In April of 2016 on my way home from a quick visit to town, I stopped at a house just a couple of miles from home to let the homeowner know that their puppy was about to get out on the road where it could be hit. It turned out, like so many of my other innocent trips out over the years, that was the day my timing of being out coincided with a dog that desperately needed saving.
Another day, another dog comes along
The homeowner was an elderly gentleman who said the dog had shown up a few days before with another small black dog. He thought they had probably been dumped, and while the black dog had moved on, the little brown and white terrier puppy had stayed at his house. He hadn’t fed it because he didn’t want it and didn’t want it to stick around. Even though I already had 10 cats and dogs at home, I couldn’t leave that poor little baby there in those circumstances, so I brought her home. After several days and deliberation, I named her Ruby.
The thing about taking in cats and dogs that just show up or that you take in is that you never know when or what you are bringing home. All I knew about Ruby was that she was young, a small breed, which I had no experience at all with, and had been accompanied by another dog that for some reason, had left her behind. Even though I left my number with the man in case the black dog came back after unsuccessfully driving around the area looking for it, I sort of hoped it had found a safe home of its own. (For those concerned, I checked back in with the homeowner a short time later and it had.)
My first case ever of separation anxiety
I wasn’t sure if Ruby was potty trained, destructive, or had any other bad behaviors I wasn’t aware of in the few hours we’d been getting acquainted before bedtime. To make sure the night went smoothly, I dug out the large kennel I’d gotten for Abby, my Labrador, when she was a puppy.
After putting Ruby in the kennel with some towels to lay on in case she had any accidents, and setting it up right next to the bed facing us, I was sure, based on how she’d done all evening, that she’d be fine. She was not. She whimpered and whined most of the night, despite our reassurances that she was okay and that we were right there. At one point, she got so upset that she made herself sick.
Luckily, the first night was the worst and while Ruby never got so upset she made herself sick again, it quickly became obvious that she did not like being alone, in the kennel or not. During the day, she was like glue to my side, wanting to be near me or within sight of me at all times.
Trial and error
On the few occasions when I had to leave during the day, I’d put her in her kennel with her toys and tell her “it’s bedtime”, like we did at night to let her know it was only temporary. Unfortunately, she was not easily tricked and would be whining and scratching at the wire door to get out before I even walked out the door.
Since having another older dog to show them the ways around here had worked well for all my previous rescues, I kept hoping that Ruby would see and follow Abby’s lead. Abby has no issue being alone in the house while I’m gone, so I thought she’d be a positive influence on Ruby. Unfortunately, seeing Abby sleeping on a nearby bed did nothing to make Ruby’s separation anxiety any less.
Even though she was fine in her kennel at night, Ruby was destructive in it when I had to leave during the day for a couple of hours those first two months. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her unsupervised with a bully stick I’d often give her to chew on to keep her busy while I tried to work, and she just ignored her plush toys I’d put in the kennel with her. Instead, she’d tear up any type of towel or mat I put in the kennel for her to lay on.
After Ruby shredded two mats I’d bought for her to lay on, I decided, based on how attached to me she was, maybe giving her something that smelled like me would help her stay calm. It would also be less painful to my eyes and wallet to see torn up. Luckily, I had an old bed pillow that I was no longer using that I was keeping for dog-related use.
To my somewhat surprise, after putting Ruby and the pillow in the kennel and leaving for a short trip to town one day, I returned to find the pillow was unharmed. We’d finally had a breakthrough.
Tweaking what worked
About three months after I took her in, Ruby went into heat. Because she was still small enough to fit through the cat door, still not completely housetrained, and one of the most stubborn/determined dogs I’d ever taken in, I didn’t trust her to be loose in the house when I wasn’t looking.
During times when I needed to be out in the yard or garage or out of her sight, I’d put Ruby in her kennel for a little while. By this time, we’d settled into a routine and I’d moved her kennel into the dining room so we could do practice sessions while I was still home and she could see everything going on. Looking back, I think this was a very important part of her becoming accustomed to being in her kennel at times other than at night.
Between the pillow with my scent on it and the short kennel durations, Ruby was able to overcome her anxiety of being alone. It’s now been a few years and Ruby has continued to be fine going into and staying in her kennel for extended periods of time without any issue. She still fits on and has my old bed pillow that we wash every week, but it no longer has to smell like me to keep her calm when I have to step out.
Most popular separation anxiety solutions
Having personally dealt with a dog with separation anxiety and seeing so many other dog owners struggle, I decided to share all of the most common tips and products I’ve had success with and seen shared by other owners who have managed to get their dog’s separation anxiety under control. They are actually pretty easy things.
Exercise. Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise, especially before you leave. This is especially important if your dog is super energetic, like Ruby’s breed, a jack russell terrier type. A tired dog is a calmer dog.
A reminder of you. Use an old t-shirt or pillow that you’ve used/worn/or rubbed on yourself to give it your scent. In Ruby’s case, that’s really all she needed to feel ok being left alone.
Practice kenneling. Put your dog in the kennel during the day when you are home and in a location where the dog can see everything that is going on so it doesn’t feel isolated. Do it in small increments of 5-10 minutes, working your way up, giving him or her treats or a toy to make the experience a good one.
Background noise. Leave a tv or radio on. Sometimes, just the silence creates a feeling of aloneness that a lot of dogs aren’t used to, especially if they’ve been around other animals or lots of all-day commotion before coming to you.
Lavender. Lavender essential oil is calming, so dabbing some on a cotton ball and placing it near the kennel where the dog can smell it may help your dog. If you have a diffuser, you can use that as well. Here’s some lavender oil you can try, https://amzn.to/2XbjiFy. Lavender is also safe for cats, but keep in mind that pets’ noses are much more powerful than ours, so go easy.
Rescue Remedy. Some people have had good results using the homeopathic Bach Rescue Remedy, https://amzn.to/2NauEFf. In addition to separation anxiety, it can be used for other anxiety triggers in cats and dogs such as storms, fireworks, vet visits, or other things that give your cat or dog anxiety.
Dog music. There are several reports from owners who have had very good luck using calming music. There are numerous free options on youtube like this one,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNQ-9uEclWA. If putting a CD on repeat is an easier option, here’s one that I researched and has good reviews, https://amzn.to/2GP1MB2.
Hemp oil. I see it mentioned a lot in the groups I’m a member of. Unfortunately, there is an extremely large number of suppliers of it. Since I have no personal experience (yet*), I went through them specifically choosing ones with high ratings for both overall product and for the number of reviews that specifically mentioned having a positive experience treating separation anxiety.
In the end, I selected several hemp oils that had at least 100 reviews with a rating of no less than a 4 out of 5 and at least 90% 4 and 5-star ratings. Next, I went through those finalists and counted how many reviews mentioned successfully treating separation anxiety. I then narrowed it down by all the numbers to get one I’d feel comfortable with recommending.
Given all my research, if I were to buy one for my crew that had separation anxiety, this is the one I’d choose first, https://amzn.to/2Es21k1. As of this writing, this is my second choice, https://amzn.to/2EqfOr8, and this one is my third, https://amzn.to/2XtovJ0. All of these offer a 100% money back guarantee.
Hemp treats. If you prefer treat form instead of liquid, here’s a calming hemp treat product with pretty good reviews, including ones mentioning relief for separation anxiety, https://amzn.to/2EoLm0C. If possible, I’d try the liquid version of hemp first, as it had better overall ratings. You can add the liquid to your dog’s own food or treats. This company does offer a lifetime 100% money back guarantee, so if the treats don’t work for your dog, let them know and they’ll refund you.
Treat-filled toy. A popular choice is this Kong toy, https://amzn.to/2GXDMvB with homemade frozen goodies put inside. Over the years, I’ve read where many people have said it will keep their dog busy for hours. Unless your dog is a power chewer who eats Kongs, it should be safer than leaving them alone with a regular chew bone. You can find recipes for filling on the web, but here’s some Kong provides on their website, https://www.kongcompany.com/recipes.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all with curing separation anxiety because every dog is different. In Ruby’s case, it only took having something with my scent on it to start her on the path of being able to spend prolonged periods of time in her kennel after some tweaks to our training. Finding the right thing or combination of things can take some time, experimentation, and patience, but it is worth it to have your dog be calm and comfortable in your home or in their kennel while you are gone.
* As I was researching and writing this post, I just happened to be on one of the top three hemp oil contenders’ pages taking notes (though I didn’t have all my numbers together yet so I didn’t know it would even end up being a finalist) when it displayed being a lightning deal. Those only run for a short time and I’d seen enough to know it appeared to be a decent product, so I purchased it. It hasn’t arrived yet and while I won’t be using it for separation anxiety, I do have a couple animals that I have in mind trying it on for various things. When it arrives and I have a chance to use it, I’ll be sure to report back what brand it is and my thoughts.
For my list of favorite things I (mostly) own and/or recommend to fellow pet parents and occasionally random strangers, you can visit my Amazon store page here, https://www.amazon.com/shop/savingscatsanddogswhilesavingcash. I’ve included little notes about the products also.
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