My dog, Grover the Bichon (kennel name of Grover Washington Zeyl…we thought it was funny he needed a kennel name), will be turning 12 this October and has long suffered from severe seperation anxiety.
I’ve found over the past few years that I talk about my dog the way parents talk about their kids. As a result, it seems that my co-workers often come to me with dog-related questions. While I am certainly no dog expert (and in fact, I’ve gained most of my dog knowledge from my boyfriend and his former dog-breeder parents over the past couple years) I always try to give the best advice based on my experiences.
As a result, the one subject that I feel very adept at talking about is seperation anxiety. From what I understand, there are varying degrees of seperation anxiety in dogs. This can be anything from light whimpering while left alone to severe destruction – to themselves and their surroundings.
What I would suggest is that when your dog is a puppy, crate train them properly. This provides a small safe area, so that your dog doesn’t feel the need to watch over and protect the whole home.
In my case, we did not know how to crate train properly, so we ended up with a breed of dog already prone to seperation anxiety that was only increased by improper training.
Grover’s real training for his seperation anxiety began when Justin and I first moved to Mississauga. We lived in a shared house. Luckily, when we first moved in we were the only tenant’s in the house. This was great, because we would always come home, no matter how long we had been gone for, to a howling dog. He would sound like he was being axe murdered, and would also urinate all over the floor and be drooling excessively. He would also be destructive, if he wasn’t confined.
We decided that to help his training move along faster we would go to the vet to ask for suggestions. We ended up with Clomicalm, which apparently only works with training. I’m still not sure if I believe that this medication actually works, but it did make us feel like we were exercising all possible means of controlling this behaviour.
When we moved downtown Toronto, knowing we would be in an apartment building, we knew we had to make the transition as smoothly as possible. By the time we finally ended up moving to a different area of the city, Grover was the perfect dog. He had been totally weaned off his medication, and we never caught him crying. When we moved we thought we’d be able to take a couple weeks off work to help smooth the transition, but that he was ‘over it’. Not so.
These are the measures (that I can think of) that we had to take, and please feel free to try out all or some, depending on the degree and severity of your dogs anxiety:
Lessening the anticipation of leaving – Start out with simple things like opening and closing the front door, put your jacket or shoes on, etc. Do these things randomly throughout the day and try and replicate the same energy as when you really are leaving.
Coming home and Leaving are NOT exciting – When you are leaving or coming home, make sure you ignore your dog entirely. This might sound mean, but any acknowledgement of the feelings of anxiety that are brewing may be miscontrued by your dog. Cuddle long before you leave, and long after you get home.
Start with short trips out – We started in our new place with going downstairs to do our laundry, or just waiting in the hall for a few minutes. These trips can start to increase in time.
Doggy Day Care – Doggy Day Care is essential to those who have to go to work for 8 hours. This is a gradual process. Doggy Day Care is expensive, but it means that your dog will be happy, and will be more open (and exhausted) to the training you’re providing.
Medication – I mentioned Clomicalm earlier, but we have tried several different herbal remedies as well. I’m not sure if any of them actually work, but the peace of mind for the dog owners is sometimes worth it.
Treats – One of the main tools we’ve used with Grover for transitioning is giving him a treat that he only gets when we are not at home. We use a Kong with wet dog food in it. The key for this to be effective is that you have to take the treat away when you’re home again, or some dogs will wait until you get home to relax and enjoy their treat.
Walks….lots and lots of Walks – Or other exercise, but definitely long long walks help drain the energy. I know when Grover is determined to be anxious he can still find the energy somewhere, but it works tremendously in tandem with the other training. Remember the saying ‘A Tired Dog is a Happy Dog’!
One of the most important things to remember is to Always Stay Calm!! If you do come home to a whining dog, don’t be upset. Breathe and keep moving forward. Ignore the negative behaviour.
Justin and I were in PetSmart the other day and there was a woman asking for a bark collar for her dog because it’s anxiety was terrible, and she had a neighbour who was a shift worker. My heart was bleeding for this poor woman, because I’ve been worried about getting kicked out before too. When you see the number of Bichon’s at rescue companies I always figure this is the main reason why.
Seperation anxiety is a very serious issue. It totally drains your energy and feels like a constant battle. I remember being so, so angry with our doggy day care the first day because we expressly told them we brought Grover to day care because his anxiety was so bad. Apparently, they decided that it would still be ok to leave him by himself on his first day. The owner called me in a sheer panic because she had put a muzzle on him and citronella collar and nothing was working. Note – trying to constrain the behaviour won’t help, the more they have to fight against, the more determined, and worse the anxiety becomes. I had to calmly speak to the owner and explain that she was only witnessing the reason why he was in day care, and that I had given them all of the warnings, and I wasn’t exaggerating. He did end up loving doggy day care, and they didn’t isolate him at the end of the day the way they did with some of the other dogs.
Grover is lucky that he now has Justin working from home, but we had pretty much gotten him back into a stable state of mind anyway. We still come home to him whining sometimes, and I think this is just something we will constantly be reinforcing and training.
If your dog has seperation anxiety, please remember that it’s a lot of work, and that there are a lot of people out there who can help you and who understand. The main goal has to be a healthy, happy dog!