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Please tell me about your successful separation anxiety training

(17 Posts)
AddToBasket Wed 10-Jun-15 12:25:01

Beautiful foster puppy has come to stay with terrible separation anxiety. My last dog had it but not like this. He is a 9mo lurcher and cannot bear to be left for any time at all.

He is waiting for me outside the bathroom. Twice this morning I've gone into the garden briefly and he goes nuts as the back door shuts even though he can hear me. He has somehow learnt how to do the latch (actually, I was quite impressed by that!) and has got out both times.

How is this ever going to improve? It doesn't help that he has arrived with so little training that he nearly knows how to use his basket.

But, y'know he is still gorgeous.

Any advice or support welcome!

moosemama Wed 10-Jun-15 20:25:09

I have a two year old Lurcher that has separation anxiety.

He's now able to be left for about an hour, if we leave enough kongs, treats and treat dispensing toys, but that's his absolute upper limit and he occasionally he will still start stressing at 40 minutes. At his worst I couldn't even be out of sight for second without him screaming as if he was being murdered and it took months before I could go upstairs without him. We've had him from 10 weeks old and it's dramatically affected my life/freedom, as we have attached neighbours who are not only child and petless, but also retired. They are lovely, but I can't inflict his screaming on them, so have no choice but to not ever leave him over his threshold.

It's basically all about slow, steady desensitisation and taking it at the dog's pace as well as gradually getting them to relax and accept that you are always going to come back.

I used techniques from this book and this one.

Teaching him to to settle on a mat will really help with the process.

My lad is on Dorwest Herbs Skullcap and Valerian tablets and I've found Pet Remedy diffuser/spray really helps relax him. Alternatively you could try DAP and Rescue Remedy or similar. DAP is probably a better bet actually. I suspect it didn't work for my boy because he was dumped at birth so didn't develop an association with the pheromone it's based on.

He is still extremely immature - I'm told Lurchers are often late in reaching maturity and my vet feels he's also a bit develomentally delayed - but he is definitely, gradually improving with age and I'm hoping it will settled down as he gets older and hopefully becomes slightly less neurotic anxious in his nature. I had a rescue collie cross who was similarly anxious and developed SA when we moved house, but she was solid as a rock once she'd matured.

Your foster boy is so young and probably extremely stressed and confused just at the moment. I would actually, probably lean off trying to do too much with him for a while, just work on making him feel secure and relaxed to begin with, as that will go a long way towards setting the groundwork for SA training.

lougle Wed 10-Jun-15 20:43:46

You're probably going too far by going outdoors. The advice I read is that you start by walking to the door and walling away again, hundreds of times until it's getting no reaction. Then move to picking up keys again and again. Then putting your hand to the door handle. Then pushing the handle down and releasing it. Then opening and shutting the door. Then stepping in and out. Then out for 10 seconds. Then 30 seconds. Then a catch my drift.

moosemama Wed 10-Jun-15 21:25:24

That's it lougle except he also needs to be taught to self-settle, so he can cope with longer absences as they develop.

The ridiculous thing about my boy is that he's quite happy for me to be in the front garden for hours while he's in the kitchen, I am just not allowed to actually leave the property. hmm He's also fine being left in the car and absolutely loves going to kennels. confused

We use a digital dictaphone to record what he does, so we know if we've pushed him over threshold. I keep meaning to get a wifi video-cam so I can watch him on my smartphone, as that will really help me to extend the time he can be left more quickly, but still within his threshold.

BirdyArms Wed 10-Jun-15 23:19:32

My 5 month old lurcher pup had mild separation anxiety which has got worse since we left him for half term holiday (in our house with mother in law). Part of the problem now is that MIL let him have the run of the house so since we've been back he has refused to be shut in the kitchen where he was previously. He was attacking the kitchen door so we are now leaving it open but that means that he is following me round the whole time. I think that giving him the run of the house has made him feel less secure but he would eventually have chewed right through the door so I didn't feel that I had a choice.

On moosemama's advice I bought 'don't leave me' which has lots of good ideas. Like moosemama's mine is happy to be left in the car.

I have got a DAP plug in which might have helped marginally. What seems to help is giving him a big treat when I leave him. A kong doesn't cut it, he doesn't touch it unless I am in the same room or maybe next room if the doors are open. But I bought a pigs trotter and froze it and he is really excited about that and it is lasting a long time because I give it to him frozen. Downside is that he can open the living room door and found the defrosting pigs trotter on the sofa after I left him this morning - totally gross but actually I don't care if it means I can leave the house.

I think that we need to work on the self settling side of things. Good luck Addtobasket - let us know how you get on.

moosemama Thu 11-Jun-15 08:11:07

Birdy have you tried a dog/baby gate on the kitchen? That's what we have and my lad definitely copes with that better than a closed door. It can be a really useful tool to get them to understand that it's more rewarding not to follow you, as you can stay in the other room and toss treats through the gate when he's quiet.

Urgh at frozen pig's trotter on the sofa! shock <<feels a touch queasy>>

AddToBasket Thu 11-Jun-15 20:28:29

Thanks, all. I am despairing a bit.

He is sweet but so hyper and today stole half a cake my friend had made and brought over (friend not a big baker and the cake was a Ta-Dah cake IYKWIM). He also stole my DSs biscuit, cue DS tears.

I really do want to help him. This evening I was able to leave the dog in the car with DS while I popped into the shop for milk. He was OKish, just walking around the car whimpering according to DS.

BirdyArms Thu 11-Jun-15 23:55:14

Moosemama - yes, I kind of know I ought to try a babygate, going to email my friends now to try to borrow one. He could leap over it easily if he felt like it but if he didn't and stayed in the kitchen that would be amazing!

Addtobasket - be strong - how long have you had your new arrival? You are probably a really experienced fosterer and i am trying to teach you to suck eggs but I think their behaviour probably changes a lot in the first 1 - 2 weeks and maybe he will be different when he's settled in??

Car thing is interesting. Think mine finds ds's some comfort, he is less anxious if they are around but it's me he really wants. He seems to have learned that I will come back to the car within a few minutes and is OK there, though still quite alert waiting for me to return. Also I leave him tied up outside the school back gate for literally one of two minutes with a couple of other dogs that he knows and he is fine there too.

Lurchers do seem to be dreadful food theives. Mine manages to steal something almost every days, today was 3yo nephew's banana bread.

iHAVEtogetoutofhere Fri 12-Jun-15 12:01:51

Aah, this is interesting.

I had a Cocker Spaniel with separation anxiety but now I have a rescue Hound and it is far far worse.

Wont settle in car, cant cope in garden, needs to be 'on my feet' or next to my legs to relax.

Wont leave the house with anyone else for a walk (unless you scoot along in front with a bowl of food!).

Have had Hound 6m now and it's not getting any better...

AddToBasket Fri 12-Jun-15 14:07:00

I have had lurchers before so I am pretty sure this isn't a particularly lurcher thing, in their defence! (Not so sure about the stealing though, 'lur' means 'thief' in Romany...)

I have dealt with mild separation anxiety before but it wasn't like this. The dog gets upset if either me or DH leaves the room - even when the other one is still there! I am googling for help.

Birdy, you are right - I am a novice fosterer. I ended up with this dog because the I one I was looking to rehome was having dental work and they needed somewhere for this one to go. I offered! I can't see this one going somewhere better, in that we are all here most of the time and committed to making it work but it is hard.

moosemama Fri 12-Jun-15 15:04:07

I don't think it's a Lurcher thing particularly. It is extremely common in all breeds and crosses, as demonstrated by that TV programme that did a study on it.

Essentially dogs are social creatures and being left alone doesn't come naturally to them. Some cope better than others, purely down to life experience and personality etc, it's as simple as that really.

I have had to go out for longer than usual today - very unusual for me to leave him over an hour. He was quiet for the first 42 minutes, busied himself scoffing kongs and various other treats - then screamed for just over an hour and when I say screamed, I mean screamed. sad He is just incredibly sensitive and anxious by nature and helping him is an ongoing process that will probably take his lifetime <<scary thought>>. It doesn't help that I don't drive, so can't take him with me when I go out, unless dh is home and can drive me. I start lesson next week though, so fingers crossed things will improve if I can pass my test.

Just been discussing it with dh and we know we (I say we, but basically it's down to me) are going to have to get back to making a concerted effort with a specific SA programme, so will be getting the books I linked to out again this weekend and putting together a programme. We've also agreed a wifi camera will be a big help with the process, so will price those up too. We currently have our caravan on the drive and I can pick up our wifi out there, so that will really help me to watch what he's up to and make sure I appear back in the house just before he goes over threshold.

Mine is in a car crate with our other Lurcher, we have the rear windows covered and they both just curl up and sleep when we leave them in there, but of course that's only an option in the winter really. We do have a long boot-bolt for iffy days, so I can visit friends and bolt the boot wide open on their drive so they have a direct cool breeze, but again it's still only possible on certain cool-ish days. Next plan is a custom built dog-gate and lockable tailgate guard from Barjo (both £££s unfortunately) so I can leave the boot completely up.

It really is very restrictive, I can't go to doctor's or hospital appointments or get my hair done etc unless I can get a dog-sitter and I've gone from someone who was out and about, for at least part of the day, 3-4 days out of 5, to someone that rarely goes out at all. My mum is a good dog-sitter, but she's not in the best of health these days, so I need to do something sooner rather than later to improve things. Ds2 is just about to leave primary school and we have all sorts of end of school things for me to attend, sports day, presentation day, y6 play, charity morning, leavers assembly etc, as well as dd's school sports day. If it was winter I could pop him in the car for an hour (we only live across the road from the school) but being summer I'm stuffed unless dh can take the morning off.

BirdyArms Fri 12-Jun-15 18:04:12

Moosemama, I am full of admiration for you. You sound extremely dedicated and conscientious. I honestly don't know if I could do what you are doing. I really hope that you can make progress. Driving lessons sound like a good idea, would give you more flexibility.

I am finding it hard not being able to go out as I used to, feel like I am going slightly nuts, particularly this week because dh has been working away and I've barely spoken to anyone. I don't even get to chat to the mums at school because I always have the dog with me and have to leave the kids at the gate and run in to pick them up. I work very part time from home and occasionally have meetings in the office where fortunately I can take the dog and I am so much happier on the days that I do that. I used to help out at school twice a week but haven't done that since we got the pup. I just hadn't envisaged him putting a stop to my life to this extent.

Anyway I am really glad it's the weekend, dh is back later tonight and i will be able to leave the house without my shadow!!

Booboostoo Fri 12-Jun-15 19:01:23

Behaviour modification techniques help a lot of dogs, but if you see no improvement it's worth considering drugs. This is a relatively new area of veterinary science and you will need a specialist vet to prescribe and oversee treatment but it's worth a try as it can help difficult cases.

Some information here:

moosemama Fri 12-Jun-15 20:12:08

Birdy please don't be. I am completely committed to helping him, but that's not to say it doesn't drive me nuts and I never have a rant about the situation - I do! When it gets too much I only have to listen to one of the recordings of him being distressed to remind me that it's genuine distress and he really can't help it.

Seeing progress helps. Teaching him to settle himself was a massive step forwards that led to being able to go to the toilet or out of the room without him and eventually to us being able to be outside/on the drive while he was inside but could hear/see us. Initially he'd scream if he was in his crate 3 feet across the room from me and have a virtual breakdown if I left the room, so this is massive progress. I also know for certain that he will be definitely cope for at least 40 minutes and as my school runs only take between 15 and 20, that gives me a breather. I do have to makes sure I've sorted kongs and treat toys etc before I leave though and there are days I resent the amount of prep it takes just to go on the school run. blush

Would you consider daycare for your dog a couple of days a week to give you a break and perhaps help him learn to cope away from you? It really helps that mine adores his boarding kennels (both dogs drag me down the drive to get in there and mob the head kennel maid when they see her). I don't leave him often, but it really helps to have even the occasional break. It's helpful that we have a relationship with the kennels going back to the early 90s though and they went out of their way to help get him used to the place and settle there. A dog walker might also help, just to give you a short break.

Booboostoo I don't think we're quite there yet. I have discussed his SA with my vet, but as he is making progress, albeit very slowly and I know I haven't worked on it as intensively as I could, I want to keep it as a last resort.

I've also seen two very good behaviourists, but came away having being told I have all the information/knowledge and am doing everything right, it's just a case of keep-on, keeping-on. To be totally honest, I haven't had a enough of a concerted effort with the SA stuff for a while now though, as I've been quite ill myself over the winter and spring. Of course that didn't help things either, as he then got used to me being home all the time while I was ill, which is a bit of a vicious circle. He did learn not to cry while I was upstairs in bed and he was downstairs though - so there was progress in one area at least.

Vet has seen evidence of his SA first hand, as he totally freaked out when he went in for neutering. One minute the vet nurse was looking at him, then next she turned her back for a second and when she glanced back he'd scaled a 6ft mesh kennel run and got stuck at the top. Then he fell off and gashed his legs, necessitating a trip back to theatre and more stitches. hmm He then proceeded to wail the surgery down until they let him sit with the vet nurses in their lounge, while they made a desperate call to me to come and pick him up early.

Unfortunately, he is really over-attached to our older dog (despite us being careful to make sure they spent time apart and had separate walks when he was a pup. He can't cope at all without either one of the family or the other dog present. Other dog is 10 now though, so we know he's going to have to cope without him at some point in the future. sad

AddToBasket Fri 12-Jun-15 21:32:58

This has turned into a support group not a success stories thread grin.

DH is the one who works from home and after the summer I go back to work. DH can't take the dog everywhere with him, the dog has to have some separation. Should I call this off right now? I thought we were in a great position to get a dog with two of us at home for four months and then DH here most of the day after that. But if that isn't enough I really don't know what to do. Any advice?

Booboostoo Sat 13-Jun-15 06:33:38

Sorry you are feeling this way, but I can't blame you. SA is a very difficult problem to cure and almost impossible to live with long term. I think you should be realistic, if you think you cannot try the really demanding behaviour modification techniques or cannot cope with the puppy if his SA does not improve it would be better for him to be returned ASAP before either of you bond to each other any more.

You do have a very good set up for having a dog, you just have been unlucky in your choice of dog. SA is one of the worst problems for a dog to have and can make life with the dog very demanding.

moosemama Sat 13-Jun-15 10:12:44

I would say it depends on the dog. He is still very new to you and your home and you don't know how receptive he might be once he's settled in.

To be honest, I would take advice off the rescue you're fostering for, they should have some sort of behavioural back-up for fosterers and would be best placed to advise or help you make the decision whether or not you are the right foster home for him.

As Booboo said, you sound like you have a great set up for a dog, but SA is one of those problems that affects you 24/7 and isn't something everyone can work their lives around, no matter how much they're home.

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