but you can't actually leave. Sit in your car until you see her on the webcam starting to panic*, and then go back in. Do it over and over today (you probably have things to do, but one of you at least has to stay within rescue distance). It's not going to work immediately, at best doing exposure therapy all day will probably increase her Time To Panic by 5-10 minutes.

This is going to take time, maybe months before you can trust her not to seriously injure or kill herself while you're at work. This may be a dog who needs an environment you can't provide.

*Even if you crate her and then close the crate in a room, you need to dogproof. Close the windows, to start. Move every electrical cable out of her reach that you can. Anchor or remove anything she can topple and kill herself with, like TVs or bookshelves. Assume she can jump to at least 4'. Don't leave anything valuable below that watermark.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:10 AM on August 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes you can. Talk to your vet, doggy Xanax might be a good way to go, you most likely won't need it permanently. The anxiety can be a self perpetuating cycle, I get anxious therefore there is something to be anxious about so I get anxious. So the Xanax helps stop the OMG I'm panicking because I'm panicking effect.

I had good luck with pheromone collars/dispensers. They don't seem to work with all dogs.

Half an hour was way too long for a first time left alone. You want to go for no more than a few minutes at first, then slowly increase the time, trying to return before the dog gets to the freaked out stage. Calmly reenter the house as if nothing has happened, excited greetings can reinforce that being left alone is a big thing. When your dog can do a few minutes extend the time. Go in and out randomly & several times a day.

Things that can help, always have the same routine when you go so your dog learns that this routine means you are going and coming back. Having said that I've heard of dogs that will actually stress out more if they recognize your about to go out routine, so go by your dogs reactions. Routine is what worked best with our separation anxiety guy.

You say you've only had the dog a short time. Depending on how short a time a lot of the anxiety might well be tied in with that, getting used to new routines & people can be stressful for the dog.

If the crate is adding to the stress, make getting her used to the crate a separate issue. Solve the separation anxiety first or the crate will end up being tied to her fears. While it sounds like she's not for full run of the house securing a room she can be left in safely while you are gone might not be a bad idea. We chose the bathroom as no cables on floor, breakables, everything secure and tiles cleaned easily as he fear pooped a lot.

It took us a few months to get him so we could run to the corner shop reliably, a few more so he could be left 2 hours or more and now we can go 6 hours, thought his bladder may give out if we leave him that long. Things that helped the most drugs & pheromones to break the fear cycle and routine routine routine. Routine is the thing that makes dogs feel the most secure.
posted by wwax at 11:21 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recommend using a tactic similar to Lyn Never's, but do this:

Leave her alone for three minutes. Come back in after three minutes and reward and praise her. Then, turn right back around and go back out for five minutes. Come back. Reward her and praise her. Turn around and stay out for eight. Return. Reward. Ten. Fifteen. 20. 30. 45. An hour. Two hours. Three. Four. Always with returns and rewards. If you see her freaking out, start back again at three minutes.

Devote a whole day to this, increasing your time away each time. It's OK to start over at three. Use super-bonus-reward treats for this.

(This is how I stopped my sweet but very anxious rescue dog to stop barking when I left the house. She barked at 45 and we started again at three, five, eight. She never barked again.)
posted by mochapickle at 11:29 AM on August 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Xanax and time were key for us.

My shelter dog did not like the crate and in a month destroyed two different crates (airline and metal sides). She tore up her nose trying to chew her way out. She cut her mouth destroying the plastic trays. She'd destroy anything in the crate. She'd destroy anything near the crate by moving the cate closer so she had something to destroy. We had to bar the third crate across the front to keep her getting out. Then we had to add clasps to the bars so she couldn't shake those bars off and get out.

She's only a 40lb dog and an utter delight around people! Everyone was shocked at the level of destruction and anxiety.

One month of Xanax and continuing the crate training process did the trick. She now will go lie down in her crate in the mornings. Her towel pile has stayed intact. We didn't even need the refill for a second month.
posted by SometimesChartreuse at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

You know what? She'll get better. My last rescue dog is the only one I've ever had to crate and that was because she was destroying my house. She spent a year being crated while I was at work then I started leaving her out for short periods, then longer and she now hasn't been in the crate for 5 years. She never liked the crate. She busted out of it several times, it was heavily reinforced by me evantually. She would go in it for a treat but it wasn't her "cave" or whatever they tell you. I never crated her at night and I never tried to make her like it. She tolerated it and that was enough.

It did, however, save me untold thousands in damage to the house, her sanity and our relationship. Once she was used to the routine of me leaving and coming home every. single. day she relaxed. I started having a friend let her out a couple hours before I got home. Then we extended that, then we stopped using the crate altogether. Now its disassembled in the basement and she's fine left alone.

It's a phase, kind of a shitty one, but it'll be completely ok. Once your dog has enough experience to know that you are coming home later you won't need the crate. In the meantime it's the best thing to do to keep her and your valuables safe. But she doesn't have to love it, that's asking a lot I think. Tolerating it is enough.

Oh, and I wouldn't make her sleep in there at night, that's too many hours locked in a box for any dog.
posted by fshgrl at 12:30 PM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing Lyn Never, wwax and mochapickle. You may have to start with even smaller increments of time, like 30 seconds.

Also, maybe there's a happy medium between in the crate, and free run of the whole house? My experience has been that dogs are generally happier closed out of spaces than closed in. Like leaving her in the living room and kitchen, with bedrooms and bathrooms closed off might work better than confining her to one room. YMMV, depending on your layout, of course.

Also, also, this thread is useless without pictures!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2014

Tranquilizers will help if they don't make her feel too oogy. I had to tranquilize my dog for a while when she was injured and wearing a cone because she was taking the cone off (that's impossible! said the vet. Watch this, said the dog). She hated the feeling of being zonked out, she would stagger around moaning pitifully, refusing to sleep, and clearly imagining she was dying of some horrible wasting illness. Worst Drunk Ever. But we used Acepromazine and it did knock her down for hours, Xanax might be better.
posted by fshgrl at 3:04 PM on August 24, 2014

Thundershirt. Xanax. Don't come back in after the panic has started. That reinforces the panic. Come back in before the panic starts.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:13 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My 60-lb dog made a similar escape last week and jumped off the porch roof before a neighbor found her. The next day, while limping, she broke out of the downstairs window twice while I was at work; a neighbor returned her inside twice. The next day, she opened our inner door and knocked the glass out of our storm door and cut herself.

Nthing the dog-proofing. Dogproof as much as you can. Give her tasty stinky food as you leave - you say she leaves the Kong alone, so whatever you're putting in it is not hitting that sweet spot for her. Consider wet food, cheese (if she tolerates it), or something meaty like cut up hotdogs or ham.

The vet gave my pup L-Theanine to help with the anxiety, although she wasn't getting quite as worked up as yours I think. She cleared path to the Outside, instead of destroying stuff inside.

With the meds, what seems to have solved our problem is that we totally changed up our leaving routine and now shut her in one room with a plate of tasty/stinky wet food as we leave. No big goodbye, no excited returns. I left a light on, which I never do when leaving, and broke several other routines for her benefit.

It wasn't an overnight change - it takes a couple days for the L-Theanine to work, and we had a long weekend to bleed off some of her anxiety hormones, since they build on each other (anxiety about being anxious).

I practiced leaving for a couple minutes at a time before leaving her for a whole workday.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:36 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here’s my view: separation anxiety is a symptom of a larger problem, not the problem itself.

My advice is to learn about the philosophy of natural dogmanship.

-Here’s an article explaining the psychology of separation anxiety
-This article is about the way that many people have different standards of behavior for small dogs compared to large dogs, and how that can have negative effects

I STRONGLY recommend reading at least the article about separation anxiety, and in fact any of the articles at the "Understanding Dog Behavior" link on that website. If these ideas aren't familiar to you, they might take some open-mindedness to accept. I think you'll find that it's completely worth it.
posted by switcheroo at 9:30 AM on August 25, 2014

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