My 1 year-olds, Sadie (human) and Wally (dog), both suffer from separation anxiety. It should be just a phase for Sadie, but I think Wally was abandoned when he was a puppy so it may be something he carries with him his whole life. I’m trying to help them cope and here’s what has worked and what hasn’t.
What Has Worked
During times when I’m not planning on leaving for a while, I give Wally lots of attention and love. I’ve even taught Sadie how to rub his belly and kind of throw (drop) his toys. When I am about to leave the apartment, I don’t make it a big deal. I simply put him in his crate and calmly say “We’ll be back soon.” This has helped him rest in his crate for at least 1-2 hours with no problems when I’m gone and when I get home he’s not too needy.
I also take Wally out to the dog park and on a long walk every day. This helps him get all of his energy out since he’s a bigger dog and still has a lot of puppy energy! I try to leave the apartment after one of these outdoor excursions so Wally feels worn out instead of jittery while in the crate.
Anytime I need to leave Sadie, I try not to draw it out. I say goodbye in a fun, upbeat way with “See ya later alligator, after a while crocodile,” and then I quickly get out. This way she doesn’t get any sense from me that she should worry about me leaving.
What Hasn’t Worked
This past week I discovered Wally’s idea of me being gone a “long time” is anything over 3 hours. As I mentioned, normally I’ll go out with Sadie for 1-2 hours a day and Wally stays happily in his crate with some chew toys. On Wednesday, I had 3 job interviews and had to drop Sadie off at my mom’s so I was gone for 5 1/2 hours. Apparently that was “too long.”
For some background: When we first got Wally’s crate, I would close it and put a padlock on the door to keep him from getting out. I did this because when I bought the crate, the salesperson told me the one complaint some customers had was that dogs could figure out how to get out. Wally never broke out without the padlock so I got lazy and stopped using it. On the day of my interviews, I briefly thought about using the padlock but in my hurry I figured “Nah, he’ll be fine.” Hindsight is 20/20 right?
After my interviews, I got home and as I started to unlock the door I heard Wally bark. It sounded too close to the door and I thought “That’s odd.” I opened the door and there’s Wally, happily greeting me outside of his crate. At first, I didn’t react because I had a lot of stuff in my hands but inside I was going “OH NO.” I set my stuff down and then saw Wally had put himself back in his crate, where a pair of my husband’s favorite shoes also happened to be, completely torn up. I gasped. He already felt like he had done something wrong (as evidenced by confining himself to the crate and looking extremely guilty). To confirm his suppositions, I took the shoes out, showed them to him and said “no” in a firm voice.
Then, I walked into the bedrooms to make sure he hadn’t gotten in there. He had. And it was way worse. Shreds of things were strewn everywhere. He’d destroyed a few of Sadie’s toys, had tried ripping up another pair of my husband’s shoes, and had successfully ruined my new pair of Sperry’s that had replaced the last pair he chewed. I think that hit home the most. I was mad. I went back to him and showed him the shoes, told him “no” again, and had to work really hard not to yell at him. I couldn’t scare the poor dog. He clearly was “punishing us” for leaving him because none of our furniture was destroyed, just our things. Now the padlock has been reinstated. I won’t underestimate my little escape artist again!
On the same Wednesday (clearly a shining moment for me as a mom), I put Sadie down at my mom’s because my job interviews were scheduled during her afternoon nap. I figured it would be easier to put her down myself and then sneak out. Rookie mistake.
My mom said Sadie was fine when she woke up and she was great when my husband picked her up, but when she got home and saw me, she had a meltdown. Although she can’t talk, it was clear she was yelling at me. She was miserable the rest of the night and then couldn’t fall asleep. After doing some online research I realized she was probably afraid to go to sleep because she feared she’d wake up and I’d be gone again. 😦 I learned to try not to step out when your baby is sleeping if you’ll be gone when they wake up.
Have any stories or advice about separation anxiety? Feel free to leave them in the comments section!