So, one of reasons I set up this blog was to have a place to log our progress on separation anxiety / isolation distress front. We need to do the full diagnostic with nanny cams and all that, but we’ve already got some clear ideas of the situation. Even though Spencer is perfectly house-trained, we’ve come home to a some nasty surprises on the occasions we’ve tried to leave him alone (except for once when we thought the problem had magically resolved itself and we later realized he was in too much pain from his punctured eye to protest). When we tried crating him to see if that would help (since he happily spends the better part of every day in his crate and gets through the night without leaving), he even had an accident in his bed, which goes against a dog’s natural instinct not to soil the place he sleeps. So we know this is a genuine problem.
The first order of business is to sort out Spencer’s “Alone Zone”. There aren’t a lot of options in our small house. We’ve tried the kitchen in the past, but that hasn’t proven very successful. Access to his bed seems important, so the living room has to be included. And he seems to be one of these dogs for whom seeing the door we leave from is important. So, until we can get a baby gate for the doorway between the kitchen and the entry hall, it looks like the entry hall also needs to be part of the zone.
Luckily, Spencer doesn’t get destructive when he’s anxious. Other than chewing up the bathroom garbage a couple of times, the only two major incidents we had seem to have been accidents. During one of his first panic attacks (when we were both actually in the house, but both inaccessible), he tried to pick up my tablet computer and bit down to grip it, which shattered the glass (all hail Lenovo: IT STILL WORKS). And then on another occasion, he knocked a ceramic serving dish off the table, but that was probably because the edge of his Cone of Shame caught on it. (We are SO glad to be done with cones, for so many reasons!)
Anyway, back to days 1 & 2 of the Separation Anxiety (SA) program.
Yesterday, I went out 3 times. The first time, I left for 2 minutes. That went so well that I left for 5 the next. He was still pretty calm. However, I realized that I hadn’t taken my handbag or worn my jacket, and he’s seen me pop out to the mailbox or to take the garbage out before. So the third time, I put on my jacket, took my purse, etc. This time, I had given him a dental stick before leaving. By the time I came back five minutes later, he was at the bottom of the kitchen steps barking (he knows that my office is upstairs, or rather that I spend a lot of time upstairs). The stairs are normally accessible when we are there (although he makes no attempt to go up…more on that in another article), and we have a baby gate at the bottom when we’re gone (which I’ve started closing sometimes when we’re there so it doesn’t become a sign of eminent departure). Anyway, this third time, he was clearly concerned that I was gone, but not panicking. Plus he had eaten the entire dental bar. Good signs.
Today, I only got out twice. The first time I left for just over four minutes. By the time I got back, Spencer was barking, but almost immediately was perfectly Zen. The second time, he followed me to the door and started barking within about 15 seconds of my leaving. Since the point is not to let him get to a state of panic, but to gradually let him realize I always come back (and to keep the times random enough that he doesn’t pick up on the patterns), I went back in after just two minutes. He was much more concerned with my return this time: sniffing me thoroughly to make sure that I was OK. He settled down fairly quickly, but less so that earlier in the day.