Doggone It! Separation Anxiety

This probably won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, but Justin and I kind of dig our dog, Brody. He’s adorable, affectionate, and playful, and he makes us laugh no less than 8 times per day.

Seriously, the hound has a sense of humor for days, as evidenced by this snapshot of him stepping on a cat as a puppy.


It’s what won us over back in September of 2010 and we’ve never had one ounce of regret for adopting him, sight unseen, through Petfinder.

All of that being said, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing with BMoney. As happy and carefree as he might come across on the blog, he’s actually downright neurotic, or as a dog walker that we hired for a day once said, “quirky.” The funny part about that is, while I won’t hesitate to call him a weirdo, I took offense when she said it. Sure, he’s a loon, but he’s our loon and he’s marvelous. You know, except for when he’s not marvelous, and then he’s an a-hole.

But I digress.

It’s true, Brody has some quirks, like his curious combination of bravado (barking and growling at the slightest noise if I’m home alone with him) and complete cowardice (cowering behind us at the sight of a trash can that we walk by every day). Or his oblivion regarding personal space, which makes sitting on the couch with his cheek pressed against mine a common occurrence. Good luck going to sleep without him lying on your legs – it doesn’t matter that it couldn’t possibly be comfortable for him, either. Get on board, because it’s happening.

The biggest “quirk” of Brody’s that we’ve had to deal with is his separation anxiety. Every since we brought him home as a puppy, he has had a real issue with being alone. He didn’t get destructive like dogs sometimes do, but he did bark the entire time that we were gone. Aside from it being heartbreaking that he was so upset, the barking proved to be a problem because we lived in an apartment building that had thin walls and our neighbors made it clear that the barking was getting a hair disruptive via some passive-aggressive notes taped to our door. As a natural born worrier, I was upset by the whole situation and did a ton of research on methods for curing separation anxiety, so I thought I would outline a few tricks that worked for us in hopes that it can help some fellow dog owners who find themselves in a similar boat.

Note: I’m not a professional dog trainer (obviously – if I was, Brody would be better behaved), so my tips aren’t anything more than me sharing what worked for us.

Work on building up your dog’s independence. As tempting as it is to spend all of your time hugging your puppy and telling him how handsome he is, control yourself and give him some space. While you’re in the house, put him in a separate room with some toys for a little while a couple of times a day so that he gets used to being on his own. That way he’ll still be able to hear that you’re home, and he’ll learn that it’s not the end of the world if he’s not glued to your hip. If you spend all of your time playing with him, it’s going to come as a shock when, all of a sudden, you leave the house for a few hours and he finds himself completely solo.

I’ll admit that this was probably our downfall. Justin was home the entire first week that we had Brody and, as a result, Brody was never alone. Once Justin went back to work, Brody assumed that we had abandoned him and let his feelings known. After we had been tearing our hair out for a few months trying to solve the problem, we started calmly putting Brody in the bedroom and closing the door and going about our business; we would make sure he could hear us talking and watching TV and after a few minutes of whining, he would start playing with his toys and forget about us. After a while, we started leaving the apartment and then coming right back, and then we gradually increased the amount of time that we spent gone and Brody just seemed to get used to it.

Get some tough puzzle toys for your dog to play with while you’re gone. We have had great luck with toys like the Kong Wobbler, the Bristle Bone, Classic Kongs, and plain old Red Barn bones. The good thing about these toys is that you can stuff them with food or smear the inside with peanut butter and it will take your dog a little while to get to the treat. Make it a special treat that he only gets when you’re going to be leaving, never when you’re home; if you give it to him right before you leave the house, he might just be distracted enough to not notice that you’re gone. A tip for the Kongs: tape the small hole at the top and then fill it with peanut butter, apple sauce, yogurt, honey – any dog-friendly treat – and then toss it in the freezer for a few hours before giving it to your dog (remember to remove the tape first!). This will buy you even more time since it will be that much harder to get the frozen treat out of the toy.

Keep the radio or TV on while you’re gone for some background noise. This might trick your hound into thinking that someone is still in the house, or at the very least it will help to drown out some outside noise that might otherwise get your dog riled up. We used to keep the radio on NPR while we were gone until we started to suspect that Brody was better educated than us. You can’t have a dog that is more up-to-date on current affairs than you, you lose all credibility.

Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise. If your dog is nice and tired, he will be more likely to sleep the day away instead of pacing the house, waiting for you to come home. We try to run Brody around as much as possible if we know that we’ll be away for a while (or if we have people coming over to visit – he’s better behaved when he’s tired, too).

-Look into a dog walker or doggy day care in your area. I know that it’s not an option for everyone, but if you drop your dog off at a doggy day care (some day care groups even pick up at your house!) or if you can have someone come over during the day to take your hound for a walk, it might take the edge off of being home alone for the day. We are lucky enough to live near my patient, Brody-loving parents who were willing to keep him at their house during the day or to come over and walk him.

Use drugs. For the dog, not for you. And I’m not condoning crushing up a few Benadryl into your dog’s food or anything, so you can end that phone call to Dog Protective Services. Rescue Remedy is a natural stress relieving product that will calm your dog’s nerves without any harmful side effects. The reviews are mixed on the product – some people said it worked wonders, some say that it didn’t do much of anything – but for $10-$15, it’s worth a shot. We used it for Brody when we drove home from Florida and it seemed to take the edge off a little bit.

A lot of dog owners and dog trainers recommend crate-training your dog, and it’s a great idea for most dogs. It keeps your dog out of trouble while you’re gone, helps tremendously with house training, and, in many cases, your dog will feel more comfortable having a safe little den to call home. I wish I could say that that was the case for Brody, but it just wasn’t. Brody never learned to love his crate, as hard as we tried. He never got comfortable in it and we noticed a huge difference in his separation anxiety once we let him out of the crate and kept him cooped up in our bedroom instead. Keeping him in his crate during the day was necessary when we were house training him, but beyond that, our crate has gone pretty much unused ever since.

Dealing with a dog with separation anxiety is stressful and hard on everyone, people and hounds alike. Using a combination of the tips above have helped a ton, and though Brody still gets anxious when we leave the house, he is leaps and bounds beyond where he used to be. I hope these tips help anyone out there who is going through a similar situation – it’s tough, but stick with it!