Help with seperation anxiety?

jennmonkeyDecember 15, 2009

I have a two year old-ish chocolate lab that cries/howls for about 15 minutes right after being left alone. He doesn't do it every time, but often enough that it might become a problem in our new living situation. He calms down and is fine by himself after that for the rest of the day (no accidents, no chewing anything he's not supposed to, etc). I've had him about 9 months now, and our old neighbor said he did it, but I finally heard it myself a few days ago because my sister lives in the apartment below me and I went down to visit her and it was LOUD.

I give him a stuffed Kong everyday when I leave. This morning I was waiting out in the parking lot for my sister and I heard him start the howl (of course after he finished the Kong). I haven't been freezing it but I think I'll start doing that tomorrow. A couple of things were recommended by the guy at the pet store and I'm wondering if anyone here has had any luck with them. First he recommended I try the citronella spray collars? The only thing is that they are meant for barking, so I'm not sure the howl would set it off, but it's a pretty loud howl so it might. Also, he said I could try the pheromone plug ins or sprays, but said not to use them everyday. I have no idea if those work at all.

Anyone have any ideas? I'm not worried about my downstairs neighbors because it's my sister, but I'm worried about the next door neighbors, and anyone within earshot!


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My poor shelter pooch had separation anxiety so badly when I brought him home, he self mutilated at first, chewing on his tail so badly it bled. We got a handle on it in two weeks.

Does he have any other commands he obeys? Plan on leaving early for a week or two, only don't leave. Stay within earshot, and when the howling starts go back in. If he goes to his bed on command, instruct him to do so. If he does, give him a treat it'll take him a few minutes to eat, to divert his attention as you leave. Wait again to see if the howling starts and repeat a command, a treat and leave again.

I tell my tubby now anytime I leave and don't take him, that I'm going bye-bye and the command 'stay'. He has caught on that means I am going, he isn't, and he settles right down.

I have read that you don't shout or verbally reprimand a barking dog. It not only doesn't work, it reinforces the barking. But giving him a diverting activity, a positive one where he is acting appropriately, and then rewarding him for it will make him work toward it. Eventually you can drop a nibble in his bed, leave and he'll come to expect that as the routine.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 12:04PM
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Thanks calliope, I'll give it a try. Yes he obeys alot of other commands. I make him lay on the bed every day before I leave to get his kong. I'm hoping the frozen kong may distract him for longer than unfrozen. The only thing I'm worried about with the leaving and coming back in when he starts howling, is that he'll think if he starts howling, I'll come back, and then start doing it more than he already does. I would hate to reinforce the behavior by showing up with a treat when he howls. I will definitely give anything a try though.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 12:57PM
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I sure see what you mean, but supposedly a dog's attention span is short, so you certainly don't give him a reward as soon as you go back in. You catch him in the act of negative acting out. It's like catching a dog in the act of peeing in the house. I don't buy into not verbally reprimanding a dog when you catch him in negative things. That's why I said 'supposedly'. But I do buy into NOT yelling at them when they bark inappropriately. They just think you are barking along. LOL.

Neither would you make over him, or in any way make him think you were happy with him until he settled and you gave him a diversion. Then rewarded him. Tubby needed me to come back in repeatedly for a week or two. It was easy for me, because I work outside in a greenhouse range on our property. I could hear him acting out. He really, really needed to know I was coming back, I suppose.

He's a smart little guy, and he caught on. I was also in a position I could gradually space out the time I was away from him until he got used to me leaving him for longer and longer intervals. He's up to four hours now and gets into no mischief, other than counter surfing when nobody's looking, and that's pretty typical of iggy's and we may never break him of that. But, we're working on it. After he got comfortable and trusting with me leaving for periods of time, my saying "Stay, I'll be back" seems to prepare him for the extended 'home alone' experience. He seems to understand I won't be back immediately and usually runs to his bed to stay until he gets bored.

I'm sure no expert in dog training. But, Tubby has been the only one we've had who had real issues with being left alone in our house. I even got a crate for him, but immediately when I left his sight, the tail and cage chewing begain and that just wasn't safe for him or an option.

Good luck, hope you figure out what shall work for your fella soon.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 1:31PM
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You might want to consider how you are leaving your dog. I see you posted that you give your dog a toy before you me that indicates you are leaving him playing, or in an excited state. When he is done playing, he is still in an excited state, but now he is alone. And toyless. So he is howling out of frustration.

The way our morning routine works is that the we take the dog for his morning walk; get back, get dressed and ready for work/school. While we are getting ready, we send the dog to his bed. Then we just walk out the door, with no final words to the dog. If he has gotten out of his bed, we simply and very quietly send him back to bed, wait until he is calm and then go.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 3:02PM
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This can be solved in a couple of weekends. First, walk your dog more often, and for longer walks. Before you know you are going somewhere, take your dog out for a good hour. This way your dog is going to be more tired and less likely to even know you are gone. Next dont make a big deal about leaving. When you are doing things around the apartment, leave for a second. Then come right back in.
Do it again and again. After the 10th time, leave for a little longer. Make sure you vary the amount of time you are staying in the apartment before leaving. In other words, Leave for a second, come back in, leave for a second, come back in, wait three minutes, leave for a second come back in. Wait five minutes, go out, come right back in, do that three times, wait another 10 minutes, go out, for a bit longer, come back in.
The more you do this, the more your dog is going to get use to your going in and out the door. Giving him a Natural Balance meat stick filled Kong is a great idea, that with being tired and working on coming in and going out of the apartment should help alot.
Let me know how it goes, I have more tricks up my sleeve.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 8:57PM
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