Please Help - Sudden Worsening of Separation Anxiety - Can't be left alone

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Please Help - Sudden Worsening of Separation Anxiety - Can't be left alone

This is a discussion on Please Help - Sudden Worsening of Separation Anxiety - Can't be left alone within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; Hi Everyone, I haven't been on this forum in quite a long time, but I am really struggling and hoping someone can help me with ...

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Old 03-31-2018, 07:14 PM
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Please Help - Sudden Worsening of Separation Anxiety - Can't be left alone

Hi Everyone,

I haven't been on this forum in quite a long time, but I am really struggling and hoping someone can help me with some advice/suggestions.

I've had my dog, Honey, for 7 years. She is a rescue, likely about 9 years old. She has always been a nervous dog, and had separation anxiety when I first adopted her. I crate trained her to house break her and also to help with the anxiety. This worked for many years.

She is food motivated so when I leave her, I give her a frozen kong which takes her about 45 minutes to get through.

We have not had a problem in the past 6.5 years. I have moved three times during that time period, and she has adjusted perfectly each time. As long as she has a kong when I leave her, she is totally fine.

She does remain in the crate. When I have tried to leave her out of the crate, she becomes quite anxious. I tried conditioning her slowly over many months, and it never took.

We have a dog walker who comes midday, and leaves her with another kong. As I said, this has been working very well for us for years.

Suddenly, she can't be left along at all. She cries and barks as soon as I leave, and will continue for hours. I have a "nest" camera to keep an eye on her, so I know this does not let up. I have tried letting her out of the crate again, and leaving for 20-30 minutes at a time and watching her on the camera. She still barks and cries and paces and pants and scratches at the door to the office.

It is terrible to watch. I don't know what caused this or what I can do. We took her to the vet and nothing appears to be wrong (we run a full blood panel every 4 months to monitor her because she has early CKD; all of her bloodwork has been normal).

Has anyone experienced something like this? Any suggestions on what I can do? I am at my wits end, and very anxious about leaving her alone for any amount of time. My husband loves her but is getting really frustrated with me and it is straining our relationship.

Any help or advice or general thoughts would be sincerely appreciated. Thank you!
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Old 04-01-2018, 06:50 PM
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The only thing that helped my dog's severe separation anxiety was a veterinary behaviorist who prescribed anxiety and antidepressant medications. Most regular vets around here aren't comfortable even prescribing refills of psychiatric medications while waiting for an appointment. There's lots of behavioral interventions you can do as well that a behaviorist can help you with, such as gradually increasing the time she's left alone starting from one minute and building up to a full day. My dog loves going to all day doggy daycare and has no anxiety going there all day. Or finds an all day sitter.
Some dogs do get more clingy and needy as they age. Something could have happened to scare her one day when she was alone or she could be starting to develop canine dementia.
You could ask the vet about dementia. I'd find a behaviorist to get her on meds so she's less stressed and then do more of the training. Right now she's too stressed to learn. One antidepressant made a huge difference for my dog who was literally dangerous if left alone for even a few minutes.
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Old 04-02-2018, 11:32 AM
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Thanks. Unfortunately, she's doesn't do well at Doggy Daycare. She plays great with other dogs, but only when I'm around. If I'm not, she spends the entire time anxiously sitting next to the handlers.

I'm trying to find a sitter locally, but it's unlikely that we can afford to have someone stay with her all day 4 days per week; I don't know the prices are yet, but it just seems like it will be prohibitive. Our dog walker costs $20/day for a 30 minute walk, so I'm expecting a full 8 hours is probably going to cost quite a bit more than that! Today she is staying with my dad, but he lives too far away for me to drop her off with him daily.

I spent the whole weekend working with her in the crate. But she is 100% fine in the crate as long as we're home/she can hear me or my husband around the house.

I got to the point that now if I leave her alone, she barks for about 15 minutes and then finally starts to pay attention to her kong again. Then she will bark periodically throughout the day, but it isn't for prolonged periods. But she also cries periodically throughout the day. She never did any of this before - and we used to live in Manhattan with lots of noise coming in the apartment throughout the day, all day long. I'm just very dismayed. I do expect something triggered it. My sister is a vet and examined her yesterday. She doesn't think she shows signs of cognitive decline.

My sister is a vet at a specialty hospital about an hour from us, and she is getting us an appointment with a behavioral vet, hopefully this week. I really wish I didn't have to medicate her, but it is worse if she is stressed out all day long
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Old 04-02-2018, 11:54 AM
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Medication is not the end of the world. My dog is so much calmer and relaxed on Zoloft. He can actually focus to listen to training and isn't trying to jump out the third floor window anymore or chewing and destroying dangerous things or breaking doors or windows. He was literally so frantic he was going to severely injure or kill himself. And the howling and crying he sounded like someone was torturing and killing him.

Now I can leave him loose in the apartment, nothing is destroyed and walk in and find him stretched out on my bed relaxed and in a pile with my cats all cuddled up and adorable and get a happy greeting. He still gets worried but it's manageable.
The best thing I ever did for him was put him on that medicine. It was so heartbreaking and stressful to see and hear him before. I literally couldn't leave him alone for a second. I had to take him everywhere and leave him in my car with the air conditioner running and leave a note on the car, and still explain to the police half the time that he was on medication and couldn't be at home or he'd literally kill himself.
Putting a dog on meds for separation anxiety who truly needs it is a good thing and not at all a bad thing. He's not at all a zombie, he still runs and plays at the park with other dogs and loves his squeaky toys and acts like a normal active dog in every other way.
I will respectfully ask if you've ever tried doggy daycare? You might be surprised. My dog won't play or interact at all if I just walk out of the park to get a toy or water from the car parked right outside, or if I have a friend watch him in public to go get something. He fixates on watching anxiously for me. But when I drop him off at daycare, I've always gotten reports that he eats, drinks and plays happily all day long with no anxiety or pining whatsoever.
It could be worth trying for a couple of days.
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Old 04-02-2018, 12:04 PM
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I don't think that medication is necessarily bad - I apologize if it came off that way. I do think it is somewhat extreme in my current case, because I have had Honey for 7 years and her anxiety has been very well managed. Up until this week, she could be left alone without any anxiety/problems. She does have separation anxiety, but up until this week, I considered it mild and was very manageable. This is why I am discouraged about recent developments.

I have tried several different doggie day cares in different cities, at different times. She plays very well with other dogs at the dog park, and with family and friends' dogs. But the feedback I have gotten when I have left her in daycare has been that she doesn't play at all; she sits with the handlers watching for me the entire time. She was much more relaxed at home, so I opted to have her spend her days there instead.

Up until now, we have had her staying at home, with a dog walker coming 1-2 times per day (depending how long we have to be away for the day. If more than 8 hours, she gets an extra walk). I watch her on our security camera, and she eats her kongs and slept all day long. No signs of anxiety until this past Wednesday (3/25).
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Old 04-02-2018, 01:47 PM
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That is strange since she's been fine for years and it's such a sudden change. My dog has always been like that. Well actually when he saw me packing to move was when it came out. His first home gave him away after a year when they were moving so I inadvertently triggered his abandonment issues.

Something must have happened to scare your girl. It does sound like it was minor for years. My dog won't eat or drink at all, not even treats, if I leave him even with the medication.
That's good you've got a behaviorist appointment. It was really helpful not just for the medication but I got a lot of helpful behavioral interventions as well.
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Old 04-06-2018, 01:20 PM
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I just wanted to provide an update just in case some day someone finds their way to this post on an internet search. We've had a little bit of progress which I have found encouraging.

I haven't seen the behaviorist yet (this coming Wednesday 4/11), but we have made some progress.

I got a new crate, which is plastic like the ones used for travel on an airplane, instead of wire like her old one (we kept the wire one covered in a blanket to make it more den like, but I have read in a few places that plastic crates are better for anxious dogs, so I decided to try it). I put the new crate into a different room on the opposite side of our home.

I also got her a Thundershirt, which actually seems to help calm her down a bit (although that on its own did not work).

I spent about five hours yesterday conditioning her to the new crate (treats, praise, etc.) and she took to it very well and was fine while I was around.

This morning I took her out, and put the Thundershirt on as soon as we got home. Then I put her in her crate with two kongs and turned on background music that is supposed to be calming to dogs. I closed the door to the side of the house she was on (also with my cat), and got ready for work. I made some noise so she knew I was there, but didn't give any attention.

She doesn't make noise as long as she knows I'm around, so this part was fine. When it was time to leave, I checked on our webcam to see how she was doing and she was at the back of the crate focused on her kong.

I sneaked out the back door and drove to work and checked the webcam. No barking! No crying! She was still eating her kong!

When she finished with the kongs about 45 minutes alter she whimpered for a couple of minutes but didn't bark and didn't whine, and remained lying down. After a few minutes, she settled down and lay looking out of her cage. Eventually when I checked on her she was ASLEEP!!!

Our dog walker came at 1pm, and when she left Honey in the crate with a new kong, Honey sat starting at the door for a few minutes, but didn't bark or cry and the eventually went to work on the kong. She's now sitting quietly. I will see how she does the rest of the day, but I feel this was a pretty big step and wanted to share. It's been no small task, but hopefully I'll get this resolved in the next couple of weeks.
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