For those of you who have been following this site, you know that I was inspired to build it because of Dash’s separation anxiety. For those of you who are new, Dash is my dog and he suffers from severe separation anxiety.
What do I mean by severe? When I start to get ready to leave (even just getting into the shower or putting on make-up) he begins to shake and pant. After I leave, he begins whining within 20 minutes and in about 45 minutes he begins yelping and barking. And I don’t mean just “barking.” I mean barking his little head off and it sounds as if he is being skinned alive. He also throws himself up against the door and scratches at it to get out.
What have I tried? Crating (made it WORSE), doing the protocol where you pick up your keys, sit down, pick up your keys, go to the door, etc., leaving the television on, homeopathic remedies, DAP spray and collar, leaving him with some of my clothes that smell like me, a head halter, the Thundershirt, the Anxiety Wrap (some success, he lasted an an hour before started barking) leaving him with a babysitter (worked, except he sat and stared vigilantly at the door the entire 3 hours I was gone), Clomicalm (did take a bit of the edge off, but didn’t stop the barking), Xanax (no effect at all), lots of exercise (45 minute RUN before I left, up to 3 hours exercise a day, no effect), Kongs filled with raw meat (won’t touch them once he realizes I’m leaving), interactive toys (won’t touch them once he realizes I’m leaving), chew toys, having another dog present (no effect), having 2 other dogs present (no effect).
I had hired a trainer for six months, which only helped a little. We worked on basic commands and worked on getting him to let me walk into another room without following me. He can now lie on the couch while I go into the bathroom and stay there until I come out. That was major progress, as before he would have not only tried to get into the bathroom with me, but also would have sat outside the door the entire time I was in it. The trainer also got him to accept walking with someone else holding the leash.
Dash doesn’t like dog parks at all, and it was strongly recommended to me not to try doggie daycare. Judging by his reactions in dog parks, I think it would be too stressful for him and would make matters worse.
I’ve read Patricia McConnell’s book, “Don’t Leave Me” and it describes Dash to a T. He is literally a “velcro dog.” I did follow the plan in the book without success.
After neighbors complained, my landlord kicked Dash out. Fortunately, my parents were able to take him in. My parents live out in the suburbs, and Dash has been doing wonderfully there. No separation anxiety at all. They can come and go and he doesn’t flip out. He has been there about a year, but, quite frankly, I miss my dog. And it’s kind of hard to run this website and do all of the product reviews when I don’t have my dog right here to do the testing. It’s a pain to have to wait until I get out to my parents to see him.
So, I thought I would try something new. I decided to do a trial-run and move in with someone who had 2 other dogs. At our initial meeting, Dash played very well with them. I moved in last Saturday and he seemed to have adjusted well. On Sunday I left for about 15 minutes and he seemed okay. I later left for 1/2 hour and he handled that, although he did start to shake when he saw me putting my coat on. Yesterday, I left for 2 hours and he flipped out within 45 minutes – complete nuclear meltdown (I have a tape recorder and taped him). This morning as I was getting ready for work, all of the separation anxiety symptoms were back full force.
I am still using the anxiety wrap and thundershirt because I do believe that they help him a little bit.
So, last night owner of Opportunity Barks, Leigh Siegfried, came over to chat and do a consult. I’ve known Leigh for a few years now since Dash and I took her agility class at the Central Bark doggie daycare. I respect her very much, and she’s known about Dash’s separation anxiety. But it was the first time she really got to see Dash and I interact one-on-one without anyone else around or any other distractions.
What I learned last night is that the dynamic between Dash and I has to change. I admit, when I first got Dash I fussed over him, paid him tons of attention, gave lots of affection. It was me and my “little guy.” Dash engages in a LOT of attention seeking behavior – constantly trying to get me to play and/or pet him. I used to give in immediately – throw the ball, give a belly rub, give a treat. I don’t as much any more, but it’s really hard. He gives me the stare down – and won’t take his eyes off of me until I look his way (which is really hard not to do).
Leigh and I talked about how even negative attention is still attention, and discussed ways of dealing with his attention-seeking behavior. And that he’s almost…too “in tuned” to me. He watches me like a hawk. She introduced me to a head halter (which I had tried to get on Dash before but couldn’t) and I was surprised that once she put it on he simply laid his head down. It did have a calming effect on him. We then tried a calming cap, which he also tolerated and laid down after she put it on him. I’m going to try the calming cap again tonight when I get home.
It’s going to be hard to not only reduce the amount of attention I give him but also how I give it on him (on my terms, not his). For now, we’ll continue using the anxiety wrap and getting lots of exercise, but I’ve decided that he’ll be going back to my parents. I’ll continue to work on the relationship dynamic on weekends with him. This is going to take a very long time to solve, and I just don’t want to put him through the extreme stress of it when he can continue to live a good life with my parents. Plus, the roommate’s neighbors aren’t going to tolerate the barking just like my current neighbors wouldn’t.