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Extreme Separation Anxiety - Help Me!

1209 Views 9 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  JudyN
EDIT: Not leaving her alone ever is not an option. She is already left home very rarely but we need to work on her SA, not just never leave her alone. Thank you for all comments but please focus on ways people have overcome SA rather than suggesting we never leave her alone ever. Thank you!

This is my first time posting on this website. Our dog, Lucky, is a 5 year old mutt (German Shepherd & Cattle Dog according to her DNA test). She is spayed, up to date on shots, and has been through one basic obedience class. We adopted her at 10 months old and started using the kennel right away. Unfortunately we quickly learned she has severe separation anxiety. She goes to daycare twice a week and is kenneled three times a week (twice for 8 hours and once for 4 hours) while I'm at work. We've had her for about 4.5 years (adopted her at 10 months from a reservation in New Mexico - we live outside of Denver) and we are getting overwhelmed because we feel we have tried a lot of options.

Here is what we have tried (with no positive results):
  • Wire Kennels and Plastic Kennels (she has broken out of 3 wire kennels and 2 plastic ones - she broke three of her teeth during one attempt)
  • Moving the location of her kennel (our bedroom, main floor, her room, etc.)
  • Putting bumpers on the kennel front & sides to prevent her from digging (she tore through them almost immediately)
  • Basket Muzzles & Plastic Muzzles (all she was able to pant completely & open her mouth)
  • Noise Maker (white noise setting), TV on to "dog channel", & silence
  • Different types of beds in her kennel (several orthopedic beds, pads, "snuggle beds", etc.)
  • Feeding in her kennel & putting her bed in her kennel so she has to sleep in it at night
  • Benadryl (or a similar medication prescribed by her doctor to calm her down)
  • Essential oils (lavender)
  • Fan on and fan off. Setting the furnace/AC to have the room colder or warmer than normal.
  • Withholding food before & feeding before
  • Extreme exercise before (to the point of exhaustion)
  • "Calming Treats" (Hemp Seed Oil, Hemp Protein Powder, Chamomile, Valerian Root, Passion Flower, Ginger Root Powder, Tryptophan) before kenneling
  • Plain Hemp Oil daily
  • Switching foods to see if it was an allergy problem (we did find out she is allergic to red meat but she hasn't improved since switching to chicken years ago)
  • Calming Collar & Calming Toy (pheromes)
  • Putting a shirt in the kennel that my husband slept in, putting toys in the kennel
  • "Desensitizing" with picking up our keys randomly, putting shoes on then sitting on the couch, not being overly excited when we let her out of the kennel, etc.
  • Kenneling her with another dog in the house
  • Putting a larger dog run type kennel in the house without her muzzle so she is free to wander/play/drink/eat in a contained area
At this point, we are considering:
  • A Gunner kennel ("indestructible" and cost $600+)
  • Thunder vest while in the kennel
  • Different essential oils (I read Sweet Orange or Ylang Ylang can help too, in a diffuser in the room she is kenneled in)
  • A local behavioral specialist vet based out of Boulder, Colorado (hesitant on this because the initial visit is $260, treatment visit is another $260 before including cost of medication/treatment/etc. and the possibility of it not working)
  • Dog Calming CD (classical music)
I recently enrolled in another intermediate obedience class that starts in April. I'm not sure if that will help but I thought it's worth a try. She has her ears cleaned weekly, nails trimmed weekly, etc. and is overall a healthy dog with all her shots & medications. She also gets Cosequin daily. I want to stress leaving her out in the house is not an option until her SA has improved - she has destroyed carpet & carpet pads, chewed through wood interior doors, pulled down picture frames, etc. and hurts herself almost every time she gets out of her kennel or the few times we have left her out to see if that helped. Her fear isn't of the kennel, so things like feeding her & having her sleep in the kennel didn't work because she was fine as long as she knew we were in the house. Her problem is being left alone (in the kennel or not).

I'm just wondering if there is anything else we can do that I haven't read on other websites or other forums that has worked for others? Thank you for all your help!
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You say you've tried desensitising her but presumably, you haven't done this gradually, keeping her within her comfort zone, building up all the way gradually to being left for hours at a stretch? The only reliable way of fixing SA is gradual build-up - it can literally take weeks before you can leave a dog for half an hour, and then you have to build up to 35 mins, 40 mins. If the dog shows any distress, you're going too fast. Depending on your circumstances, it might be easier to ensure that she is never left - or never left for longer than she is OK with (e.g. by someone coming in to walk her) - than working through all the steps.

There's a sticky about separation anxiety here that gives more detailed information: Separation Anxiety
Was there ever a point when she was happy being left for 30 mins-1 hour? Or even 5 minutes?
I think, if you persevered with kennelling for very short periods but she wasn't happy even then, then you were going too fast for her. Desensitisation doesn't involve putting them in a situation where they're uncomfortable and hoping that they will adjust. It involves, if necessary, weeks of just picking up the keys and putting them down again, and not even opening the front door, if she's not yet happy with you opening the front door (if she's OK with the key being picked up, then you might progress to taking one step in the direction of the front door).

That's the theory, anyway. The trouble is that we live in the real world and can't stay in lockdown for weeks on end. If you can't make adjustments so she's never left (daycare, dog sitter/walker, local teenager who would love to earn a little money, relation...), then I second JoanneF's recommendation to contat Emma Judson at Canne Consultants. She knows her stuff and has a wealth of experience.
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