Canine Behavior/Severe Separation Anxiety
We have a seven month old Beagle/German Shepherd mixed male whom we adopted when he was four months old. Shortly after, we started having issues when we left the house. We tried leaving him out, but he destroyed the house…countless times. We then tried stuffing Kong toys as our vet suggested. We got the same result. Everything was chewed and there was urine and feces everywhere (He's house trained).
We tried making leaving/arriving not a big deal. We'd do the same routine to get him prepared every time before leaving, including taking him for a walk. He still would start whining as soon as we got ready to leave, would run back and forth between windows as soon as we walked out the door, barked non stop, took off with our shoes while trying to put them on, and even nipped at me the other day.
We then tried confining him to one room of the house. He chewed everything in there along with the molding on the walls and even the grout on the floor!
So, sadly, we decided he had had enough chances and we began crating him. We cannot put water in the crate as he dumps it and chews the container to bits. He then poops and has to lie in his feces until we return. He even presses his face against the door so hard he cuts his nose and above his eyes open. I feel so bad, but I don't know what else to do. He has destroyed thousands of dollars worth of stuff and I really don't want to medicate him or re-home him. He's a difficult puppy and I'm scared if we give him up he'll bounce from house to house. I really love this dog but is there anything we can do to get our sanity back?!
Unfortunately, this dog appears to actually need medication while you are actively conducting a behavior modification protocol I will post at the close of this answer. Remember: even people sometimes need help from medication, this does not mean the dog will have to take it forever (nor should he). The type of separation anxiety you describe is over the "top", especially the injury he does to himself in the crate (and I do understand why you are crating him, a dog that size can destroy a room in fifteen minutes). First: find a veterinary behaviorist. This is an expert in treating behavior problems who will know exactly which medication will work the best, and will followup (with blood work, most likely involving your veterinary generalist). When the dog's behavior has turned around (when, not if: yes, this can be fixed, but it won't be easy and it will take time), this veterinary team will help you wean the dog off the medication. You can find a veterinary behaviorist from the following sites or by calling the veterinary college in your geographical area. Some travel will most likely be required. There is no choice here:
Unfortunately, your response to arriving home to a disaster scenario has affected the dog in a manner that he now fears your arrival and fears your leave taking. This is NOT your fault! We are human. Even if we don't say anything, or point to the shredded couch, our body language is tense when we open the door knowing we will find something we wish we did not. That body language immediately communicates to the dog. Let me give you a for instance: my Toy Poodle recently required dentistry (teeth are awful things lol). She needed an extraction. The vet gave me some "Recovery" (canned dog food) to feed her while the extraction site heals. Unfortunately, she hated the stuff. So I went back to her regular food but added a little bit of very hot water and let it sit so the food was moist and easy to chew. BUT....the Recovery gave her diarrhea. Last night I woke up and she wasn't in bed with me, this is an all time first! I knew immediately she had an "accident" somewhere and was isolating herself because her former owners (I rescued her at age two) must have demonstrated great anger and frustration when she pooped in the house. I called her and she came back to bed but when I got up she refused to leave the bedroom and sure enough there was diarrhea in several places in the living room. No big deal, I just cleaned it up, never said a word or even looked at her. Poor little dog has a conditioned response to the presence of feces (and most likely urine, also) in the living space even after having lived with me now for almost SEVEN years!
This is called response perseverance. The medication will help the dog to be calmer. The behavior modification protocol will slowly teach the dog emotional independence. YOU must do something "totally different" when you enter the home. Make a conscious effort, put a smile on your face (even if you're screaming inside from the mess you have to clean up), walk in and sing a little song, be VERY UPBEAT and when you let the dog out of the crate have a short "party" before taking it out.
Here is the protocol. Remember, this will take time, but it does work.
::::::::::::::::::::::::::: start source, Jill Connor, Ph.D.:::::::::::::::::::::
1. You can create an emotional independence in the dog by conditioning a "time out" article.
Simply place the chosen article (something you don’t use for any other purpose, like an odd garden statue) in full view of the dog every day for thirty minutes to one hour and call a "time out", during which you actively ignore the dog. When you remove the article, reward the dog with praise, but don’t overdo it. Over the course of two weeks, your dog will begin to recognize the article and begin to acknowledge your unavailability (many dogs go to a corner to lie down, or their favorite couch spot, etc.) Once you observe your dog’s recognition of the article, put it in plain sight about ten minutes before leaving the house (but NOT in the room the dog is confined to, the dog will lose its conditioned response.) In other words, use the article as a CUE to the dog that you are not available.
2. Make your dog earn everything for about one month, including pats, entering/leaving the home, etc. (This is called “Nothing in life is free”.) You will be promoting yourself psychologically, which will help the dog to feel calmer.
3. Purchase Turid Rugaas' book, “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming signals” or go to her web site http://www.canis.no/rugaas/index.php
. Observe the dog’s behaviors before you depart to determine if your departure rituals are creating anxiety. Use calming signals just before leaving the house WITHOUT saying “goodbye” to the dog (which can set the dog up for emotional distress.) Dogs instantly respond to these signals and you’ll begin to see that response immediately.
4. Change your departure rituals so you do not inadvertently "cue" your dog. This means doing things differently EVERY day during treatment (which should last about two to four weeks.) If you put your coat on last, put your coat on five minutes before you actually leave the house; if you pick up your keys last, put them in your pocket ten minutes before leaving the house, etc. Again, given two weeks (at least) of this treatment, along with the others, your dog’s extreme sensitivity to your departure rituals should diminish and/or extinguish. When you RETURN home, ignore the dog for a few seconds, and then ask the dog to “sit” and acknowledge him/her; keep your homecoming attention short and sweet. If there is any destruction around (torn objects, etc.) IGNORE IT. What you don’t want is the dog to fear your RETURN as much as s/he fears your leave taking.
5. Do not allow the dog free “run” of the house when you are gone; this places a heavy emotional burden to “protect” on the dog, and might increase stress (which accounts for excessive barking!) Put the dog in a protected space (kitchen, well ventilated and spacious laundry area, etc., NOT the basement or the garage). Keep “special” toys there the dog doesn’t have at any other time, like a “kong” with a ½ teaspoon of peanut butter, a Buster Cube which holds a portion of the dog's daily food and which the dog will roll around to obtain it, a squeaky toy, etc. The dog will begin to anticipate this treat and associate it with your leaving the house. Leave a radio playing (on soft music or calm talk shows) and a light on when you are not home, and if possible move your answering machine (at full volume) into the room with the dog and leave your dog "messages" during the day.
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::: end source ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Please use followup for any further questions. You are wise, you understand re-homing is not an option here, and you are caring. Two things that suggest to me you have great character. Stick to it, do your best, no one can ask for more than that.