Help me and my dog with our anxiety issues.
March 10, 2008 3:43 PM   Subscribe

DogFilter: Help me and the dog get over our individual separation anxiety-type issues.

Yesterday I started fostering a sweet, generally quiet beagle who is about 2 or 3 years old. The rescue says she is crate-trained, and she did fine overnight in the crate (next to my bed) but she positively freaks when I leave her in the crate and go out of sight. (Barking, howling, etc.) I forced myself to leave home and let her 'bark it out' ... it seemed to be lessening as I left, so hopefully that was the right thing to do. Any additional advice would be welcome. I've done many of the things suggested in this thread ... we went on a huge walk this morning, and i'm pretty sure it helped get a lot of energy out since she naps happily while I'm there.

I guess the bigger problem is that this foster is my first dog, and I'm pretty anxious about it too. I've had plenty of sitting experience, both long and short term. However, since yesterday, I've been really emotional, literally crying over whether or not I'm treating her correctly, worrying about the dog's happiness, as well as worried about getting the neighbors pissed off (town house style apts) as well as my roommate. I've gone from confident dog-sitter and excited foster/caretaker to neurotic (overattentive?) mother in less than 24 hours. So, any words of advice for me, likewise, would help.
posted by NikitaNikita to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Beagles are notariously a handful and a pretty big responsibility to take on as your first dog.

There was an episode of Dog Whisper where a lady had a dog that went nuts barking and such whenever she left for work. What she was doing was feeling very sorry for the dog when she left. Dogs pick up on that and feel like something is dreadfully wrong with the situation and they act out on it. Spending a lot of time with the dog while it is going into the kennel trying to calm it down or be generally sweet to it because you feel bad about leaving the dog in there all day is generally a very bad approach. Instead you should move the dog into the kennel with confidence. Your mindset should be 'you are responsible for taking care of this kennel all day dog' , or 'guard this kennel i'm putting you into dog'. They will pick up on that intention. Place the dog in the kennel and leave the room. Do not say "goodbye" or "i'm sorry."
posted by nickerbocker at 3:51 PM on March 10, 2008

We had a beagle mix with the exact same problem. I've been told that beagles often have difficulty with separation problems. We tried a lot of different methods to keep him from flipping out as soon as we left the house, but nothing worked at all and eventually we gave up. We would just leave him the crate while we were gone and he would bark a lot, leaving a pile of spittle outside the cage. He would chew up anything within reach while we were gone, including a wooden babygate that the cage happened to be next to. He eventually destroyed some of the bars in his crate and we had to get a new one. It was heart-wrenching, and we tried not to leave him alone as much as possible, but we really didn't have any choice. Thankfully, he eventually started doing less damage until one day we decided to see if we could leave him alone in a room for a brief period of time. We figured we would have to step him up very gradually like all the recommendations we'd read and tried earlier, but that turned out not to be true. He scaled up to a few hours in just a few days and now he has no trouble at all being alone.

The one piece of advice that turned out to be useful was this: she'll grow out of it. It took about 6 months for him to fully grow out of it, but he did. Your dog will probably grow out of it. You'll get lots of good suggestions (like the ones from nickerbocker) here from people. Try them out; they may or may not solve your problem right away. But if they don't, do not despair. It'll be tough for a while, but she will probably grow out of it.
posted by ErWenn at 3:56 PM on March 10, 2008

Two things:
1) Kong toy
2) Peanut butter

My dog had massive separation anxiety until she realized that those two things would be combined upon my departure and she would then get to have them. Now she just wants me to leave more often. She could care less about me when there's peanut butter in the room.

Seriously though, the Dog Whisperer has some great advice on this stuff and as mentioned one of the best things I learned from him was to not make a big deal about it when you are leaving or returning. Your dog picks up on it and it makes them more anxious in handling everything. When I come home, I have to ignore my dog as I go and put my things away, and she knows that I will not reward her with affection until I am ready to and she is calm. Likewise, when I leave I don't do some crazy goodbye that makes her all riled up (at first I did). Now I come and go as though it's no big deal, and because of that in time she's learned to stop behaving like it is. It took time and patience, but training a puppy always does. This stuff will kick in eventually though, I promise.

Just remember, YOU are the alpha dog in the house. You need to assert that at all times.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:59 PM on March 10, 2008

BTW, my dog used to sit on my couch and cry at the top of her lungs. I went around and told all of my neighbors that I was sorry and that if it gets too bad they should let me know. They were so thankful that I cared if it bothered them, they never once complained. They were very sympathetic. And within a few months she stopped crying entirely.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:00 PM on March 10, 2008

Seconding nickerbocker's suggestion of not making the transition to crate time a big deal. Don't be overly emotional or affectionate, just do it as part of the routine.

Also, you may want to put some extra effort into making the crate a happy place. I have read some books that suggest this. Don't physically force her into the crate, consistently litter the crate with treats and toys, feed her there, and generally entice her with food and praise to be happy in the crate, with door open, while you are there.
posted by gnutron at 4:01 PM on March 10, 2008

Beagles are a handful! And beagles have been bred for their voices. It is their first resort for everything. That is what hounds do. So I wouldn't be worried that you are mistreating her.
I have been a professional animal trainer for 8 years and have learned that it doesn't matter about all of this emotion and what you THINK she might be feeling (you can never truly know what is going on in their head) you have to look at observable behavior. I don't hold too much stock in that dog whisperer guy... can't stand his methods either. Any behavior that occurs over and over is somehow getting reinforced. Sometimes with a Beagle the howling is reinforcing in itself. So you have to find a way to reinforce the behaviors you do want... so much so that being quiet is more reinforcing than howling. (I hope I am making sense) I bet she has been reinforced for howling in the past. Perhaps unintentionally but I would bet money on it. So you have the task of rewiring her and by doing so you will have a more confident dog that can deal with stress much more easily.
The trick is to do it in small steps called approximations.
Does she crate on command or do you have to push her in?
I agree the crate should be a happy place. But keep in mind this one bit of advice Repetition builds confidence.... Repetition builds confidence... Repetition builds confidence!

maybe(if you can) one evening soon, plan on devoting all your time to getting her to be comfortable in her crate. It probably won't happen over night but you'll get there.

So instead of putting her in the crate with all her toys and snacks etc, put her in, give her a treat/praise/toy and let her right back out. Then send her right back in... shut the door and count to 10 then give her a reinforcer... and let her out... keep doing this for gradually longer increments of time. Also start getting further away from the crate. Don't leave her alone all at once. back up until you start to see her get nervous but before she makes a peep and then let her out. If she howls try to ignore it. Set her up for success. If she howls you may have taken too big of an approximation so go back to the place where she had no problem sitting quietly in the crate and build from there.

Once she is sitting in there quietly for a good bit of time I like to vary the amount of time she sits in there... so that she never knows how long she will be in there. Say ask her to crate and close the door let her sit for 20 minutes... reward her, then let her out and do what you do. Then at some random time put her in and let her sit for only 3 minutes before you let her back out. Also during various repetitions go in praise her and offer her a treat or a toy but don't let her out leave for a few minutes again. (this is best to get duration later in the game but not just starting out as she is likely to howl when you leave her the second time and you always want to set them up for success)
I know it is kind of a hassle but if you put the effort into the tediousness in the beginning it will be so worth it later down the road.

Make it random. Don't make the crate the place she goes only for sleep and when you are away. Make it a happy place. Should (heaven forbid) an emergency of some sort happen and she needs to be crated it will be one less thing you have to worry about if she just takes it in stride.

I hope this isn't too jumbled and helps you out.
feel free to email me if you need further help or have more questions...
good luck
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 5:29 PM on March 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you're crating her at night, crating her all day too is too much. That's 16-18 hours per day if you work full time. Ok for a few days but I'd start transitiong her out at night.

ps- being a hound it's possible she's just mad because you're not letting her sleep on the couch during the day ;)
posted by fshgrl at 6:13 PM on March 10, 2008

I work with a beagle rescue and I hope I can help you.

First of all, take the "alpha" thing with a grain of salt. That is not the answer and is becoming less and less popular of an approach as people realize that. Bullying a dog is not the way to get it to do what you want or behave in a manner that is acceptable to you. Training it with positive reinforcement and reward is the way to go if you want a good relationship with her and to set her up for success when she is adopted.

Second, remember that SOME of this might be "adjustment anxiety" and not separation anxiety at all. Do you know what happened to this dog before she came to you? She could have been bounced from family to shelter to vet, back to shelter, etc... and she's probably wondering what the hell is going on. It is hopefully temporary.

Some things you can do to ease the transition:
1) The kong and peanut butter is an excellent suggestion. You can also try plain yogurt (put it in the kong and then freeze it before giving it to her). You can freeze the PB too to make the treat last longer. Please do not give rawhides when you are not there to supervise.
2) Feed her in her crate.
3) Stop crating her at night. If she's in there all day and at night, she's only got what, 3 hours of freedom a day? That's not enough free time.
4) More exercise. Whatever you're doing, double it if you can. Make sure she's walking next to you and not wandering all over the place. This will be the most effective exercise to wear her out. Run if you can, even just a bit!
5) Rescue Remedy on her food in the morning (Googling it will return plenty of results).
6) Low-key arrivals and departures. Don't say goodbye, don't say hello, don't act excited or sad or remorseful. Just leave and arrive like you're coming and going from the room.
7) Do not ever use the crate as punishment (doesn't sound like you are). Leave the door open when you're home and make it a comfy place for her to be.
8) If the barking persists after a couple of weeks, try a citronella collar. This is a HUMANE way of quieting her and will not harm her in any way. It's similar to spraying bitter apple on something a dog won't stop licking -- they don't like citrusy stuff and it should curb the barking, though long-term you want to fix whatever is causing her to bark.
9) Can she go to daycare once a week?
10) Leave a radio on a talk station like NPR.
11) Most importantly -- stay calm. Dogs pick up on how you're feeling. If you're tense, they're tense. If you're worried about leaving, she's worried about being left.

Good luck! Feel free to email me if you need more help. Your rescue should be able to help you as well -- usually rescues have lots of people who know all sorts of tricks of the trade!
posted by suchatreat at 6:23 PM on March 10, 2008

By the way, the best thing you can do for her is crate her. Less free space = less anxiety. So until she's settled in (which you'll hopefully start to see in the next couple of weeks), stick with the crating even though it's not your favorite. You're doing what's best for her to keep her safe while you're gone!
posted by suchatreat at 6:26 PM on March 10, 2008

Nthing not crating at night, day crating on departure with no fuss, and the peanut butter Kong.

Get the dog a blanket or bed she can sleep on at night. Use tethering initially if you find that she potties when she roams the bedroom.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:03 PM on March 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for the advice so far. Picked up a Kong this evening, and will try the suggestions given. One caveat for the peanut butter suggestion is that she's actually on a weight-reduction diet. She's currently too fat to go under anesthesia and get spayed, so I can't be too generous with the snacks, as the goal is to get her down to a healthier weight. However, I guess just a bit of PB in the back of the kong, along with low fat hard treats stuffed in there, would help.

Unfortunately I don't know about her background, as she's been transferred between two rescues already.

re: crating... I'm not having to physically "push" her in, but I'm still essentially "luring" her in with a treat or toy, rather than her actually responding to me saying "crate time" and her going in there on her own.

It seems like confining her to my bedroom before leaving just results in whimpering/tearing up trash/papers, whereas the crating, specifically, leads to the barking and howling.

I'll continue to check back here and let you know how it goes, for better or worse. :/
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:31 PM on March 10, 2008

You've gotten some excellent advice. Keep in mind that right now, your foster doesn't know up from down. She's only been in your home for a short time, and she doesn't know what to expect. If she's prone to panicking, now's the time she's going to panic. With love and patience, the panic will pass.

Beagles were bred to use their voices, so that's what she's going to use when she's not sure of what else to use. It's her default behavior. Beagle voices are plaintive, and you want to do anything possible to stop it, but keep in mind that she's using her voice as a way to get what she wants. You can teach her that other things work better.

Teaching "be quiet" is wordy, and maybe outside of the scope of an ask-me question. Mail me, and I can send you some handouts that will help.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:05 PM on March 10, 2008

Oh, that was my question you linked to. Lots of good advice there and here.

That dog had never been crate trained, and he was totally fine within a week or so. He didn't really care about the stuffed kong, but he loves chicken jerky. Every time I would leave in the morning, I would throw a piece in the crate and say "Go to bed". Nowadays, when I pour my coffee, he runs to the crate and waits for his jerky. If you're worried about her eating too much, just give her less food at meal time, and save it for training. Hunger can be a pretty good motivator.

We also fostered another dog (a lab/german shepherd mix) who was supposedly crate trained before we got him, but he barked and cried whenever we left. He was a real chewer, so what worked with him was to give him a strong bone or something to work on. He settled in within 3 days. Just needed to adjust to our home and the routine.

It's really pretty simple when it comes down to it. Find something they like so they'll go into the crate willingly and will associate the crate with something good. Be consistent with the routine. Don't give in to whining or barking.

Don't worry. Things will get better really quickly.
posted by team lowkey at 1:02 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

24 hours is not that long. Imagine being a dog, being taken away from the people you know and put into a place that you don't know very well. You have this one person who is nice to you, and feeds you and snuggles with you, and then they are gone!

Once he realizes that when you leave, you will come back, he will get less freaked out. It only took my little guy a few days to get over his barking, and he was about the same age when I got him.

Also- I don't know if you are worried about accidents or chewing but I let my dog have free reign of the house, he likes being able to move around. I also leave the tv on for him when I leave.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 10:15 AM on March 11, 2008

I have 3 beagles, all rescues. The thing that helped me the most but may not be appropriate for you is to get another dog. I got one beagle at age 2 months and a lab mix who was 4 months within days of each other. We crated each at night in a seperate crate until night #3. When we put Beagle Boy in his crate he scooted out and ran into LabMixes crate. They have been best buds ever since. Hate to be apart so much that even when walking I cannot get too far ahead of Mr. Shaarog or Beagle Boy freaks.
We added the other 2 beagles (one is a mix) one at a time but they had the other 2 pack members to keep them company of course.
They love us to death but I suspect given a choice they prefer each other's company.
Just a thought and you would rescue another dog!
posted by shaarog at 10:59 AM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: Well, I promised an update, and here it, depressingly, is: Over the course of a few days, I noted the foster dog started exhibiting signs of having a tapeworm. Told the rescue, and they said they'd bring me meds in a few days. After filling in my roommate + his girlfriend on this situation, they confronted me last night, called into question her vetting records and asked me for a copy of the paperwork on the dog. The rescue's petfinder site for the dog said that she had been given routine shots, which I took on good faith, but I decided to call the rescue-r to confirm this. And guess what: she hadn't been vaccinated at all "yet", even rabies shots. This is extra-ridiculous considering I clearly told the rescue that my roommate's girlfriend's dog often stayed over.

The rescue-r said she couldn't get her shots for a week, because she had a specific low-cost vet she wanted to use. But given the situation that another pet is at my apartment sometimes, and that she really belongs to a rescue, not me specifically, I felt like I had to return her, which I did this morning. So: shady rescue practices + already strained roommate/"3rd roommate" relations = not a good fostering situation all around. Above all, poor sweet beagle, being caught in the middle of this shady practice and now having to be bounced from yet another home.

Anyways. Sorry for the derailed conclusion to this askme thread but at least the separation anxiety help you all provided is up here for posterity/when I recover from being burned on this and I try to foster or adopt again. :(

Thanks for trying to help me out though.
posted by NikitaNikita at 12:48 PM on March 13, 2008

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