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My eight month old pointer puppy has always hated being alone. I taught him to love his crate from Day 1, and he's always loved being in in when I'm home - going in on his own and relax.

When I left, he often yelped a little and calmed down. But there were days when he just freaked out and yelped the entire time I was away.

Though there were some days of anxiety, he generally got better with time. I communicate closely with my neighbors and elicit feedback about his behavior when I'm not home.

Lately,though, it suddenly got worse. There were some transitions - I went to DC for three days and left him with a sitter. Then my dad visited for a week and went home. He graduated to actually barking, which is brand new. I doubled down on the training - leaving him alone for thirty seconds and then coming back with a treat, 60, 90, etc. I tried to maintain the same crate schedule each day whether or not I was home to help maintain a routine.

Finally, he started barking even when I was at home. This started at the beginning of this week. He'd bark the second I left the room to grab a glass of water. I'd wait for him to calm down before coming back, but it turned into a behavior cycle where he'd bark and then quiet down and I'd come back. But the barking periods got longer instead of getting shorter.

My neighbors were complaining a lot, and even folks from the building across the street were complaining. I was losing my temper at him everyday and he would sense my anger and his anxiety would go up, and we were in a negative feedback loop. There would be breaks, like going to the park and playing ball, but this past week has been really difficult for both of us. And his barking was out of control.

I caved and bought a Citronella collar, and put it on him last night. It's against my normal training practices, but honestly I just couldn't think anymore. I know it doesn't address the root cause, but I thought it would be easier to focus on the root cause if I could just get him to quiet down.

Anyway, I put it on him, and left the room. He barked a couple times, and quieted down. The second he quieted down I ran back and lavished praise and gave him a treat. I left again, and he barked once, and then quieted down. I repeated. And then he really stopped barking. I continued with my training session, graduating to leaving my apartment, and even walking downstairs and out the door and coming back and giving him a treat and praise each time. At first he resorted to Plan B, which I guess was thrashing around and scratching his crate floor, but he even stopped that and just sat still and waiting for me.

Anyway, as we ended the session, he looked so incredibly sad and upset. He kept staring at me with big round eyes like he had experienced this betrayal, lol. I took the collar off and we went to bed. But even today he's been different - calmer, yes,which is good, but he looks more stressed and he isn't as playful and silly as he usually is. In fact, he's acting like he's afraid of me a little.

So anyway, I'm asking for advice on next steps. I know the collar is only addressing a symptom and not getting to the root cause of the anxiety, and that I can expect to find the separation anxiety manifest in different ways. I also expect that eventually the stress will get so bad that he'll just bark anyway and tolerate getting sprayed over and over again. I haven't left the house yet today and would like to go out in a little bit, and I'm dreading a little bit putting that collar back on him. I had planned to get the collar and use it as a tool to curb his barking while I continued my treatment.

Thoughts, observations, disagreements, advice, etc appreciated.
 

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Don't put the collar back on. Throw it away.

You're already seeing what we call "fall out" from using it. Side effects....It's causing him stress. Think of the barking as expressing emotion...He's feeling anxious and upset because you're gone, so he barks. The citronella collar is basically telling him he can't express that. It would be like you trying to say how you feel to your husband or wife, and having them slap you and walk out the room, and just not listen. Of course you'll feel aweful and shut down.

Taking away his ability to bark and express his anxiety will also lead to other behaviors, as you've already experienced. It could make him become even more frantic, because he's not understanding the source of the punishment. He could thrash in the crate and hurt himself.

I do understand your logic, wanting to address the behavior now....But unfortunately taking that route is likely to exacerbate the root problem.

You need to work on teaching him to be comfortable in his crate even in your absence.

Here's a great vid by Kikopup on training your dog to be alone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGxhcb-itO4

Another: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBNhsZD8o2M

Here's a few more resources:
When Are You Coming Home? How to Ease Separation Anxiety | Karen Pryor Clicker Training
https://positively.com/dog-training...ilwell-articles/separation-distress-syndrome/
https://positively.com/contributors/separation-anxiety-what-you-can-do/

You may also want to consider trying some calming supplements....There's a product called Rescue Remedy that many seem to find helpful, or a DAP diffuser. You can try giving him some melatonin. Playing some music or leaving a TV on can help some dogs. Also, make sure you provide him with safe chew toys too...I would advise against raw hide...But there are other natural and safe chews, like hooves, bully sticks, other dehydrated meats. Nylabones. Perhaps even a large raw meaty bone once you determine that your dog will chew appropriately (appropriate chew is when the dog grinds with their rear teeth and pull meat with their front, inappropriate is chomping down, which can break teeth, or trying to swallow or gulp).
 

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I would suggest the same thing that was said above.Do not use the collar again. I have been through your situation. Several times my neighbor called the police officers on me, and got letters from the township saying I have to take care of the issue. My solution was more and more attention. What I mean by this that if you are able to catch just one little good moment and you give some positive feedback, they will know. You just have to pay very close attention to that one little moment. I was very frustrated for the longest time. But we all know that they can't bark 24/7.. so most likely you will be able to find that moment. Also more walks, plays, and maybe some brain work (like teaching new things) can help as well.
Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #4
The thing is, I've gone through all of these suggestions. The kikopups training, the special toys only in the crate, the special treats only when I leave, etc. The exercise, the mental stimulation, etc. It was steadily getting better, and there would be many days when he was fine.
 

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It may be time to talk to the vet about anti anxiety medicine to help with the anxiety and then work on the separation anxiety. It may also be helpful to hire a behaviorist to help you.

I hate to tell you this but using such a collar, especially for anxiety, could make the behavior worse. You are teaching your dog that he's right to fear you are leaving because a bad thing happens when you leave. He may decide to bark even with the collar on, he may express it some other way such as trying to chew his way out of the crate, or chew on himself to try and relive the stress. We had a poster on here who's dog was hurting himself in his attempt to escape and find the person every time he was left alone. Even if your dog just decides to not do anything because he's shutdown you'll still have stacked the deck against yourself with trying to have him be truly comfortable with your leaving.

What happens when you leave him out of the crate while you are gone? Some dogs do better if they are loose, but some do decide to try and dig their way out of the house (destroy doors and windows) or in a fear induced frenzy destroy the house.
 
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