Help Me Address My Dog's Separation Anxiety
November 9, 2018 4:22 PM   Subscribe

We just adopted a dog! Hooray! We adore her. However, she has separation anxiety. Have you successfully treated your dog's separation anxiety? I'd love to hear your story. Details within.

We recently adopted a 2.5 year old golden lab/German Shepherd mix. She's a rescue. She was a stray, but she was spayed (but not chipped). She adores people and is generally very well behaved. I suspect that she had a family that either lost her, or she was abandoned.

She's lovely. She does not jump on people, she doesn't pull on her leash, she doesn't steal food or whine or beg at the table. She's housetrained. She doesn't bite or growl. She barks a bit at other dogs but lets them get close enough to sniff. She puts up with my eight year old like a champ. She is a champion at fetch and loves balls.


She follows me EVERYWHERE. To the bathroom. Upstairs. Downstairs. To the other side of the room. She monitors my movements closely. If she thinks I'm going to leave, she gets upset. I left her alone the other day to go to a doctor's appointment and she had chewed the metal doorknob to the point that it now has dog tooth-shaped dents in it.

We feel like prisoners in our own home. We don't feel comfortable leaving her to go out to dinner, or to go out and do anything, for that matter. The husband and I can't be intimate because, well, she's there, watching our every move, and that's unsettling.

Pets bring much joy to our lives. That's why we put up with their quirks and their poop and pee and barf on the carpet. But I can't take six months out of my life to devote to training this dog's separation anxiety.

Does this sound like your dog? Did you address the problem successfully? How hard did you have to work at it, and what worked?
posted by cleverevans to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes a TV left on will help, something like animal planet but also maybe a sitcom with lots of people. Try out a few things and see if anything helps. I knew one dog that was helped by this immensely, I believe she preferred daytime soaps on old fashioned broadcast TV.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:31 PM on November 9, 2018

A pheremone diffuser might help!
posted by The otter lady at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you walk her regularly? I got my Great Pyrenees over his seperation anxiety using regular walks. I mean 7 days a week, rain or shine type regular. On the rare occassions I couldnt walk him for some reason, I hired a dog walker to come take him. Once he knew he could count on our "pack walks" he knew he was part of our pack, and his anxiety faded away.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:38 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I used to do a lot of animal care and have spent my entire life around dogs. I have never seen a dog get over separation anxiety without being left alone, so the first thing to do is to develop a thicker skin about leaving her.

I would prioritize getting toys that can (1) keep her busy and (2) develop a positive or less negative association with you leaving. Kong toys filled with treats or peanut butter, a dentabone, or something like this: tricky treat ball should help.

If you don't want her to sleep in the bedroom, you have to normalize that too. Create a space for her - costco has great dog beds, my dogs love them much more than sleeping on the floor in my room.

I have enjoyed this woman's book in training my dogs out of fearful aggression with other dogs. Training is really not hard, except in the sense that you have to be patient and consistent.
posted by emmatrotsky at 4:41 PM on November 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh man, this is hard. Like humans, dogs are individuals when it comes to their mental health issues. This is one of those things where you're just going to have to throw everything at the wall until something sticks.

I did once successfully treat a dog with severe SA. How I did it was, as above, doing everything that everyone told me to try until something worked. What worked for him was crate-training, but not just any crate, a specific type of crate. Crating can often be disastrous for SA dogs (and the wrong type of crate was a disaster), but as it turned out, what my dog wanted most of all, the only thing that helped him feel safe when alone, was a dark, quiet cave.

Your vet may be able to help here. You can give dogs many of the same anxiety meds as people, which may help take the edge off whine you work on the desensitization and counter-conditioning that is usually recommended for SA dogs.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:43 PM on November 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

How recently did you get her? It took my dog about 4 months to stop destroying everything in the house when we were out. To minimize the damage, we made sure that the house was completely spotless before leaving, and gave her as many nylabones, deer antlers, and peanut butter filled kongs as she wanted to take care of the chewing impulses.

We also got a trainer. Not someone at Petco that taught the dog to sit, but an actual animal behaviorist that taught us how to interact with the dog so she wasn't running our lives. It was a TON of work, but it helped so much. My dog had more issues than just the destruction, but only one or two lessons would probably help you a lot.
posted by little king trashmouth at 4:44 PM on November 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

If it's you, specifically, she's focused on, it might help to get the other folks in the house involved. When I first got my chihuahua, she velcroed on to me and was very anxious when I was gone, and she started being aggressive towards Himself whenever he got near me. So I stopped feeding her. The only food she got was from Himself's hand - not a bowl, his hand - until she started behaving less possessively about me. It helped a lot to make her realize she was now part of a whole household.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:44 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not to threadsit, but I just wanted to answer a few questions:

1. We JUST got her. We brought her home four days ago.

2. Mr. Cleverevans and I both work from home. We walk her multiple times a day. We live with a dog park literally outside our front door, so she also gets time playing fetch with the ChuckIt twice a day.
However, the working from home thing isn't going to be the case long-term, and one of us can't just never take a job again and stay home with the dog forever.
posted by cleverevans at 5:48 PM on November 9, 2018

Crate training is another thing that can help with this. Again, make it a positive. Start by never closing the door and feeding all meals in it. Then do Kong’s and other treats/toys in it. Eventually it becomes a safe cozy space and you close the door and stay home, then close the door and leave. Also agree that you need to be thinking long term here, like easily a few
months and maybe a year. Four days is nothing in this context.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:50 PM on November 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yeah, this is dog behaviorist territory, so to speak. You might need to do some work reducing the dog’s anxiety in general, and you’ll probably need to do some behavior modification around alone time. Training Between the Ears is a good method, or at least that’s what our dog guy uses.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:07 PM on November 9, 2018

Seconding crate training. My dog and I are bonded. Like crazy bonded. In the last year she has started.......this is nuts prepare really, it’s shocking and amazing......are you sitting down cause you should be.......spending time in the bedroom while I’m in the living room 20 feet away. She’s 11. I’ve had her since she was a tiny puppy. But she has comfy blankets in her crate and when we leave the house, in she goes. It’s not torture even though it feels mean. Instead of getting mad when she’s destructive or letting her punish me for leaving by peeing in front of the door, I give her opportunities for success. Heck, if she’s not ready to go to bed when we are she gets in the crate herself and chills out until she’s ready to snuggle. She is poorly trained because I’m a sucker and we still managed to make this work.
posted by monkeyscouch at 6:09 PM on November 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

The following you is normal Shepard behavior, unrelated to the separation anxiety. They will pick a person, usually the mom as they correctly conclude that is who feeds them, and they will follow you everywhere and stare at you. You need to teach her to "go lay down" in a pre-ordained place. It'll get better as she settles but she's a herding breed and will not be happy in her tiny brain unless she can see all of her flock at once. But that is her burden to bear and not yours.

The separation anxiety will get better as she learns you are coming back. It will not get better though is she works herself into a frenzy, it'll get worse. So be strategic. Start small and work up. Work on her patience and laying in her bed when told to. Enforce some small separation like no dogs in the kitchen or no dogs in the dining room when you eat. These small things will teach her some boundaries and patience. Shepards have control issues.

A lot of dogs feel much better alone if they can see out. The fact she ate your door handle is hilarious but also means she's pretty smart. If you practice letting her see you outside while she waits inside then work up to leaving nd coming back for short times calmly she'll get better. She will. You can also give her sedatives for a bit, this works remarkably well with some dogs.

Crates are sometimes necessary to keep a dog safe but it's a crutch. Ideally the dog will get over the anxiety with training and time.
posted by fshgrl at 6:18 PM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Crates are also necessary to protect your stuff.
posted by fshgrl at 6:22 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Based on your update, I wanted to say that what you are seeing now will not last forever. It takes weeks or months for rescue doggies to get settled.

Lots of walks are good, but if you work from home, find some way for the dog to get some regular time alone at home. Even if its 10-15 minutes a day. The worst case of SA that I ever saw was a woman that worked from home & never left her dog home alone.
posted by emmatrotsky at 7:46 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Four days isn't very long at all. My sister's dog did this too when she first got him but mellowed out a lot as time went on. It was a couple weeks or so of the super intense following her or anyone else everywhere, and then a few more months where he would sometimes chew things up when left alone. Now, he still doesn't like to be left alone but he is never destructive and as long as he's had enough exercise he will even be relaxed enough to nap sometimes when he's home alone.

There's a technique for reducing separation anxiety, where you start by taking 2 minute trips trips away from the house a bunch of times, then 5-10 minute trips, then 20 minute trips and so on, until the dog's brain starts to be wired to associate you leaving with you coming back. If I'm remembering correctly it's detailed in the book Dog Sense by John Bradshaw. And it's described as something that you'd dedicate a long weekend or a few days to, not months of training.
posted by desert at 8:07 PM on November 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

When we first adopted our dog he had pretty bad separation anxiety. We used the method in Patricia McConnell's I'll Be Home Soon to cure him of it. It wasn't a quick fix; it was a matter of months. But it did work. The basic idea is that you give the dog a Kong filled with delicious food that she only gets when she's left alone in her crate and you leave her alone with it for increasingly longer periods of time, starting with less than a minute.

It sounds like you're not using a crate. You could probably still use this method without one, but then you'd have your dog slobbering on a Kong full of soft, messy food potentially anywhere in your house, like on your sofa. You might want to think about introducing a crate. We don't use one anymore, but it was handy at first. (The crate could be used when you want to get intimate, too.)

The more stressful experiences your dog has with being left alone, the harder it will be to convince her it's okay. So it's probably worth inconveniencing yourselves by not leaving her alone at all for now if possible and gradually working up to leaving for short periods. That might be the fastest, easiest path to being able to leave her alone in the long run.
posted by Redstart at 8:30 PM on November 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

When you get a new dog, it can be *really* hard to remember that it takes them a lot longer to adapt to you than you to them. You are in the same house, same routine, same food, same bed, with the same humans. Everything is new to the dog! It feels like time goes like molasses, but you're only 4 days in.

Another thing is that Shepherds are herding dogs, so some of that following you is just part of their personality. I had a Corgi who was very intent on knowing where everyone was at all times. If my husband and I were in different rooms she would position herself in the hall so she could monitor us both.

Said Corgi was really into her crate. She did *not* like being left alone to roam the house, even just for a few minutes. Once we put her in the crate, she knew that we were leaving and everything was fine.
posted by radioamy at 9:16 PM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

We adopted a dog that also had terrible separation anxiety. He'd pee everywhere, howl, chew things. We were trapped in our house for an entire summer. One of us could leave, but not both at the same time.

He's completely fine now, and we used several methods to train him out of it:
1) "Don't Leave Me!" by Nicole Wilde. This was our bible, and the method is very similar to what Redstart describes.
2) Our dog would lose interest in the stuffed Kong as soon as we closed the front door. So, we trained him using a Treat-and-Train, which we would also leave on, constantly distributing treats, for a few minutes as we left the house. It's expensive, but it's worth its weight in gold. This little robot made the biggest difference in our being able to break our hound of his habits.
3) Lots of exercise. Long walks and hikes, dog park visits--then we'd leave him.
4) We crate trained him so he'd feel safe in the crate and wouldn't chew/pee on things when we were away. After about 3 years we stopped using the crate and he's perfectly fine now.

Good luck!
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:31 PM on November 9, 2018

Routine is the key. Always follow the same routine when you leave the house & when you return.

She's already lost one family, she doesn't know yet that you aren't going to vanish too. By performing the same routine she will quickly realise when they do x then y then z they always come back. Make the last step of the routine giving the dog a lovely delicious treat ball or kong something that takes a while to eat, and if you're crating this is when you'd do it. Then leave calmly & quietly. When you return, take a few seconds to put your stuff away in the same routine manner then greet the dog calmly.

If you can arrange a walk before you go out even better. A tired dog is a happy dog.

Anti stress pheromone collars can help, but the main help is time, routine & coming back enough times the dog trust that you will return.

Patrica McConnels book linked to by Redstart is amazing.

Four days is nothing, the dog is probably following you around because it's not sure it's allowed to not follow you around yet. It's still on it's I'm visiting behavior. Heck it can take up to a month for a dog to relax enough in a new environment from trying to be "good" & figure out all their new rules for their real personalities to come out.

If nothing else I'd suggest some basic dog training classes for you & your dog. Not because the dog needs training, but because it sounds like the 2 of you are still getting to know each other & they are a great way for the dog to feel more confident.
posted by wwax at 9:43 PM on November 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding wwax HARD on the leading and returning calmly. No OTT "who's a good puppy? YOU ARE! Yes YOU! Did you miss us? We missed you too...." Leaving and returning need to be non-events (without sneaking away. I think that might create hyper-vigilance.)
posted by kate4914 at 10:23 AM on November 10, 2018

YMMV, but we solved this problem by getting a second dog as a companion for our first dog.
posted by GoldenEel at 12:38 PM on November 12, 2018

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