We once shared our home with the crown prince of canine separation anxiety. Gator joined our family at the age of 10 weeks and from day one, he was terrified of the crate. We placed him in the crate with a few treats when we left the house and when we returned, there would be a river of pee and sweat from this little puppy. After a few times of this, we realized he broke most of his baby teeth on the bars of the crate and suffered panic attacks at being confined. This dog with separation anxiety defied all my efforts to help him.
Our Efforts to Comfort Gator Resulted in Destruction
We cleaned the garage, removing anything that could hurt the pup and added a water bowl, toys, a fan, and Gator’s bed and treats. The moment we placed Gator in said garage, panic ensued.
We left for an hour and returned to find a basketball-sized hole in the wall. Over the next few weeks, we tried various versions of this with similar results. The day he chewed up the door frame leading into the house, we knew our Weimaraner puppy had won the battle.
Gator Turned His Attentions to My Office
At 5 months, Gator was a big boy, well on his way to reaching the height of a female Great Dane. Gator loved paper, and paper I had handled was his choice. On the few occasions we left him at home alone, he cleared my desk, opened drawers, leaving evidence of his teeth on the handles.
We blocked my office area when we left, and the dog switched his efforts to Jim’s office. He opened my closet door and removed items of my clothing to chew on. Gator never touched furniture or upholstery and to this day, we don’t know why that was spared. Living with destructive dogs presents challenges, and a solution must be found.
Is It a Dog with Separation Anxiety Or Just Boredom
Lindsay Stordahl offers some excellent suggestions on her blog, thatmutt.com, for distinguishing separation anxiety from simple boredom in dogs. A few of those include:
- An unhealthy attachment to her owner, often following him from room to room and sitting as close as possible. Gator had beds in every room, and he would follow me from room to room and lie on his dog beds and watch me.
- Leaning into or climbing on her owner for security. We used to raise Great Danes and leaning on people is a trait all Danes share. I was surprised that Gator did the same thing but never associated it with his obsession with staying close to me.
- Crying and scratching at a bedroom, bathroom or office door if she is not allowed inside with her owner. Our dog sat outside the bathroom door, crying until it opened.
- Trying to break out of a kennel to the point of damaging the kennel or hurting herself. As mentioned earlier, Gator broke his baby teeth on the steel bars of his crate.
I wish I had known of these back when Gator was a puppy! The list goes on and my big Weimie met every one of those points. Because Gator presented with those characteristics as soon as I brought him home from Arkansas, preventing them wasn’t possible. And what we did try didn’t work. Most likely, Jim and I both made many mistakes.
Prevention Is Easier than the Fix
Follow a few basic rules to prevent separation anxiety in dogs. Dogster suggests the following:
- Dramatic goodbyes teach your dog that separation is a cause for stress. Always wait for calm behavior before greeting your dog when you return.
- Physical and mental stimulation are keys to avoiding separation anxiety. A well-exercised pup will more likely nap while you are gone. Try a Kong toy filled with peanut butter to mentally stimulate your pet.
How to Treat Dogs with Separation Anxiety
For my dog, it was mostly trial and error, since I had no clue what I was doing. But you can do a better job of treating and getting rid of separation anxiety in your dog just by following some of the suggestions found here and here and here.
Desensitize your dog to the environmental cues he expects when you leave.
Throughout the day, pick up your car keys and jiggle them at various times when you are not going anywhere. Open a coat closet where you keep something you normally take with you when you leave the house. Go out and start the car, turn it off and go back inside. Go outside for a few seconds, then continue to increase the time by 30 seconds at a time. Practice driving around the block and returning home. and slowly increase the time you are away. This takes time, so don’t rush it.
Use a crate as a training method.
Even when you are home, place the dog in the crate several times a day for just a few minutes and go about your business, ignoring his whines and barks. Build up his crate time gradually until you are able to leave home for increasingly longer periods. Once the dog is housebroken, add an indestructible Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter and a comfortable pad for him to lay on. But if your pet is truly crate phobic as was mine, all bets are off.
Ignore Your Dog When You Return Home
Yeah, I know. Those cries tug at your heartstrings. But if you want to break your pet of the symptoms of separation anxiety, harden your heart and do what is necessary. Only pet him when he calms down.
Consider Medication Only As a Last Resort
While I believe medication should only be considered as a last resort, some dogs may need that extra help. Just be sure to include your veterinary professional in the decision. Before going that route, consider natural alternatives to calm your pet. CBD oils may help. Learn more about the use of CBD’s for dogs here.
Persistence and Patience Can Change Your Dog with Separation Anxiety
Your dog is a family member, not a toy to cast aside if he doesn’t meet your expectations. When you feel you have tried everything to help your pet move past his anxieties and you still can’t find a way to live with him, consult professionals. Ask your vet for help.
Our dog’s separation anxiety improved with age, though it never went away completely. Gator showed such specific preferences that I always left a piece of paper on my desk that I had handled. When we left him home alone, he went straight for that piece of paper and never bothered anything else. He didn’t eat it – just mangled it. This worked for Gator but I wouldn’t suggest it as a solution.
Upon our vet’s recommendation, we used an Elizabethan collar – the one that keeps dogs from chewing incisions. That “collar of shame” over his head really worked. Choose the one that buckles in place instead of a string that ties.
If your lifestyle won’t lend itself to staying home with the dog or won’t allow you to take him with you, one of the above suggestions should help. f you are consistent and follow the required steps, you can turn him into a relaxed, well-adjusted pet.