Separation Anxiety...

Posted by Blue
Nov 22, 2007
Background on my dog Blue:

Blue was adopted in February of 2007 from an SPCA at 1yr 2months, her mixture is border collie x lab (by the SPCA) but I've had a lot of staffordshire comments about her (and having experience with terriers, she has some of the stubborn energy that they exude!) I also get comments on whether she is part whippet.

She is a second generation Katrina dog (wasn't in the hurricane, but her mum was). Before she came to us she spent 9 months in various shelters being moved from location to location - no other homes, just shelters.

Since then she has blossomed from a skittish nervous wreck, to a confident playful socialized dog. We excersize her daily - two 15-20 min walks a day minimum, and often we take her out on our bikes for a gentle run/lope as she lives for speed (except for when it snows, no bikes then...). She also loves digging and playing tug of war, and chewing on squeeky toys and rawhide chips.

She is good with all of her basic obedience (down, sit, stay, shake a paw, spin, bow, sit pretty...she is very, very smart!), she also heels - with food rewards, it is an on-going training event right now.

Now for the issue at hand:

Our only issue is with leaving her alone - we can't leave her in the house alone, she destroys everything (usually aimed at our closet or our bedding).

When we crate her, she is fine with the crate itself, goes in beautifully, it is only when we leave,that she becomes a nervous wreck.

We video taped her a few times and her routine is always the same. Panting heavily, then she rips apart any bedding we've put in there for her (old tshirts and towls nowadays, we don't buy her any bedding anymore, except for her bed she has in the living room). Then she whimpers/whines, licks the crate latch, then grabs the crate by the bars and hauls back on it - she only ever does this once or twice - but the whole crate moves along the floor. Then the rest of her time is spent between intermittently whining and panting and laying down for 10 minutes or so at a time. She pants so much at times her bottom gets wet.

I've been trying to change my routines in the morning, we don't make a fuss of her when we are leaving or arriving. I don't let her out of the crate until she's calm and quiet. I've been trying to desensitize her by leaving for short periods (5 min, 10 min etc) and then returning home right away, but she always seems to know when it will be longer.

Currently she goes to a doggie daycare 2x a week for a break from our weekly schedule.

I only work mornings 4.5 hrs, but I just hate seeing her distressed like this, and I'm sure the intermittent whining bothers my neighbours! It's also frustrating because when we go out sometimes, I spend my time worried about her (and about the neighbours if it's in the evening when they're home/sleeping) and instead of enjoying myself, I'm wondering when I can slip away to get home!

I'm starting to look at products like hormone therapy (the plug in type female pharamone sprays), anything to just break her out of her seemingly "routine" anxiety.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Nov 24, 2007
Hi there,

It sounds like Blue is a very smart and loving dog!! I am so happy to hear that she finally got her own home, leaving the shelters, and that you are giving her a lot of trainings and exercises . I am sure she enjoys the challenges because that breed needs both physical and mental stimulations . I saw her picture and she looks a lot like Holly, our rescued Border Collie Mix, who also had a separation anxiety at the beginning. Her case wasn't destroying things but stealing foods, since she had spent some time as a stray.

Anyway, I would like to ask you a question. You said Blue is fine when she is in the crate and she only shows anxiety when she was left loose in the house, correct? Have you tried to leave her crate door open so that she can go in there anytime she wants? It sounded like she feels safe, secure, and comfortable in the crate, since she had spent so much time in different shelters.

Or, maybe just crate her until she gets used to be left alone loose in the house. It might take a year or two but I am sure she will get used to it.

Good luck
Posted by Blue
Dec 6, 2007
Blue is fine in her crate while we are around. About 10 minutes after crating her and leaving the house she starts her routine of grabbing the crate front with her mouth and pulling on it (jerking it backwards), intermittent whining and laying down. And nervous panting.

We are working on the house thing, but that takes a lot of trust (on our parts!).

Has anybody got advice from being in a similar situation??...Also has anyone ever used the female pharamone sprays that are supposed to sooth and calm anxious behaviour? - with success?
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Dec 8, 2007
Hi there,

How is Blue doing since then? Hope she is gradually getting used to the situation.

I have another question on her crating. Where does she sleep? In her crate? Where is the crate, in your bedroom, or in a separate room?

I know you tried desensitization and almost everything you could think of, but I still think she will be able to learn to get used to be left by herself.

If she sleeps well in the crate at night, the only difference is whether you, human family, are home or not, and she is sleeping at night but is not sleeping when you are gone, right?

Now, assuming she sleeps in the crate you can desensitize Blue for those differentials by doing the following:

1) Crate her and go out to yard for a few minutes, and gradually longer period of time, to see how long she can be crated nicely
2) Crate her and drive away for 30 min. or so, and make it longer (you might have done this already)
3) Make her do a lot of exercise to exhaust her and crate her, then try 1) and 2)

Also, this goes against the most of highly-adapted theory but I would remark my going out and come back by giving my dogs treats. Most of the textbooks say "don't make a fuss when you are about to leave, etc." I see the point. However, you said that Blue would know somehow when you are leaving her for longer time.

I think it's worth trying to tell her that you are leaving but you will be back shortly when you do the above practices. My dogs always get excited when they see a tiniest sign of me leaving, such as changing my clothes, putting things in a bag, grabbing a car key (this is quite obvious), etc. I tell them they are not going with me and tell them to be good and to take a good care of the house. They get a treat then, and again when I am back.

Another practice is to leave her in a car for a few minutes when you pick up a thing or two at the supermarket. Reward her with a treat when you are back to the car.

Anyway, I still think what Blue needs to learn is:

1) To be fine when left by herself (from desensitization and reward/praise)
2) To build confidence in herself (by doing 1) and other activities that she can do well

I am sure Blue will learn those not so long because she seems to be a very smart dog and it sounds like you have been giving her a lot of TLC. Good luck
Posted by Blue
Jan 4, 2008
Still not much progress...

Blue doesn't sleep in her crate normally, she used to at night..., but I think the reason for her lack of interest in sleeping in the crate is that we can't leave any kind of blankets in there for her, because while crated when we're away she rips them up into tiny pieces - and once she got a piece of thread wrapped around her leg from a ripped up blanket and it cut off her circulation this turned into a vet visit and a lot worry for us! So now when I crate her I usually only put an old t-shirt of my husbands in once a week (by the end of the week it's in tiny bits) and that is all she has for bedding in there! So she normally sleeps on her own bed in our living room...more padded and comfortable I'm sure!

I can't start putting bedding in there for her to sleep during times we are home, because I would have to remove it to leave her in the crate when we leave (she would associate a lack of bedding with departure and we'd be back at square one anyways!).

I will however try putting a t-shirt in and leaving her in the crate overnight and see how that goes - I feel awful that she can't have more bedding though! At night at least - we are in bed and theoretically "out of sight".

Her crate is in a main hubbub area as is recommended for any crate training situation, so she is never in an area where she wouldn't normally feel comfortable (like she's not locked into a spare room where we wouldn't normally be for instance.)

It is still very worrisome and anyone who has any additional advice on how to further our progress - faster! Would be appreciated!

Thanks so far!
Posted by Blue
Jan 4, 2008
I am also still working on training her to be alone at the house - but christmas was a bit of a setback as we were in and out all the time with shopping and family and she seemed to fall back to more anxious behaviour again...
Posted by Annie
Jan 6, 2008
Hi there,
Does she follow you about the house? Like when you are doing washing etc is she with you? It might be an idea to start really small and ask her that she does not follow you about the house worrying that you are dissappearing. Have a nice space for her ( like you already do in an active room) and bring her back to this position when she tries to follow you around the house ( I have been quite forceful in my commands). The idea is that, as an Alpha dog, you should be able to come and go within the house ( and of course later outside the house) as and when you want. She should be able to relax knowing that her biggest job in the world is sleeping and eating and playing As soon as her eyes stop following you ( don´t look at her) and she is relaxed she could be called to you for some cuddles or treats....but not too often. It´s not a party waiting to happen.
I wish you luck. It´s horrible coming in with the shopping and wondering what you will find. My dog often comes with me in the car for a trip, but these are not exciting, I don´t talk with her and there are no treats. It is no better than staying alone at home
( I hope)
Posted by Blue
Jan 7, 2008
Thanks for the advice!
We have been doing something along that lines (mostly I ignore her unless I've called her to me...but my husband is more of a softie to her so he is not so good at it!).
I will try "reinforcing" this idea with my husband too!
We did our first night of crate sleeping the other night, had to drag her crate in the bedroom so we were in sight, or she would have woken up my neighbours!
I'm planning on gradually pushing the crate out of the room into the hallway each night and then putting it back in it's original location, when her whining has subsided.
She is such a good dog the rest of the time, we love her to bits! Just the destruction... she is a destructive force to be reckoned, that's for sure! lol!
Posted by Blue
Jan 25, 2008
Okay... we've got her pretty much settled into the crate each night for sleeping, and I've started trying to separate me during the day by telling her "out" of our living room - the idea here being that she will go and sleep in her crate instead...which works if I close all the doors to any rooms with carpeting!
I tried leaving her in the original crate location the other night (after having slowly moved her from our bedroom to where the crate should be located...) and bam, we were back to square one... she was whining so loud!
My question now is, does anyone have any suggestions on how to approach the continuation of her training to her being able to be left alone, in the crate, during the day? - and in the original location?