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Discussion Starter #1
I'm asking on behalf of a friend because I'm stuck, she even tried a trainer who told her "he has bad anxiety, he might need Prozac." So for this case, we'll call her small, less than 20lb, mix 8 month old male puppy- Ace. And her, I'll just leave as Owner.

Some background: he has a clean bill of health, adopted.. (I think a few months ago, during this quarantine period, but I will check). He's relatively trained- knows sit, stay, fetch, lie down, house trained. Owner doesn't really spoil him- like not letting Ace jump on people, she doesn't carry him. Recently (as in the last few nights) she moved from letting him sleep in her bed, to sleeping in his own dog bed.

Here's the problem: whenever Owner leaves the area or room, Ace goes nuts. Barks, whines, pants, paces, yelps, he can't be crated or kenneled because he will hurt himself trying to break out. Even in a room, he'll try to break through doors, windows, and walls. His heart races to the point you can clearly feel it. It's so bad, that she could be watering the plants outside, getting the mail, being right outside the window- and he'll panic. High pitched barking and whimpering.

Owner has tried leaving the radio on, an old shirt that smells like her, video chatting, leaving tempting yummy chew toys, a clinking/ticking clock to mimic a heartbeat. She said he's well exercised, she tried desensitizing to triggers.. so now the jingle of keys don't bother him, she can also shower (vs before he'd bark and scratch the door). She even tried briefly standing outside the door and walking back in, repeatedly. Doesn't make a deal upon reentry. He still panics. (She swears she tried breaking it down to the tiniest steps and repeating it to death. This is why I'm stuck- I went into detail with this method, including good solid exercise first and establishing distance & space from each other rather than being stuck together all the time).

And just to be clear, I asked: "it's leaving the room that he's in, that causes it? Like he's in the kitchen, separated by a baby gate.. even if he can still see her, she never actually left his line of sight... is triggering? Or is it being a certain distance away, that triggers it?"
The answer I got: "it's both. Seeing Owner, but can't get to her, Ace whimpers. And being away and can't see her is everything from whimpers, to cries, to barks, etc. If a baby gate separates them, he gets anxious and starts crying because there's something that is preventing him from being together."

I asked "if there's a baby gate separating, and Ace kicks a fuss, does Owner turn her back to him & waits for him to quiet down before walking over for a pat/treat?" (Answer is pending). I also suggested teaching Ace a command using a dog bed/mat. "Go bed/mat/place." And having him stay there until released, and gradually moving that bed further and further away, also the duration he stays there. Then graduate from that to actual door & leaving practice. What do you guys think? Any other suggestions? Ideas? We really don't want to drug him up.. he's only ~8 months old! Daycare is too expensive for her to do everyday. And she can't leave him with family & friends everyday.
 

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Was this a problem before he came to her? Could it be the reason he was in rescue? Or could the experience of being abandoned by the family he trusted have triggered it? Did it start immediately, or as he bonded with her? I would not immediately discard the idea of medication to help - if he is as anxious as you say he may need help to relax before he is able to respond to efforts to teach him to cope with being alone. I am not sure that any of the standard "wait till he stops crying before responding" methods are going to be of much use with full blown separation anxiety - from the sound of it this is not a pup crying for attention, but one in absolute panic at being parted from his best hope of safety and security. Better to work on staying under threshold, so the fear and panic is not triggered - teeny tiny steps, just as she has for pre-departure cues. This advice: Separation Anxiety may help.
 

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There’s nothing wrong with medication if the dog needs it and nothing else has shown to be effective. I wouldn’t advocate it for all dogs but for the ones who can benefit from it.

fjm brings up an important question about why and where did this behavior begin.

Not all medication is for life. It may allow the dog to be relaxed enough that training can work. If training is consistent and effective medication may be tapered off for some dogs. I’m not sure if one can predict which dogs will need it for life and which need it for awhile to help with training.

I do hope this Owner finds a good trainer and a special veterinarIan called a Behavioralist. This extreme anxiety is not pleasant for the puppy or owner.
 

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Yes, this dog would benefit greatly from a behavioralist, and it’s very likely medication would help, just as it does in humans. In the meantime, has she tried using a clicker to train? Walk away half a step, click if the dog is quiet, then come back. I’m not sure whether she would be enough of an award or not, maybe one of our trainers here could comment on that? Repeat until Owner can walk away, then move to stepping towards a door. Then move towards being in a separate room where he can still hear the click. Owner should also train him to be okay with something obstructing his path to her in the same manner. In addition, she should slowly move him out of her bedroom until he’s sleeping by himself at night. He needs to learn to be independent.
Important; She cannot speak to the dog when she does this. Her voice can and will work him up. She should not try to soothe him in any way if he begins to freak out, just try again a step closer. She should always make sure that she never pushes him above his threshold. Stepping towards him after a freakout can make it so that he thinks that freaking out will make her come back... I’m not quite sure what to do here, in this case, either. Maybe if she didn’t do it frequently, it would be okay?
Also Important: She has to move very, very slowly when doing this. I’m talking not even moving back a whole step at first.
Also Important: If she has to leave for any reason, she needs to make it ridiculously fun. Kongs, peanut butter in a cup, toys, etc. She can leave her voice playing if it helps, but that gradually needs to become the radio or something similar. The idea is to wean him off her.
Also, how long has she been repeating her training? I’m on week 4 or 5 I think of desensitizing Fluffy to other dogs, and while we’ve made great progress, I still cannot have him walk past another dog—and, I wouldn’t expect him to. It takes a long, long time for any type of fear to go away. She is very fortunate, however, in that this dog is younger than most with separation anxiety, and will hopefully progress a little faster.
 

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My girl went through some sudden, scary separation anxiety at 8 months old, in response to some trauma - moving back to my apartment from living with my mom, me starting work again, and me leaving her in an unfamiliar place for 5 hours in the evening. I considered medication, and would have tried it if I couldn't get it undercontrol otherwise.

She started screaming in her crate for hours, trying to bust out, destroying things, etc. I called a few local trainers. Two didn't get back to me. One told me I was wrong, and it wasn't seperation anxiety, she was just spoiled... And one met with me, but only 3 weeks after it all started.

I found the traditional suggestions of giving food before leaving backfired - she got to the point where she wouldn't eat, because she thought that meant I was leaving, as I "betrayed" her trust when I snuck out quietly while she was distracted with an awesome dinner.

I ordered from Amazon and found "I'll be Home Soon" by Patricia McConnell really, really helpful.

I think what I ended up having to teach my dog was to trust that I wouldn't abandon her, and from there, I could work from a place of trust with the definition of abandonment... 1 s, 2s, 3s... 5 min, 10 min of absence.. etc.

Cortisol is the other thing I learned about at that time. The stress hormone that lingers in a dogs system after a traumatic event. I had to reset my life to give her a few days without triggering cortisol so she was in a state where she was able to learn.

I know you said Ace's owner isn't able to pay for doggy daycare long term. Neither am I , but I was able to pay for doggy daycare for a few weeks while I retrained her.

So the first step was a few days where she never lost me. It was fall, so cool, and she had no issues being left in the car. So I went for groceries - she came with me. I went to the doctors office - she came with me, and stayed in the car. The first week, I took her to doggy daycare every single day I worked which I think was good for two reasons 1) it wasn't stressful, as she was never alone and 2) she learned she could have fun without me being there, which i think was good for her confidence. Every night, I worked on desensitizing her to me leaving. I started with working on just approaching the stairs, walking a few steps, then coming back up, sitting at the bottom of the stairs, etc. That weekend, I worked on opening and shutting the door, standing outside the door, sitting outside the door, etc.

I learned, for Annie, it helped if she was NOT in a crate. She'd learned crate = human leaving, so was far more trusting if not crated. Other dogs might think differently.

The second week, she had progressed enough that I only took her to doggy daycare on monday, Wednesday, and friday. Other dogs may take longer, but since I was only working 4 hours, I risked it, and she did ok. I also continued working on her in the evening, and she got to the point that she wasn't all that interested in me leaving in the evening, and I could sneak away for groceries without her. At some point, I taught her a command that helped "Goodbye, be good, you stay here!" called cheerfully as i left. It seemed to guarantee that I would return, and she only stressed if I snuck out without her knowing.

The third week, I took her to doggy daycare on tuesday and thursday. Fourth week, only on Wednesday... At some point, I also started working on relax on a mat, basically training her to relax on command, as she was so, so, very watchful all the time, worried about me disappearing.

Basically - I can't guarantee how long it would take to help Ace. It might take 8 weeks, instead of four. It might take 12 weeks... But if his owner can meet him where he is, and keep him stress free for a week or so, I suspect that she can make some big progress. The book I recommend suggests finding a friend or family member for a few weeks if doggy daycare isn't an option.

If I were her, I'd also work on distance and duration of stays, again, with the promise that "I'll be back soon".

Hope that helps - good luck to Ace, and Ace's owner.
 

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Use a strong refrigerator magnet. Stroke the dog in the air, close to his body. From his forehead down the spine to the tip of the tail. Do this three times. I have been amazed at how well this works.

Do it once. It can be repeated if you wait a few weeks.
 

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Found this thread... this was basically my ongoing journal of trying to retrain Annie to live in apartment, including dealing with the separation anxiety that popped up soon after moving in. I got a lot of great advice and encouragement from the members here.
 

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My first thought was the question fjm asked. Is this residual from life in the home from which Ace went to rescue? I also think that some people and animals just have wiring messed up that they can't reset easily and that medication can be an important tool to help that to occur. I would have "owner" try to find a veterinary behaviorist who will be able to recommend the right medication to enable this dog to learn. Learning can't happen if adrenaline and cortisol are overpowering the thinking learning able part of this sad dog's brain. It will take a huge amount of work (every day, more than once a day work perhaps for more than a year; not trying to be a buzzkill, just a serious realist) to fix these issues up to a point where Ace can have a decent quality of life. Is your friend up for that?
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thank you everyone!!! I will ask her these questions and get back to you all, I did stress that she absolutely had to take the smallest steps possible to set him up for success when training, and that we wanted to keep him below threshold.. also I mentioned she will need a TON of time, patience, and perseverance. She says she's willing!

Another question- what does a strong fridge magnet do? This is the first I heard of this
 

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I will say as a vet tech I have heard lots of owners who have used prozac for dogs/cats with a form of anxiety for a short period of time to help get the dog to relax/understand training for this type of problem. Definitely get another vet opinion on top of the one you already have since the puppy is so young with possibly effects of any type of anxiety medicine. But I would defiantly look into this option, we had an owner bring in a cat for a similar issue. The owner moved in with her husband who had dogs and the cat would get anxious due to unfortunate event with a past dog. So anxious that the cat started to attack the dogs if they entered the same room as her. She was confined to one room of the house and it was not ideal for her to live her entire life in one room anxious. She started on prozac and was slowly re introduced to the dogs over a period of time and lots of work from everyone. This story ends on a happy note as the cat is now comfortable with the dogs and even allows contact while her humans are near, she has been off prozac for a while as well. I really do wish you the best of luck and will say that this forum is a great way to get lots of great ideas.
 

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It sounds like he came with this anxiety problem, it's also the reason he was in the rescue. Apparently he's had 2 separate owners before her. (And they didn't disclose this problem to the rescue?) I asked if she knew prior to adopting, or did the rescue know he had this anxiety.. and the answer was no to both questions. He was adopted at the start of our lock down- which was about 3 months ago. Owner never really left the house.. so I'm not sure if he displayed his anxiety from day 1, or after he bonded.

She did try leaving stuffed Kongs, the radio, TV.. it sounds like she's been working on this for a while now.. so she can finally go to the bathroom without him freaking out, and keys don't bother him much anymore..

Sorry I don't have better answers.. but I will pass on all your advice and experiences! Thank you all! Sounds like Owner will try working on just simple distance & duration first, as well as clicker training. Then if it still fails, she'll try the behavioralist and medication. Hopefully it works out! He's such a young puppy, and seems very good in all other aspects. And I'm thrilled she is willing to try for him! So I really wanted to help her in any way I could. :) Thanks again everyone! I knew I could count on you all for suggestions and experiences!
 

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If it is as severe and deep rooted as you say, then I think she is doing extremely well. I would encourage her to read up about medication, though - it could shorten the time needed considerably, and save them both a lot of anxiety.
 

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Best of luck again to the owner, that's really tough if thats likely why he was surrendered (twice in 8 months,poor thing)... my only other suggestion, as I may not have been clear enough, is to always work from a position of no stress. So if you can go to a doorway, and the dog tenses but doesnt cry, you have pushed it too far. Back off to 3 steps from the doorway, and practice that instead. I made a lot more progress when I learned to stop repeatedly triggering her to be stressed. Someone gave me the advice that if you behave like you have all week to progress (lots of patience), the dog may learn in an hour. If you behave like you have an hour, the dog may take all week.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I will pass it along to her! I agree, she’s doing really well as it is. Ah... that’s really great advice! I like it! 👍 thanks again everyone, I will pass your words along to her. :)
 
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