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About six weeks ago my wife and I, after many years, decided to get a dog. We both grew up with dogs and now, after several years, we finally have a place that is dog friendly.

During graduate school we both volunteered at a great no-kill shelter in Pittsburgh called "Animal Friends". They put the potential adopters through quite a process to see if they are the right fit for the dog (and vice versa). When we found a similar group here in Silicon Valley (name witheld for now...) we were sold - they seemed to have a similar attitude based on their very long and involved adoption application. We decided to go the Bay Area Pet Expo to learn more.

The event was super crowded, but full of energy (and dogs!). We started looking at a sweet little 2 year old cocker spaniel. We asked the volunteer/foster parent about her. We needed a dog with two criteria...
1 - Okay with other dogs. I work in a dog friendly office - I want to be able to take her. I wanted a dog who could deal with other dogs from day 1.
2 - Okay with the kennel/crate. My wife works an hour away. I work 2 miles from home, though sometimes I have to travel into SF or San Jose. We wanted a dog who would be content/calm in a crate while we were gone.

We were assured over and over by the volunteer/foster that she would be fine with both requirements.

In retrospect there were several people pressuring us to adopt her. “Are you gonna adopt her?” “She’s a real, sweetie.” “She’s gonna get snapped right up.” I’ll be honest – I felt less pressure buying my last car.

After taking the little cocker for a short walk, we decided to go ahead and adopt her. We offered the completed application that we had brought with us - but the volunteers didn't even look at it (perhaps an unheeded warning sign).

We named our new little girl Lady. Lady is a sweet, friendly and gentle little girl that bonded to us very quickly. She wants nothing more than to be with people and have her belly rubbed.

The problem is that Lady’s separation anxiety is reaching critical levels. My wife leaves home before I do – when she leaves Lady will quite literally hurl herself at the door for a good 20 or so minutes. Food, attention from me (who is still home) and more will not stop this grieving process. (My wife tells me that Lady does something similar when I leave).

Lady is far worse when it comes to her crate. She doesn’t seem to hate the crate itself –as she will lay in it while we eat dinner (as its next to our dining room table). At first we had to lure her into the crate by tossing in a treat. Then we had to create a trail of food into the crate. Now she runs away anytime she thinks she is going into the crate. Its heartbreaking.

We have tried blocking her in our kitchen with a tall dog gate (which she scaled in under a minute) and leaving her to roam the living room (which results in her clawing at the front door enough to peel the paint and damage the door).

“But why don’t you just take her to work?” you might ask. Well – it turns out that Lady also has severe leash excitement/aggression. Anytime she even hears a dogs tags jingle – she is up and barking (and sometimes growling).

Being at home with our little Lady is wonderful. She is easy-going and sweet. But leaving the house is a nightmare. If I leave her at home – its an emotional chase around our living room and I know she is miserable in her crate. If I take her to work - I am on edge that another dog will walk by and set her off. It is very hard to get any work done in this position.

I am mad at the adoption group – because they either
1 – Did not know Lady well enough to know her manners and needs. Or…
2 – They lied to me.

I understand a dog’s personality is unpredictable, but this group was 100% wrong on the two biggest factors that would lead to a successful relationship between us and the dog.

My wife and I are beginning to work with an anxiety trainer this weekend. But this gives me anxiety. She keeps talking about how we shouldn’t leave the dog alone during the training course and that we should adapt our schedules for the next two months.

We both want to do our best for Lady, but the reality is that my wife and I have to work – this is not an option. In terms of both career and money – we cannot take two months off.

Note: We are also looking into aggression classes.

I post this as I am hoping someone here can give me advice, encouragement or just some understanding. Have any of you had similar experiences? Have any of you had to give your dog anti-anxiety meds? How do I handle having a wonderful dog who only seems to be happy when all three of us are at home and on the couch?

Premium Member
10,819 Posts
Wow, either they just got her in and didn't know what they were talking about or you are right they lied at least about a few of the concerns you had. Have you called them to let them know how she's acting?

The good news is that all her issues can be worked though, the bad news is that there is no quick fixes for any of them.

The crate training will probably be the fastest fix, since she will lay in it on her own, I suspect it's the door closing that has her panicking. Here's a sticky that's loaded with tips on how to help her

For the separation anxiety you'll have to go slow and think in terms of baby steps. You'll need to figure out what is the first thing that sets her off, if it's your putting on your shoes start there, if it's touching the door knob start there. Once you figure out what first triggers her start to desensitize her to that. So if it's touching the door knob, you'd reach for it, stop as soon as she starts to look upset, and toss her a treat, then reach for the knob again and repeat. Do that till she's looking forward to you reaching for the knob and touching it. Next step would be to do the same thing for turning the knob, then cracking open the door, opening the door, stepping out the door, closing the door behind you, and finally starting to leave her alone for small (think in terms of minutes to start with) amounts of time. When you get to the point of actually going out the door and closing it behind you, you can try giving her a kong stuffed with extra yummy food that she'll only get when you leave the house. You can stuff it with soaked kibble, mixed with canned food, bits of cheese and real meat and freeze the whole thing so it takes her longer to get the food out.

The leash/barrier frustration will also probably take a while to work through, it's basically another thing you'll have to desensitize her to, and to do that you'll need to start with the trigger far enough away that she's not fixating on whatever is upsetting her, and then gradually move closer and closer to it. Here's another sticky that has a lot of tips on how to go about it .

Whatever trainer you use make sure s/he uses positive reinforcement methods only. Any aversive methods will only make her worse, it'll confirm that your and your wife leaving is a bad thing, that the crate is a horrid place, and dogs are evil creatures that cause bad things to happen to her. So if they try saying she's dominant, do some sort of touch that's supposed to mimic a dogs bite, advise using a choke collar or e collar, then leave and take your dog with you.

507 Posts
When she is going crazy at your wife's departure, ignore her. Is there a room you can keep her in when you are at work? The kitchen? Put her breakfast kibble into a treat dispensing toy and give it to her when you leave for work. This will distract her. What kind of exercise does she get in the morning? She needs thirty minutes of hard running. This could be in the park, or since she is reactive, it could be playing fetch in the back yard. She will fall asleep sooner if she is tired.

I'm not saying don't do what is suggested above, but a tired dog is a good dog.
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