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Mattie is my 8.5 year old mutt from PACA. She has always been labeled a major sufferer of separation anxiety by family, friends, and vets. It has always been a problem. She's older, so she has a history that I may as well tell.

I have had her since she was 5 months old. She was born under a bridge in a litter of 6. She is 65lb, blond with white markings, probably a pitt-lab cross of some sort but her mom looked more like a long haired collie cross so.. who knows. When people ask "What kind of dog do you have?" I usually respond with, "A dumb one." And this is why.

My family has had several dogs, all very well trained, all problems taken care of, many compliments on their good behavior... and then Mattie came along. We love Mattie to death, but even when she was a puppy we saw signs that maybe she wasn't the brightest one in the litter. She would walk into a crevice, like between the couch and end table, hit a wall, and then have no idea how to walk backwards to get herself out. Mattie didn't learn how to walk backwards until she was about 4 years old. She growls at her farts. She runs into walls - it appears that she just forgets where they are. If I put a treat under a plastic cup she will have no idea how to knock over the plastic cup to get it. Stairs confuse the daylights out of her. Socially, she has no idea how to interact with other dogs, despite never being an only-dog. The doggie-daycare people said she wasn't a good candidate. Cats love her though! And boy does she love sniffing/cuddling with cats.

Soon after adopting Mattie, we began training her. After months, she still hadn't mastered "sit" or "lay down". We bought books, we did research...Hand signals helped but barely. Once we started using treats as a reward, she began automatically sitting when there was a treat within view or smell, however it's not the hand signal or command she's responding to. She is now an excellent begger.

It became very clear to my family that we should probably pick one trick for Mattie and REALLY work with her on it. After all, we had two other dogs and busy lives to run. We chose the one trick we thought would be the most important, and after two long walks a day for a year (a team effort by my mom, stepdad, brother and I), she mastered "heel". She heels like a champion now, after her 7 years of practice. Thank goodness for that.

It also became very clear to my family that Mattie had severe attachment issues with me. I got Mattie in high school, so when I would leave for school, she would howl-cry-whimper-whine all day long. My mother, once again, consulted the books. But after weeks of this, she couldn't take it anymore. We finally solved the problem by distracting Mattie with a treat and attention for a half hour while I left the house. It seemed as if Mattie was unaware I had left, as long as she did not see me leaving. Around the same time Mattie mastered "heel" she had also gotten used to me leaving for six hours a day. We were finally making progress.

When I went to college, I took Mattie with me. I lived with room mates, so there was always people coming in and out of the house, and she got particularly attached to my best friend, so she got lots of walks, runs, lake trips, hikes, attention. She always stayed within 6 inches of my hand thanks to her "heel" training, so she was always welcome wherever I went. When she wasn't welcome, it seems as if there was plenty of stimulation for her to be distracted by.

She's been with me through 4 different college room mate situations, and I have always heard from my room mates that she does whine and get anxious when I'm not around, however she is easily distracted with attention, activities and bones.

I have now graduated and have been working a full time job for six months now. This past weekend, I moved into a new apartment with my best friend and boyfriend. The apartment is very dog friendly, and my boyfriend works from home, so he is home with her all day. I am also able to take her to work with me, however I don't do that often because I have been (for 8 years) constantly searching for ways for her to get used to being without me at times.

We recently tried leaving the house to go out for dinner, leaving Mattie inside (we had also just taken her on a half hour walk). She was left with my best friend's dog, Copper, whom she has lived with for the past two years and actually gets along with (unusual for other dogs to tolerate the long list of annoying behaviors she makes other dogs put up with). However, as soon as we left, she began the howling. And the whining, and the crying. We cringed, and hoped that she would stop after a while... but apparently she didn't because we were kindly informed that she wailed for two hours strait.

My boyfriend says she's a pain all day - she has now taught Copper to bark at every little sound. A siren. A kid yelling. A truck. A breeze. Neighbors. Explosive barking - and my poor boyfriend is stuck trying to control it all day. As long as either me, my boyfriend, or my best friend are there... the situation is controllable, however we can't leave together to do anything!

She gets 3-5 little potty-break walks a day, plus one big walk, and hikes/bike rides on weekends. She feeds twice a day - dry dog food. I have read countless forums and have already tried the main things people say to try. Enforce good behaviors. Do not yell/hit dog. Try gradually building up her times without me... I've tried all the typical cures over the past eight years diligently. I am now looking for something clever.

I guess it's also worth noting that Copper, the other dog that lives with us, is excellently trained now. It took me a month to teach Copper what Mattie hasn't learned in 8 years...

Is there anything else I can do? Or is she too old at this point?
 

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Wow.

It would help if you would let us know what exactly you have tried to help her SA. When you tried to build up time alone, how long did you try it, etc. What method did you use?

I have a dog with moderate SA. We are managing it with strict behavior modification and medication.

Have you contacted behaviorists? Have you taped her while you were gone? Is it truly SA barking or is she bored? What do you leave for her to do while you are gone?

I know it is a lot of questions, but I don't want to give you advice that you have already heard.
 

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When people ask "What kind of dog do you have?" I usually respond with, "A dumb one."
Ridding your mind of the misguided notion that she's dumb would be the first thing to do.

She needs complete RESPECT from you, for starters, .. if you have any hopes of bringing about change.

:)
 

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What would cause the dog to not be able to find their own way out of a corner? Could something have happened to her in the womb? During birth? Just curious as I have never had a dog with SA.
 

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We visit the vet yearly and try to get as much advice as we can when we go. One time, we left her with the vet for a couple days for observation (she has a bladder problem that none of the vets have figured out... she occasionally "leaks" and about once a month she'll completely void her bladder for what appears to be no reason other than being extremely distracted by something - a bird outside a window, or something a person has in their hands that may or may not be edible). Anyway, after two days we came back and the vet had spent quite a bit of time with her, and was only able to conclude that "something is wrong with this dog" - she suspected severe malnutrition in the womb or during her first few weeks of life, or an accident of some sort. The vet was most confused about her interaction with other dogs and lack of coordination. We never really got a good conclusion other than she appears to be happy and healthy.

I used to have a video of her stair climbing ability - we had stairs in our old house, and unless I was physically holding onto her to restrain her, the only speed in which she can climb/descend stairs is TURBO MODE - which results in her tumbling down the last half of them in a wad of hair and paws and hitting the wall (which we eventually put a cushion on). She LOVES doing this. My room mate tried putting a pet gate up at the bottom of the stairs and she cried at it all day.

But anyway, back to the SA thing. She immediately starts whimpering when the door is closed, so we first tried baby steps in that we would close the door 3/4 the way, wait a a bit, and then praise her if she stayed quiet. I slowly progressed to almost closing the door and having her stay quiet for up to 30 seconds. A few times, we were able to have the door completely closed and have her stay quiet for almost a whole minute, but that was only one out of five times... after a few months, there was no progress. We tried this 3-4 times in her life. We also tried a thing with a blanket (she cries and races around the house looking for me if I disappear under a blanket), so we'd praise her for being quiet... after a while we started saying "No" when she'd start up - which makes her stop for 10 seconds. But mostly we have stuck to positive re-enforcement.

When I do leave, I make sure she's had lots of exercise in the day, I don't make a big deal out of leaving, I hide tiny treats and fill her toy with some doggy peanut butter, which does seem to help slightly, but doesn't fix the problem. She's really good at whining/howling WHILE simultaneously licking peanut butter, chewing a bone, finding treats, or sniffing the cat.

Sometimes I wait to go back inside until she's fully stopped whining, but this only happens when she's drinking water, so one time I sat outside for an hour waiting for her to go take a water break so I could go inside and try to communicate that the whining doesn't bring me back. Currently, when I start to open the door, if she whines while I am opening the door, I shut it again. This goes on for about ten tries before she finally stays quiet while I enter. It does feel like she's learning when I do this, however the lesson only sticks for... maybe a couple hours.

If I can manage to play a recording of my voice in a shut room, I can usually get her to think I'm in that room and NOT away from the house, but after a while she cries at the door to the room she thinks I'm in. She also enjoys watching the movie "Babe" for some reason, particularly one 20 minute segment, so sometimes I leave that running for her. She doesn't like watching other dogs/cats on TV though. Just Babe. I think I'm starting to sound crazy.

I haven't taped her while I'm away, and finding a behaviorist does sound like a good idea. I've thought about finding one of those money back guarantee dog trainers as well. I've also thought about biking to work everyday and making her run a mile a day (she'd love that for sure). My mom suggested getting sedatives from the vet, but I'm wary of that one. I've seen some people have luck with crate training, but she currently hates closed spaces unless I'm in them, plus she's older so I'm not sure if that would be effective?

She really is a great dog - probably the best I've ever had.
 

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In terms of training, there are trainers (obedience stuff) and behaviorists (behavior stuff). You need a behaviorist, not just a trainer. I had a great trainer--went through two classes with him when we got Gracie. He was great at getting her to do things, but he wasn't the best at helping us deal with her SA, so we contacting a behaviorist and he has helped tremendously. Gracie is also not sedated. She is on an anti-anxiety drug called Clomipramine (Clomicalm). It helps her be more receptive to training and able to cope more with being alone. She is NOT cured, but she is managed.

As far as being too old, I don't think any dog is too old to become happy and balanced. I think you need to work harder at it because they have done the behavior for so long, so you need to stick with whatever program you use. Patricia McConnel has a pamphlet called I'll Be Home Soon. I would start there, call a behaviorist and go from there.

And vets aren't always experts on dog behavior...they know the medicine, but not always how to fix behaviors.
 
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My mom suggested getting sedatives from the vet, but I'm wary of that one.
I'm really glad you are wary about sedatives.
Certain type of meds that only sedate can make her panic more. The sedatives basically immobilize the dog so she can't move which can cause distress. Now she is upset and can't move.
Now there are some medications that are approved from SA. I think Clomicalm is one. But it takes a while to kick in and doesn't work all by itself, it has to be used in conjunction whith behavior modification.
And their might be liver side effects just like when humans take psychotropic drugs. So you will probably need regular tests.

I agree with Yogachick's last post.

I agree with Yogachick's book suggestion.
http://amzn.to/hWYfC6

You are already doing some of the stuff in the book. But you need to back up to the point of anxiety - which is covered in the book.

The dog probably starts getting anxious long before you leave the house.

For instance, if you always put on lipsick before walking out the door, then your dog will start getting anxious about that. So you will have to desensitive and counter condition lip stick application.
The book goes into a lot more detail.

There is also a chapter in Jean Donaldson's book - Oh Behave! http://amzn.to/hizLwX
That addresses what she calls "Plan B".

Normally with SA, you don't want the dog to be alone while you are working on modifying the behavior. So Donaldson has a plan B that may or may not work for people who just can't do that.

The book has way more detail but basically you have two separate routines for SA training vs plan B.

Donaldson also says that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that a good Nothing in Life is Free Program goes well with SA behavior modification.

A good book on NLIF is How to be the Leader of the Pack and Have your Dog Love You For it, by Patricia McConnell: http://amzn.to/e2lCks

Examples
Dog must sit before eating dinner
Dog must sit before you open the door
Dog must lay down before pets
etc..

So while a behaviorist for the SA might be in order, you can hire just a basic trainer to help stimulate the dog's mind a little bit. A trainer would probably be cheaper.

Oh, and exercise is fine and necessary. But I beleve that McConnel says that it probably really won't help a serious case of SA.
 

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My behaviorist told us the "act like you leave, but don't leave" routine. Here is how it works for me:

I put Gracie in her crate. Put on my shoes, grab my purse and my keys...and I sit on the couch and watch TV. Or I walk around the house. Or I do dishes. Gracie starts to realize that just because I pick up those things doesn't mean I am leaving. I also crate her at odd times (when I am doing yoga, when we have dinner, etc.) so that she doesn't always associate her crate with my leaving.

In terms of medication, Clomicalm (Clomipramine) takes about 5 weeks to kick in and it does not work all by itself--as in, if I stop the behavior mod, Gracie will regress. It has simply taken the edge off her anxiety. It is worth talking to your vet about. You can also find natural supplements (anything with trytophan may help.) You can also try a DAP diffuser that you plug into the wall. That may help, but if you use it in a large space, you need more than one.
 

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I agree with Yogachick's book suggestion.
http://amzn.to/hWYfC6
I also agree with that recommendation. Patrica McConnell's I'll be Home Soon: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety is a great book. There is a Kindle e-book version available for a mere $6.36. Even if you do not have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle reader for your PC. That means you can be reading this book within minutes.

Another more detailed book, that McConnell herself has recommended on her blog, is Don't Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog's Separation Anxiety by Nicole Wilde.

I'd also echo the recommendation to get the assistance of an animal behaviorist. See http://iaabc.org and http://www.animalbehavior.org/ABSAppliedBehavior/caab-directory to search for one.
 

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Along the line of a natural supplement, possibly consider looking into DOGtorX.
I just posted how we've had Bella on it for 1.5 months and her anxiety about the vacuum and groomer has vanished - the product is supposed to help with pet separation anxiety.
I figured I'd just pop in here because it has helped with hers (albeit not SA specifically, but still anxiety).

I definitely prefer natural type supplements and even in cases like yours a good animal behaviorist like others have said.
I also like theyogachick's suggestion on helping the dog know that shoes/keys etc do not necessarily mean leaving.
 
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