Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Treating Separation Anxiety

You may have read our previous post about Duke's separation anxiety and what we did to manage it. We thought we understood the condition (and by all standard definitions, Duke had it) but it was mild compared to our foster beagle, Elmo's condition.

Firstly if you are reading this to get help for your dog - the first thing you must decide is whether or not your dog truly has separation anxiety. Destructive behavior or barking at home is not enough. A dog that's experiencing true anxiety while left alone will...

1) Pant and hyperventilate
2) Drool
3) Urinate (immediately)

And... getting to more extreme levels

4) Defecate - with loose stool
5) Vomit
6) Eat door mouldings/scratch doors
7) Self-mutilation

Duke would do items 1, 2, and 3. Elmo does 1 through 6 (Thank goodness he doesn't do #7). He's chewed mouldings off of our doors. He's eaten the mouldings and its come out of his stool. He's scratched at the door. He's had explosive diarrhea in his crate. He's vomited undigested food/bile.

From reading "I'll Be Home Soon" (see our Amazon.com book list for the exact book) and reading many of the online blogs/articles out there, we managed Duke's behavior through crating to keep him out of trouble and using the planned departure method. Elmo's a bit more extreme so we're working on a more intense program. Here's what we're doing.

1) How we use the Crate

Elmo will soil in the crate within minutes if we leave the home. His anxiety overpowers any instinct to keep his den clean. As a result, we use the crate only in these specific ways:

a) He's crated while we're at home in the living room. We're in plain sight of him but through this repetition he'll get used to the confinement aspect of crating while isolating the separation aspect of crating. We will get up and leave and come back intermittently (i.e. getting food from the kitchen, using the bathroom, etc.) Elmo spends far more time with Hyedie and he does with me, and he actually only gets upset when she leaves the room.

b) He sleeps in the crate in the bedroom. In this case his dog bed is in the crate and he goes in there by himself. For now we leave the door open, but we are going to progress to closing him in. Again the objective here is to desensitize him to confinement.

c) In a pinch, if we have to leave home, he goes in the crate --- but unfortunately for now, it is guaranteed that he will pee in the there. At least he doesn't vomit or defecate in there any more. Right now we are renovating our home, so the crate is sometimes the only place he can go. Our preference for Elmo by far is Room Confinement.

2) How we use Room Confinement

We discovered that Elmo did better while confined vs. crated (by accident - we were just trying every possible option to see what worked best). This is what we learned:

a) Elmo, if confined in a room with a closed door, will chew off the moldings and scratch the door. He'll eat the moldings too. Our contractors were amazed that a little 20 pound beagle could do the kind of damage he's done. This is obviously not good (fortunately, everything in our home is going to be replaced as part of our massive renovation) for most home owners with doors and mouldings they are happy with... and the risk of Elmo injuring himself is too great.

b) Elmo, if confined in a room (in this case, our mudroom addition attached to the kitchen) by the use of double stacked baby gates would NOT try to eat his way out of the room. I learned that a closed door becomes a powerful barrier and an object of focus for a panicked dog, while confinement with see-through gates is something entirely different.

c) Comparing Elmo to Duke --- Duke's preference was to be crated. We tried confining Duke in the condo and found that he would soil himself if confined, but hold it if crated. Not sure why, but I guess every dog is different.

3) The Gameplan:

1) We'll be building up Elmo's tolerance to confinement by crating him as often as we can and as for long as we can in ways that keep him from going over the edge (urinating). Over time we'll slowly increase the amount of time that we crate him and slowly increase the distance and duration that we leave him alone while crated.

2) We'll continue to use confinement when we have to leave for a very long time (1 hour or more)

3) We'll employ every tactic in the book (I won't go into detail - just google the topics - there are plenty of articles about each strategy), including:

a) Leaving an article of worn, soiled clothing with Elmo
b) Feeding in the crate (always!)
c) Leaving frozen peanut butter kongs and other chew toys (he ignores them for now)
d) Low key departures
e) Ignoring him when we return (for at least a few minutes, and slowly build up)
f) Naturopathic / holistic remedies - Rescue Remedy, Star of Bethlehem added to his water
g) Under consideration, although we're not acting on it now - DAP Diffusers or possible anti-anxiety medications.

Thanks for reading... hopefully this helps you - it will certainly help us as we track Elmo's progress. He's worth it! Whoever adopts this lovely dog, by the time we're done with him, will have themselves an issue proof dog that is the star of the dog park.

By the way, that's Elmo in the video below. Hyedie's just left the living room so he's whining a bit while I sit here writing this blog post watching TV. We're proud of him! He's made a lot of progress in a very short amount of time.


Beaglor said...

Its been about a week since we started the program. Elmo sleeps overnight in the crate now. He's 1+ hours in the crate by Hyedie in the home office during the day. We've even had Elmo stay crated (once) for 3 hours without soiling himself! He's doing better each time...

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