Many of us, myself included, have one or more dogs who suffer from separation anxiety to varying degrees. I have a rescue dog named Joe who has spent the last 7 years of his life alone in a dirt dog run. Rain, snow, sun…he was alone and he had no shelter. He was cold and hungry and lonely and afraid. That’s the life he has known before coming to live with us. Now he lives indoors with our other 3 dogs. He sleeps on a huge faux leather sofa all day. He’s warm, he’s cozy, he’s got plenty of food and water but Joe is afraid.
Joe is afraid of loud noises, new people, new objects and many other every day things a normal dog in your average house has to deal with. But he especially freaks out when we leave the house. Even though all of his needs are met and there are 3 other dogs in the house. When we leave Joe freaks out to the point that he tore our dog crate apart, broke a window screen, jumped a 5 foot cinder block wall and ran out into the busy streets of Los Angeles looking for me while I was away for 1 hour having lunch with a friend. Joe is a large dog and 10 years old, he’s no spring chicken, so jumping a 5 foot cinder block wall was not even something I thought he could do at this age. It was horrifying for me, so I can only imagine the terror that drove him to accomplish feats.
Luckily a woman was able to capture him (God knows how she did it) and he was back home within the hour. It’s heart breaking to think that the simple act of us leaving the house for a short time causes him such distress, and it’s unrealistic for us to spend the rest of our lives at home.
First of all it was obvious that we had to invest in a more substantial dog crate. The regular kind was not secure enough for him. He was able to bend the door back and open and somehow knocked it open while bending it and rendering the crate unusable.
A friend who does rescue work suggest we get the ProSelect Empire Dog Cage. It is not cheap. It’s expensive but we decided to make the investment because knowing that Joe is safe when we go out means everything to us. I wouldn’t even be able to relax if I didn’t know my dogs were all safe at home.
This crate is no joke. On top of being expensive it’s huge and unattractive. It looks like we are housing circus animals, but we are hoping that in a year our new dog won’t need to be in the cage every time we go out. The cage is very solid and sturdy. It doesn’t feel like a crate, it doesn’t rattle or move around. The bars are smooth and far apart so he cant’ get his nails suck in the small bars. The wheels lock into place and they do not move, yet there are wheels to help you move the cage from room to room with ease.
We placed a large dog bed in the crate, laid a blanket over the cage to make it dark and secluded and spent a week putting him into the cage for a few minutes at a time, handing him treats, and then opening the door and letting him out with lots of love and praise. Now he loves his new cage and sleeps in it at night with the door open all on his own. This is such a relief to us. We just want him to be happy. (And no I am not being paid to talk about this cage, when you need it, you need it and that’s all there is to it.)
Coaxing Joe into the cage when he knows we are about to go out isn’t easy. Once he sees shoes going on our feet, or me grabbing my purse, the jig is up. So now I put Joe in the cage about 10 minutes before I’m actually planning on leaving, sometimes 30 minutes before I leave. Before I have given him any hint or indication that I’m planning on leaving the house. That way I can go back and visit him in the cage (which is in our bedroom) a few times and hand him treats and reassure him before we actually walk out the door.
When it’s time to go into the cage I call all of the dogs over for treats in the kitchen or living room area and then get a hold of Joe’s collar. Sometimes I pull out a dog leash and he comes to me and I clip it on and walk him back to the crate. He seems to willing go anywhere when there is a leash on him. I never shove or force him into the cage. I always do it in a calm and relaxed way. If he pulls away from me, I stop and I pet him and reassure him, and when he relaxes we continue to the cage. When he gets into the cage he gets treats. The bars on the cage are wide and I can stick my hands in and pet him and give him live while he’s in the cage. I do that often.
I turn the TV on a low volume before I leave so he has the sounds of people talking (but not a blasting TV) and I leave the lights on in the room the cage is in. I try to make the atmosphere as cheerful and comforting as possible.
He’s lived with us for about 4 months now and I am finally starting to leave Joe out of the crate for short 5 minute time periods. I go outside and I back the car out of the driveway, go around the block and come back home. I set up a camera in the hallway one time and I can see that when we leave he is pacing around looking for us but I keep his time alone short (5 minutes) and I get home and hand out treats and affection before he can get into any trouble.
I’m going to continue to increase my time away to 10 minutes and am hoping that by the end of the year we will be able to go out to dinner and Joe will be able to roam freely in the house with the other dogs, but it’s a work in progress.
We’ll see how it goes.
One day at a time when you have a dog with sever separation anxiety.