By: Ali Legros, Rural Dog Rescue
Separation Anxiety, or SA to those living it, is one of the top reasons a dog gets returned to a shelter or a rescue and it can be fixed but requires time and effort. Here is my survivor's tale, that has lived to see the end, or almost the end of SA--- most days.
We brought Crimmy into our home and she was a skinny bag of bones with a bloody happy tail. This dog had our hearts instantly. We nursed her back to health and she quickly became a member of our family. Then the notes started; "Your dog barks all day. Please leave your dog responsibly. Love, Your Neighbors" We felt the love and Crimmy felt the anxiety. Crimmy was stressed the moment we left her in her crate. She'd bark, chew the bars, and even try to escape. That's when my SA journey began. We learned through Crimmy, that SA is VERY common and can be fixed with consistent training, rewards, time, and patience. SA can manifest itself in many forms: crating chewing, barking, and destruction, are the most common traits. See my life below.
Things We Learned By Accident:
1. Exercise is key. A tired pup is a happy pup. A brisk walk before you leave will certainly help.
2. Crates= happiness! Give awesome treats when putting your dog in the crate. Feed all meals in the crate. Begin the crate training process by putting your dog in the crate with said awesome treat for 1 min. while you are there. When your pup comes out, away the awesome treat goes. Begin building up time in the crate, with you present, until they feel totally comfortable. A nap= success.
3. Once your dog is comfortable in the crate with you present, begin leaving your dog in the crate for 1 min and leave your home. Return and praise! Keep giving the awesome treats and then taking them away upon your return. If your dog barks or scratches, start over. You do not want them to panic. If you can leave your dog in the crate with you outside of your home for up to an hour, you've done it.
4. If your dog is like Crimmy, who loathed the crate, sometimes space is what they need. Repeat tip 3 just remove the crate. Sometimes a crate can represent everything that dog went through in their past and simply leaving them out will do wonders. If not, then there are drugs.
To Sedate or not to Sedate?
Disclaimer! Drug therapy should be discussed and prescribed by your veterinarian! Sometimes, the training isn't enough. Sometimes you need a little herbal or pharmacological help to support your training. There are many natural products on the market aimed to "calm" your pup. For us, those didn't work. If your dog has severe SA i.e. self injury, your dog may need something a little more potent. We consulted with our awesome vet, Dr. Gross, (shout out Union vet!) who prescribed Crimmy the 5 o'clock cocktail she needed to be a less stressed dog over all.
Not all dogs need drugs, and not all dog owners want to medicate their dogs. We chose medication because for us, the idea of Crimmy being stressed and the impact that had on her body outweighed her taking a daily pill.
In conclusion, SA can be treated. SA is difficult. SA will bring you and your dog closer together, you just have to stick it out. After all, they'd do it for you.
Ali is the Vice President of Rural Dog Rescue and adopted Crimmy in 2014 from Rural Dog Rescue. She lives with her boyfriend Sean, and Crimmy in the Navy Yard.