Adopted approx 2 year old stray - seperation anxiety issues

Posted by Steeno25
Mar 19, 2008

We adopted a black lab mix from our local humane society at the beginning of January. He was a stray and not a lot was known about him. His name was unknown and we have him to the point of knowing his name, sit command, down, off (however, he still does jump at times), At first he was not very interested in us - we have overcome that battle and it now seems he has seperation anxiety.

Whenever we leave the house we make sure to leave the radio on for him - but we tend to come home to pillows moved about the house, blankets moved into different rooms, or items we just touched the night before scattered throughout the house. The first time he destroyed 2 TV remotes and this last time was a hat of my husbands. He's never worn the hat but did touch it to move it to the final resting place before Jameson got his paws on it.

We did kennel him for the first two months and have just started letting him have access to the first level. I know we need to catch him in the act to help with the problems - so we go about cleaning up everytime we come home.

Any suggesions? He really is a good dog when we're home
Posted by Todd
Mar 19, 2008
Hi there and thank you for the question.

It does definately sound like separation anxiety but there may also be a part to play for boredom. So as a start i think we should give him some more exercise eg 30 mins brisk walking or running a day As well as some toys like Kongs and other hard to destroy items.

Now to the main issue

The goal that we are aiming for is to reduce your dog's anxiety through conditioning it to associate being left alone and outdoors as a good thing. Here are a few tips and techniques that you may find useful.

No.1 Arrivals and departures
Keep your arrivals and departures very low key. Try leaving him alone for at least 15 minutes when you come home. Just ignore him. If your dog calms down then show it some attention.

No.2 Do not respond
It is important that you do not respond to him when he starts acting up. This is inadvertently rewarding your dog for poor behavior and will not help. If your dog starts barking or whining then ignore it, no matter how difficult that may be. Do not even make eye contact.

No.3 Attention
Only give him attention when he is lying down or relaxed and not actively seeking attention (by barking for example). Do this by calling him over and making him sit before petting, etc.

No.4 Contrast
He is probably having difficulty accepting that sometimes it is going to get all the attention and other times none (like when you are at work). You can help this problem by ignoring your dog for 6 hours a day on the weekends. You can feed your dog but that's it. The idea is that your dog will think "What's the big deal when my owners are gone, even when they are home, they still ignore me".

No.5 Exercise
30 minutes before you leave home walk your dog for 15 minutes at a fast pace. If your dog is tired then it will have less energy to be a nuisance with.

No.6 Crate/Kennel
You could get a dog door put on your door to the backyard. Place a crate inside the house so that when your dog goes through the dog door it can only get into the crate. This has worked effectively for some people.

No.7 Clothing
Try giving your dog something of yours with your scent on it. This may allay its fears when you are not with it.

No.8 Sit-stay and down-stay
Practice these exercises in particular as outlined in the SitStayFetch book. These exercises require your dog to respond to you for longer and longer periods of time, so should be good for its discipline. Once you have your dog staying for 10 minutes or so, then try moving out of its sight for a brief period of time.

Review the "Secrets to becoming the alpha dog" bonus book, this is vital for you. It will help immensely with getting your dog to respond to you in a variety of situations, such as when you are walking it.

A method that is often very successful is to list all the things that trigger him off in the morning. This may range from something simple like picking up the keys, to the shower, the cereal box or the clothes that you wear.
Put the list in order of what he responds the least to and what he responds the most to. Eg from something that may get him pacing or a small whimper, through to something that makes him howl and get very anxious.

The trick is to use these triggers to desensitize his behaviour.

Use the lowest trigger item eg the keys first. If it is keys pick them up, carry them around the house and then put them down. When you first pick them up make him sit and relax. Wait until you see his ears dip a little, his nose to drop, his tail to stop wagging and his breathing to slow down. The second he relaxes reward him with attention and petting. Rewarding his relaxation is very important.

Use the first stimulus a few times a day. When he has got used to being relaxed with the first item use the next trigger up on the list. In this way you move towards the more anxious triggers. In this way you will desensitize him.
Make sure you use the triggers in a way that will not make the dog more anxious. It will take time to do this.

I think the radio is a great idea but here is how i like to use it. You may also want to set up a radio on a time trigger. Get the radio to come on 10 minutes before you come home. Soon the dog will relate the radio to you coming home. As he does this you can extend the time the radio is on, which can help calm him down.

If the problem continues to worsen you can always get some advice from your vet on other medications. DAP and rescue remedy can do some great work but occassionally more intense medication may be required.

Be patient and consistent with what you are doing and do not flood him with things that will make his anxiousness worse. Good luck and please let me know of any success you have.