July 8th 2011 8:48 pm
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Maggie has had separation anxiety since the day I got her (or close enough to it). I didn't know what it was at first - she was a perfect dog when I was home, only chewed on her toys, never nibbled on a single item of mine, never ate the door to get out, never bathroomed in the house (except for when I was a bad pet owner & forgot), and never did a thing wrong when I was around.
But as soon as I walked out of the house everything broke loose. She tore the couch/futon to shreds, ate the door frame, ate all the blinds, ate any books that were in reach, ate all dog bedding, ate the cupboard, broke 2 crates, barked the entire time I was gone, chewed baby gates, jumped baby gates that were 4 feet high, urinated all over the living room, and the list goes on.
I had no idea what was wrong with her, people kept saying that she was bored, she needed more toys (she had a basket full of them), she needed more exercise (she got 2-3 hours a day), she was punishing me, she had to go to the bathroom, and some other crazy theories. I had never heard about separation anxiety until one day at a pet store someone said that she may just have separation anxiety.
I began to do some research and then asked my dog trainer (who also happens to be a dog behaviorist) and she said that Maggie has classic separation anxiety. This was after about 6 months of owning her before I found someone who could help me.
I began immediately with the desensitizing and counter conditioning phase - I am still working on this after 4 months, well the counter conditioning part mostly. I did a little bit of independence training, but Maggie didn't mind being by herself when I was home, so I skipped that for the most part. I did begin to ignore Maggie before and after I left for 15-20 minutes. All of this got Maggie up to about 1.5 hours on her own, I just couldn't get by that bench mark, we were stuck.
Then I got a little bit smaller crate (a very durable crate that is actually brand name) & made a cd with my voice talking to Maggie at 2 minute intervals, it was just short little sayings with her name and words she knew. I hit 2 hours without any major eating of the bedding in the crate, no attempts to break out. I also went to the vet today and have gotten some anti-anxiety medication for her as well - have not tried it yet and will have it on hand for longer stays by herself.
I have been working with her for months now and there is no quick fix for separation anxiety. It will take time and work, but when you've left your dog for 2 hours without any tearing things to shreds and your dog taking a nap when you walk in the door - everything will be worth it!
Some good resources!
A good website with step by step ideas for desensitizing.
http://www.wagntrain.com/SeparationAnx.htm - Wagn' Train
A good book that had a lot of information.
The Dog Who Loved Too Much
My dog trainer/behaviorist. Definitely look into one!
A webpage about medications. (thank you Emma!)
And check out your local veterinary office! Ask for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.
This is what I am using as a general SA post for all the "My dog has bad separation anxiety" threads...kinda general...
Try a good long play before leaving the dog alone (it rules out boredom).
Some SA dogs don't mind being alone with you around - it is more of a separation from people completely (which is what my dog has). SA dogs have a tendency to try to get out of the house when you are gone, not just tear stuff up - Maggie ate a few sets of blinds along with a door frame, a few door knobs, and a futon in front of a window. I wish that all my dog did when I was gone was chew on some stuff - life would've been so much easier.
Also find a behaviorist!!! (I say this all the time - I don't think there have been many who actually even done this though - it really is the only way to go with real SA).
You must desensitize your dog to departures and arrivals. It takes time and energy - but you can get there. Also be sure to take the desensitizing steps very slowly - if you move too fast you will have to take 5 steps back instead of one step forward at a time. When I say slowly...do exactly as the following link says - don't move onto putting on pants if your dog still is uncomfortable with you taking a shower.
Check out this website with step by step ideas for desensitizing.
Wagn' Train - http://www.wagntrain.com/SeparationAnx.htm
Some dogs won't tolerate a crate - some absolutely need one (my Maggie had to have one).
Some people practice NILIF (nothing in life is free - Google it)...I didn't because my behaviorist said I would just be wasting my time (that was why I got one - she helped me in more ways than I can count - even gave me ideas on ways to make things better).
If you cannot get past an hour or so with the desensitizing, talk to you vet/behaviorist about medication. SA is a form of depression - Acepromazine (a sedative) will not work - you must get a real anti-depressant to help with this - you need a behavior change, not sedation. There are many different drugs - amitrityline (also known as the 'go to' drug for behavior problems, what I eventually got for Maggie) & Clomicalm are some.
A few things to not even bother trying...
I know many of these things because I tried them.
*Getting another doggy pal - it will not work if it really is SA.
*Muzzles are a big NO-NO!! This can create other problems that include aggression and making the SA worse.
*Punishing the dog for the destruction.
*Leaving music/tv/talk radio on - the dog doesn't know these voices therefore you're just wasting power. Try making a cd of YOUR voice and playing it.
*Just thinking the dog will outgrow it - it won't if it truly is SA.
*Just using drugs to make things better - drugs only work with desensitizing and counter-conditioning.
If you still have any questions feel free to pawmail me!