Dealing with dog Separation Anxiety

Here is a note I received from Chloe‘s new family, followed by my response to their separation anxiety issue:

sweet ChloeMy parents are the proud adoptive parents of Chloe! I am their daughter and live 5 blocks away and I love Chloe too! She has taken to my mom and dad easily. They are active seniors who stay home a lot. I am at their house often. Chloe is doing well and is adjusting quite well to her new home. She is a wonderful dog!!!!! Very smart!

She has only been with them for 4 days. During that time, the only thing we may need some advice on is helping her to separate when my parents leave the house together to go out for breakfast. They are only gone a couple of hours once a week. She has the run of the house. Chloe whines and howls when they are gone. She is not destructive in any way. Is there any way we can help her through this?

Thank you SO much for the update on Chloe! I know many of my readers will be thrilled to hear that she is doing well in your parents’ home. I became really attached to her and would have kept her had my home and heart not been full already, so your words were a comfort to me.

Chloe has been through an incredible amount of change in the past 4 months. She was taken from a hoarders’ home with her 7, one-month old puppies and placed in a shelter for a couple of days. Then she was transported from southern IL to my home where she lived with her pups for another month. On a single day her pups all went to their new homes and was taken to her new home where she lived for 6 weeks. I do not know what happened during that 6 weeks but she was returned to me a totally different dog – fearful, aggressive, distrustful, and extremely afraid of being left alone. She then lived with me for 2 weeks and got her old self back, and then moved into Ruth Ann’s home where she lived until your parents adopted her. All of that change in 4 months. Thinking about it makes ME feel crazy!! So, please be patient with her and go slowly. The fact that she has transitioned so well into your parent’s home speaks to your parent’s home environment and to Chloe’s spirit.

That being said, I do have some practical advice. For the next 3 months I would avoid leaving her alone at any time. If you can stay with her while your parent’s go out for breakfast, that would be great. Or, possibly, they can choose a place with outside seating where dogs are allowed and take her with them. If you think about it, it is only 12 weeks we’re talking about. But I think it will help her immensely.

During that time, I would have your parents “practice” leaving the house. They should do all the things they usually do when they are about to leave – turn off the TV or radio, gather up their keys and coats, turn off lights, open the garage, that sort of thing. Then they should say, “good-bye Chloe, see you soon” and walk out the door. Stand there for a second and walk back in as if nothing had happened and go back about their business. During this entire “practice’ they should completely ignore Chloe (aside from saying that good bye) and should not look at her, touch her, or talk to her more than that one line good bye. After the first week of practice they should extend the time they are outside the door to a full minute. The second week of practice they can try a full 5 minutes and include starting the car and backing out of the driveway. The neighbors will think they are nuts but it really will help!!

The third week they should move to 10 minutes and actually drive the car away, say to your driveway since you’re so close. The 4th week they should go to your house and stay for 15 minutes before coming home. They should continue this, adding about 5 minutes each week until they get to an hour.

Each time they leave they should completely ignore Chloe. I can’t stress that enough. Making the leaving and the returning no big deal is the key here. No talking to her, no looking at her, no petting her, nothing. And do the same on returning – no eye contact or touching or talking to her.

I would suggest this practice be done multiple times (3-5 times) a day during those first weeks when they are only “leaving” for a few moments. As the time increases, say when they reach the 15 minutes mark, they should walk Chloe for a good half an hour to an hour prior to “leaving.” As the amount of time gone increases, the walk becomes more vital. Similarly, as the time gone increases they need only practice once a day.

There will likely be a “magic” number, a length of time she has more trouble tolerating than shorter lengths. Your parents may need to stay at that place for longer than a week until she becomes used to their leaving for this amount of time.

This may sound like a lot of work. It is. Sorry about that. There is no easy fix for something like this. For what it’s worth, Chloe was fine with my leaving prior to her adoption and I think she will become fine again. But it will help her a lot if she is gradually introduced to it so she can build her confidence back up.

I know your mom has a lot of experience living with dogs…what I’ve suggested represents the “best case” scenario for a solution to this problem. However, she knows her life, willingness and capabilities. She should trust her instincts and if they guide her so, she should tailor what I’ve suggested to best meet her needs. I think the vital element here is helping Chloe develop confidence with increasingly longer periods of time apart. This confidence will develop only if she is given the tools (practice, long walks to drain off her energy and get her conditioned to resting) to succeed. It will be a project but I bet before it gets too cold out there she’ll have it licked.

I would love to hear how things progress!! Please keep me posted!


September 8, 2009 • Tags: , • Posted in: advice, behavior, Chloe, story update, training

3 Responses to “Dealing with dog Separation Anxiety”

  1. Karen - September 8th, 2009

    It was so nice to hear that Chloe has found a wonderful home. We have a special place in our hearts for her. Thanks for the update.

  2. Pam - September 20th, 2009

    We are so happy to hear the update on Chloe. She does have a special place in our hearts also. We wish you all the best with her. It looks like our Koda is growing to look just like his mama. Please keep in touch.

  3. The Daily Reviewer - September 21st, 2009


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