Separation anxiety?

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The explorer
Barked: Sat May 31, '08 5:24pm PST 
Have any of you Sheltie people dealt with separation anxiety in your doggies? I've been having a struggle with my two, and am starting to think that maybe this is the problem. Let me explain, and maybe you guys can help me with this...

Ace and Nova are litter mates (brothers). They are now almost 11 months old, and we've been their only home since they were weaned. My husband and I both work 9 hour days, 5 days a week (but not always the same days). We're fortunate enough to live close to work, and come home each day at lunch to let the dogs out and play with them while we eat. They are both crate trained and each has his own crate and toys, and until a while ago, were very well behaved in their crates.

For about two months, at the beginning of the year, I was switched to working evenings, and I believe the puppies got used to having one of us around most of the time. They were still crated when they were unsupervised, but because of our schedules, this was pretty much only if we went out to dinner/had errands to run/appointments etc. Once I was switched back to days, the puppies were back in their crates for the usual 4-5 hours in the morning and 3-4 in the afternoon. I didn't realize there was a problem until I talked to my landlord. She lives upstairs, and mentioned one day that the dogs had been whining, and asked if maybe one was sick. At this point, they were teething, and we figured that's what the problem was, and it would go away once their big teeth grew in.

I let it go for a few weeks, and she occasionally mentioned that she would hear them every few days. Once April hit though, not only had it not gone away, it had escalated to howling and some barking. I felt awful because we work at 6/7 in the morning, and they start very soon after we leave, and were waking up everybody upstairs. I tried leaving them out of their crates in the living room, but in addition to making noise, they also were chewing things (I know, my fault because the room should have been puppy proofed). I took them for longer and longer walks, hoping that they'd be worn out and sleep while we were gone. Still no luck.

My husband, realizing how frustrated I was, suggested we separate them for a few weeks to see if we could figure out what was going on. He also thought it would help us bond with both Ace and Nova as individuals, since they are litter mates and are very close to each other. We took Nova to my mother in law's, and worked with Ace for two weeks. He was a star, learning how to play fetch, learning a few new commands, behaving well on walks. We got to understand his personality more, since he is the more shy and sensitive one, and sometimes gets overshadowed by Nova's more dominant, attention seeking personality. He was still making some noise in his crate when we weren't home, but seemed much better.

We switched the dogs off, and had Nova for two weeks. He challenges me daily, since I am not as strong a 'leader' as my husband and sometimes have difficulty getting Nova to respect me. We worked mainly on his basic obedience, getting him to focus his attention on me, not having to repeat commands, and better leash behavior (I'm hoping that taking an obedience course with him will help our relationship... I really do believe he's just too smart for me). He also did very well, with only the occasional whine in his crate while we were gone.

We've had them back together almost a month, but we're pretty much back where we started. We've tried giving them bigger crates, so they've got more room to stretch and move around a bit (we haven't had a crate potty issue since they were about three months old), that didn't help. I've tried taking them for on leash walks around the neighbourhood before work (it's too dark at that time to take them for their usual off leash walk), but that doesn't help. My last idea was to get them an exercise pen and leave them together in there, thinking they just wanted some company, but when I talked to the landlord today, she said they're still howling and barking.

They never, ever do it while we're home. Ace is our watchdog, as he barks at strange noises or people coming to the door or thunder, but I've never heard him or Nova howling. They bark while playing, but are otherwise very quiet, especially for Shelties. That's why the only other thing I can think of is separation anxiety. We can crate them for hours when we're home, and they don't make a noise. How can I help them? In every other way, they're wonderful and I couldn't ask for better, but this one issue is stressing me out to the point where I worry about them while I'm at work, and am often avoiding the landlord as I'm afraid her patience will run out.

I'm sorry this is so long, I just thought maybe the background information would help determine what the problem is and how I can fix it. I don't know if it makes a difference, but they're both getting neutered on Monday, and at least one of us will be home pretty much the whole week to watch over them. I just don't want it to get to the point where we get evicted or told we can't have the dogs any more, since we're expecting a baby in October. Please, if anybody has some advice, or knows where I can get some help, I'd really appreciate it. You guys are awesome... thanks for listening/reading.
Duncan, CD,- CGN, RNMCL,- RACL,

velcro dog
Barked: Sat May 31, '08 8:52pm PST 
Oh, your shelties are not the only ones with bad seperation anxiety. I am so happy we live in a house, and not in a condo, or townhouse, because we would be kicked out in a heartbeat!

Duncan is our first dog, and was an only dog until he 2. He came everywhere with us. Also, we lived with my bf's mom, and she worked evenings, so most of the time there was someone home with him during the day when we were at work. We got Lexi just after Duncan turned 2, and shortly after my mother-in-law moved, and we had the house to ourselves. We had to change to coming home at lunch to let the dogs out, and then come home right after work. Duncan did not adjust well to this.

He knows when you are leaving, or getting ready to leave. He barks incessantly, and starts to spin. He will spin up and down the stairs, using the walls at the top and bottom to do a swimmers turn on and change direction. He will spin so fast that you cannot see where he starts or ends. Sometimes he spins so out of control that he hits his nose, or head, or face on the wall. Doesn't stop him one bit.

Every time we get a new dog (we have 4 now) he gets worse. The two girls would stand on either side of him when he spun, and would bite at his butt. Cute, but noisy, and not good.

We have always let the 3 oldest dogs have run of the house, and they were usually good. Duncan would settle down after about 10-15 minutes of us leaving. Now, he gets himself so wound up that it causes him to have a seizure (he has epilepsy, don't worry, the anxiety does not turn into seizures!). So we have to put him in a crate when we are gone. He makes more noise in that crate, barking, and banging, and scratching at the door. You would think he has never done crate games, or even liked the crate!

As far as we know, he is quiet shortly after we leave the house. But boy does he make a racket when we are still there!

And Mila, our little blue, just has anxiety. Not separation anxiety, but social anxiety. She trembles uncontrollably when in public, or with people she doesn't know, or even when we are at the training center. You would think we had never socialized her before, or taken her out in public!

Do you leave the radio or tv (noise) on when you leave the dogs for the day? I find that helps to drown out any strange or weird noises, and sometimes the people talking on the radio help them feel more comfortable. Other than that, not sure what to do, other than the whole, leave your house for 5 minutes, stand outside the door, and wait. Come back in, and reward for being quiet. Do that a few times, and then increase the time, then make the time sporadic, so they don't know when you are coming back. I am not sure how you change this to hours of time (could you imagine the looks on your neighbours faces, sitting outside your door for 3 hours?) but I have heard that suggestion before.

Good luck, they may just grow out of it!

The explorer
Barked: Mon Jun 2, '08 3:13pm PST 
Hi Duncan. I do usually leave something on for them to listen to, because it's better than them hearing what's going on outside or upstairs (we have a dog across the road who is often left out in the front yard to bark as she pleases... which is usually most of the day). I will try your idea especially on my days off though. We're lucky because our entrance is at the back of the house, so it's not like anybody's going to see me BOL. We've also got a gazebo outside the door, so I could just sit in there and read a book. It would be easy enough to leave a window open so I could hear what they're doing.

I am still sort of hoping they grow out of it, but at the same time, I can't really afford to wait and see. It's just frustrating, because where we're out with them somewhere (and even at the vet today), people are constantly telling us what great dogs they are, and how well behaved they are, which makes me feel good, but on the other hand, they don't see how I sometimes struggle with them at home. Although I guess overall, it's better for everyone if they're good in public and save the naughty and challenging stuff for us.

Thanks again for your suggestion, and for reading my ridiculously long post. I appreciate it.


Timmy.. is- Lassie in the- well?
Barked: Tue Jun 3, '08 5:17pm PST 
Hi.. fortunately my husband an I are both retired and Timmy just mopes if I have to leave him. My friend's dog however barked constantly and she did two things... first she practiced leaving and returning and stretched out the leaving part for longer periods throughout the day. She made no big deal about coming or going and before long she was able to leave for several hours without any barking or whining. She also left the TV on all day as well (not the radio) and that seemed to help as well.

Good luck...

The explorer
Barked: Wed Jun 4, '08 10:41am PST 
Hi Timmy... thanks for your response. Would the TV need to be very loud if I was going to leave it on?

I'm going to start working on the leaving for a little bit and coming back in probably on the weekend. I'd do it now, but since they were just neutered, I don't want to stress either one of them out any more than I need to. They're recovering pretty well so far, but they did find that Ace had an infection, so he's also on antibiotics for two weeks. No other issues though, so hopefully they'll be back to normal soon!

Edited by author Wed Jun 4, '08 10:41am PST


Lighting up my- mom's heart....
Barked: Wed Jun 4, '08 10:06pm PST 
Oh yes. My Firefly has very bad separation anxiety. If I leave her at a friend's house, or go somewhere for a day or two, she developes a bout "quiet" anxieties. She chews up electrical cords if she gets the chance(very rarely).

She always has to follow me. Everywhere. If she gets shut up in my room, she whines and digs at the crack of the door. If she is desparate enough, she'll howl and squeal.

If I leave paperback books on the floor, or on a low shelf she will tear them to shreds. Any clothing with spaghetti straps, thin straps, dangles, ties, or shear flows become casualties if left in reach.

This normally happens if I am gone 9 hours or more. If I am at school, she will find pencils, scraps of paper, homework, lip gloss tubes, and pen caps and chew them up.(I dont know where she finds them...)

If I leave her in the care of my mom when I go with my grandma to stay the weekend, or go on an over-night school trip, or spending the night at a friend's house, she will become totally dead on her paws.
She becomes a ghost. She curls up on my bed, her eyes droopy and sullen as if she is crying. She sleeps 99.9% of the time.

She won't go out to relieve herself, and she will not eat anything. She will sometimes drink water, but not often. If my mother locks her out of my room, she will lay by my door and sulk. She won't play, walk, or bark. She barely comes out of my room. She is a despondent mess when I am not around.

Shelties are so attached to their owners, it is sweet and sad at the same time....

Edited by author Wed Jun 4, '08 10:07pm PST


The explorer
Barked: Fri Jun 6, '08 1:16pm PST 
Aww, poor Firefly. I guess it is hard for them to be away from their mommies.

I talked to the vet on Wednesday, and she suggested that if things don't start getting better maybe we would consider putting Ace on Clomicalm in addition to either consulting a behaviorist or working ourselves to help him not to get so upset. We are pretty sure now that it is Ace that starts the barking and howling, and that Nova just joins in because it's something to do... nobody wants to be outdone by their brother!

I'm not sure about putting him on medication, since it's bound to be costly, but I also don't want him to get stressed to the point where he's hurting himself or becoming more destructive. I'm researching as much as I can to see how it works, and find out how long he'd have to take it and what other things we can do to make life easier for him. I really just want what's best for him, and it can't be good for him to be upset every time I'm gone. I'm going to start working on the coming and going thing on Sunday, and hopefully I can get my husband to do the same. At least they're recovering well from their neuters, and seem to be doing well in that respect.
MACH4 PACH2- Aslan

Barked: Sat Jun 7, '08 8:44pm PST 
Here aer some ideas for you:

Get several Kongs. They're the red, rubber cone shaped toys with holes in the middle. The hole is what makes the Kong cool. You can put treats and food in the Kong. To begin with, but something easy to get out in the Kong, like a tablespoon of peanut butter. Once the dogs learn that they can get good food out of the Kong, you start making it harder for them to get things out of the Kong. You're only limited by your imagination and the dog's diet. You can freeze Kongs, too. Frozen peanut butter is a good treat. I like to make peanut butter sandwiches in the Kong. I find really soft white bread, put some in the Kong, put a tiny bit of water on it, put a layer of peanut butter, another layer of wet bread, peanut butter, etc. Then I freeze it. This keeps the dogs busy for quite some time.

You can get a Buster Cube and use it to put the dogs' kibble in it. Then they have to work in their crates for their dinner.

You also might consider doggie day care. Shelties need quite a bit of exercise, and a few walks a day won't cut it. My boys are working shelties and they get tons of exercise every day. When they don't get it, they start whining and acting up, too.

And, the idea of a behaviorist is great. You can do a lot with behavior before resorting to medication. I would definately consult a behaviorist.

Good luck.

The explorer
Barked: Sun Jun 22, '08 11:35am PST 
I have some good news!! I was talking to my landlord when I came home today, and she said the puppies have been doing a lot better. Both my husband and I have been making an effort to put the puppies in their pen about 10-15 minutes before we leave the house, and then ignoring them. No goodbyes, talking to them, etc. We've been doing it whether we're leaving for work (4-5 hours) or just to run to the store and back (10-20 minutes). When we come home, we ignore them again for 5-10 minutes and put groceries away or check phone messages or whatever, then let them out of their pen without excitement.

They get fed in their pen, their blankies are in there, they have a few special toys they only get when they are in there. I haven't noticed a difference in their behaviour when I'm home, but the landlord said now she only hears an occasional bark or yip, which is probably just because they either see something out the window (lots of cats and squirrels around) or because the animals upstairs are making noise.

I'm not sure if it was something we did to help the situation, or that they're keeping each other company now, or if they really are just growing out of it, but I was so relieved to hear that good news today!

Oh, Aslan... I was wondering about the kongs and treats/kibbles as well. They do have a kong, and I've put things in it before, but it's always when we're at home. Since they're sharing a pen while we're gone now, do you think if I gave it to them they would fight over it? They do sometimes wrestle and grrrrrr at each other, but they will share a food bowl when needed. I'd say maybe getting two would work, but knowing them, they'd ignore one and both want the other. That's pretty much their toy motto... 'sure we have two bones, but if my brother starts playing with one, it's clearly better and I must have it!'

Thanks guys, your suggestions and comments have been and are appreciated greatly!!

Bark, and the- world tells you- to shut up
Barked: Tue Jul 1, '08 8:48am PST 
It is good to hear your babies are doing so much better! Duncan gets put in a crate whenever we leave the house now, as his spinning and barking tends to send him into a seizure, and I am sure he is going to fall down the stairs and hurt himself when we aren't home. He puts up a huge fuss going in the crate, like we are tearing his rear leg off. But if we ignore him, he is quiet, until he can see us, and then he has to remind us that he hates the crate. Once we leave, he barks for 5 mins, and then is quiet.

You said people say how nice, and cute, and well behaved they are. Yes, to the outside world, these gems are perfect. Get them home, and it is a totally different story. Mila won't make a peep when at someone else's house. But if that person were to come to my house, you can't hear yourself think! I believe they just like to put on a good show!

Keep up the good work with the seperation anxiety, and always look at meds as an absolute last resort, because once they are on something, it is really hard to take them off.
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