Ray’s Separation Anxiety

We realized that Ray had developed separation anxiety within a short time of him moving in with us in 2013. We have had various attempts at teaching him that he can survive without us for a short while, but whereas each attempt has been successful to some degree, there has always been “diversions” that were more important to resolve (it’s all in his book!). With a serious case of separation anxiety such as Ray, any significant break in the training program virtually dictates starting from the beginning all over again.

Ray’s situation is complicated further because of his reservations with people which limits our “dog sitter” option to one individual. Needless to say, Carol and I have not had a life without Ray for just over three years now and while we are not complaining (we love his company), it is in his interests to establish a comfort level without us. He made need to stay over at the vets some time in the future!

This past week, as the weather was a little more congenial, we started once again on his training to relax and chill out while we were away.ย ย  For anybody who has not had the pleasure (?) of working with separation anxiety, it has to be dealt with in really baby steps.

Dogs are very routine driven, and are very cognizant of not only their schedules and habits, but also of yours. In our situation, as soon as Ray sees us putting shoes on, he knows that we are going out and typically he comes with us. To teach him that it is quite alright for us to leave him behind is where the problems start!

Separation anxiety training for Ray therefore starts with putting our shoes on; touch the door handle, and then taking our shoes off. This is extended to turning the handle; to opening the door just a little; to closing it and taking our shoes off. This then progresses through to opening the door wide; to us going through it; to closing it behind us; to leavingย  for a few seconds; to leaving for a few more seconds etc. The build up is very slow and Ray must always be monitored as, once he loses his composure, the training has to wait and the time away very slowly built up again.

Yesterday (April 25), we managed to walk just beyond our neighbor’s property which meant that Ray was on his own for a little over 60 seconds and, while he was not particularly happy about it, he managed to stay calm!

The biggest problem is simply impatience. It is so easy to think, let’s try him for five minutes, and then 15 minutes… but it is a total gamble, and Ray’s sense of security and potential health are the stakes. Dogs have been known to eat through doors, walls, and jump through glass windows in order to find theirย  owners. They have also been known to lose all self control and tear furniture apart and, in some cases, mutilate themselves. Who could possibly want to risk putting their dog through those kinds of circumstances?

So we are currently at 60 secs and, by the end this week, we could be at perhaps 2 minutes… or even more! Exciting eh! Who knows, we may be able to go to the store without him by the end of May… but that may be a little optimistic! ๐Ÿ™‚

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23 thoughts on “Ray’s Separation Anxiety

  1. Since I have errands to run, and can’t leave him home by himself, I take him with me in the car. The car has now become his security blanket. Of course this means that I take advantage of the 24 hour grocery stores when the summers reach 90 plus degrees. Thank goodness for mail order too. Amazing how many things you can order online. I am one of those owners who have had door molding taken off, walls eaten, and Yule jumped out a couple of screens when he saw a dog passing the house. My latest technique is to use a baby gate at the front door. He can see me working outside but can’t be near me. He eventually just leaves the front door area and goes and finds another place in the house to hang out. I am very fortunate to have a pet sitter, Rob, who understands Yule and has worked with Yule in trying to get him to accept other dogs. It has been 15 months but I feel we are making some progress.

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    • Hi Maria – That all sounds very familiar, but we were fortunate in that we recognized Ray’s issues before he destroyed anything! We do have one sitter (one of his trainers at the humane society), but she is not always available when we would like her. As you obviously know, progress is rather slow… but it is still progress. We have had Ray for just over 3 years now and, while we have addressed many issues in that time, we still have the separation anxiety issue. He’s worth it and, as somebody once said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”!

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  2. Soon after I rescued Logan, the Vet diagnosed him with Severe Separation Anxiety. His destructive tendencies whenever I left the house were significant. We opted to put him on a very low dose of Fluoxetine (Prozac) which he stayed on for one year. It made a big difference in terms of gradually easing him into a new home and environment. Once I added Bailey (Miss Low Key) to the family, all has balanced out even more.

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    • Hi Eric – Thx for your comments. Ray has been (still is) on anxiety medication. This started while he was at the humane society as he was not adjusting too well to being in a very limited space, with other dogs in close proximity and people continually walking past and staring. We have contemplated getting him a “friend” however, have been advised against it by the trainers that worked with him to make him adoptable. While a more secure dog could help influence him, there is apparently a greater chance that we could end up with two dogs with separation anxiety! He gave us almost 2 minutes of freedom today, which is a sizable increase from the recent 60 secs!

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  3. Patience! You said it. With any anxious dog it is the most important thing you can give them. I am confident that you will manage to extend your time away from Ray, realising that there will be set backs along the way and it will seem like 2 steps forward 3 back sometimes. But you will get there.
    You have come so far already with him. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. Good luck! Sounds like you’re on the right track. For Chance, one of his triggers was my car keys. To this day even though his separation anxiety is much better, he hears the keys and he runs to find me, hoping that he gets to go along for the ride.

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    • Hi Erika: Since adopting Ray, and given the many challenges (some serious) that he has presented, we have talked with numerous trainers; a dog behaviorist, and read a number of books and research papers on various aspects of dog behavior. The separation anxiety training we are applying is well known in those circles.
      As I have noted in an earlier Post, anybody who thinks that training a dog is intuitive, is totally delusional. Sadly those delusions can surface later with behavioral issues which may well be regrettable. I can never stress too much the importance of talking to professionals for guidance with training.

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      • I totally understand that. There are so many more experienced people who can give the necessary advice to have a wonderful relationship and time with those buddies together. It is a big responsibility and I am sure many don’t take it serious!

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  5. Baby steps and patience. As you say, to assume full success too early could have a negative effect. Good luck. We’ve never left Maggie overnight with anyone, and only on a couple of occasions with someone else during the day. We have a similar test coming up.

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