Tag Archives: Separation Anxiety

Seeking Inner Peace Through Prozac

Zekie in a quiet moment.

Zekie had an appointment at the vet’s this morning for a rabies booster shot. It was just routine. Our veterinarian, a wonderful lady, came outside to talk to me before they brought Zekie back out to the car. (They are continuing with the curbside service, that started due to Covid, because they are undergoing an interior remodel of the clinic.)

We talked about Zekie’s anxiety. His behavior had stayed pretty constant since I retired, but lately it seems to be getting worse. He continues to have crate anxiety at night in addition to his other anxiety issues. Zekie-2, Mommy-2; or Exuberant Love. This night time anxiety only started about a week or two ago. Before that he was fine, since his upstairs crate is only three feet from where I sleep. See the above link.

And today’s trip to the vet was a new experience too. Normally, he goes with the vet assistant for his appointment and is well behaved. This morning, he wouldn’t go. He planted himself on the asphalt of the parking lot and refused to move. I had to walk with them to the clinic door. As he and the tech entered the clinic and the door closed, I could see him through the glass. He was looking back at me with a look of sheer, glassy-eyed terror. I imagine he was remembering when this same thing happened to him nearly five years ago at the county dog shelter where he was left. I can’t really know. I can’t think of anything else that would account for that much fear.

When the vet tech eventually returned him to the car, she said he had been very afraid. She said she had stepped out of the room for a minute and when she returned, Zekie was sitting in the exact place she had left him. He hadn’t moved at all, and was sitting ramrod stiff and staring straight ahead.

My talk with the veterinarian was mostly about the saliva staining on Zekie’s paws, front legs, and belly. She wondered if he had allergies. I told her, no, it is from stress and him drooling massive puddles of saliva anytime we go away from home and he must be in his crate. This even happens during just a quick trip to the grocery store. We decided to try Zekie on Prozac again. I did try this once before under the care of another vet, with no luck. This time his dosage is doubled and we will be sure to try it for the full eight weeks that it may take to kick in.

I truly hope the meds help him this time. It must be terrible to be so upset that you pant and drool puddles and do yourself bodily harm. It can’t be any fun being the dog in the crate next to him either.

If we are able to help Zekie overcome his anxiety, I have hopes that this will improve his leash reactivity as well. So, keep your fingers crossed and pray for Zekie. I so hope this little boy can have a more normal life and enjoy the peace that should go with being a dog in a loving home.

Peace be with you, Zekie.

Improvement Is Relative

Meme from Never A Ruff Day

I posted this meme on Facebook earlier and it got me thinking. You know what’s coming. I was thinking about Zekie and our struggles. I have had pretty good results with modifying behaviors in other dogs, both our own and foster dogs. Not so with Zekie.

He’s been with us almost three years. As my husband said, “Of course you kept Zekie because he’s crazy and you must have a crazy dog at all times.” I can’t say that’s not an accurate statement. I love a dog that worships and needs me.

That being said, Zekie has shown improvement over the past three years. But he is still so far from being a normal or average dog that I have given up hope that he ever will be. I have not, however, given up hope that his behavior will continue to improve.

Zekie has many trying behaviors that are similar to that of my heart dog Duncan. Duncan did not become a dog that I could rely on and trust his behavior until he was about 7 or 8 years old. Zekie is now 7. Here are a few behaviors that both dogs exhibited at some time:

  • Waiting at the door or window for me to return, whether I have gone outside to the mailbox, or to the grocery store. Time is irrelevant.
  • Following me from room to room. To be fair, many of our dogs do this. I have not gone to the bathroom alone in over 35 years. Lol…
  • Taking and eating or chewing things from the kitchen counter. i.e. wooden spoons, plastic containers, mugs, and also actual food. This is why we have swinging doors on our kitchen that can be bungeed shut.
  • Opening the doors under the kitchen sink to get into the garbage can. This results in a wooden spoon between the cabinet door handles so they are barricaded.
  • Leash reactivity-Lunging and barking at passersby on walks. With Duncan, the problem was just bicycles and we overcame this. With Zekie, it is bicyclists, joggers, and especially other dogs. After 3 years of training he has learned to be ok with human walkers most of the time, especially if they are friendly and greet us. The Covid masks have set this back a little.
  • Opening the dog food can which contains a 40 lb. bag of food and eating said contents. This resulted in us keeping a bungee cord across the top of the can.
  • Stealing trash out of all cans. This results in the cans in every room of our home having lids. Duncan learned to operate the ones with levers or pedals in short order. We had to keep them up high. Grandma would put hers on top of the refrigerator when we visited. This not only applies to cans with food, but all trash cans. Kleenex, food wrappers, and other items seem to have equal appeal.
  • Barking at cars that drive by, especially when out in the fenced pasture. They always go away so it works, right?
  • Trying to chew or claw through doors and walls to get to where I am.
  • Excessive barking at unwarranted sounds. I suppose what is an acceptable sound is in the eye of the beholder.
  • The need to sleep in a crate in our bedroom so as not to bark endlessly because I am too far away. The crate is needed to keep them out of trouble during the night.

I’m sure there are many other similarities. Duncan was easier to deal with because he could be crated so that I could have a time out or go away. He did well in a crate and was content to chew a bone or nap.

Zekie does not do well in a crate. He chews out of wire crates and Vari-Kennels in short order. He drools so much that his body is drenched in saliva and it pools in the bottom of the crate. This causes him to drink for minutes when he is released resulting in his frantic need to go out and pee a little while later. We tried prescription drugs, homeopathic medicines and herbs, and behavioral modification. None helped. Some made it worse. He has broken off all four canine teeth and some molars in his attempts to get out of the crates.

Now Zekie has a crate made of aircraft quality steel and marine grade butterfly latches. He must be crated when we go away for his own safety and the safety of our house. It is entirely possibly that he would go throw a window, or worse, to look for us. We try not to go away often if Zekie can’t stay with us or one of us can’t stay at home.

Still Zekie has shown improvement in the years he has been here. This is the boy I love.

Zekie, the boy I love.

Play With Me

Does Zekie still suffer from separation anxiety? I would have to say yes.

This is Zekie waiting for daddy to come home this morning. He was only gone for an hour. To be fair, Zekie didn’t hurt anything. He just waited, and waited…even though I was still home with him.

Zekie doesn’t need to go in his crate if one of us is still home. He just gets forlorn, not destructive as long as someone is there. When he becomes aware that someone will be leaving in a minute, he grabs a bone or toy and tries to entice the person to play instead of going out the door. If that doesn’t work, he can even chomp the bone at you and bark with it in his mouth. You can tell he’s saying, “wouldn’t you rather play with me and have this bone than go away?”

Well, generally, yes we would. But unfortunately, life calls.

Separation Anxiety and Retraining, Part II

In addition to general obedience training to help with control issues and being in charge, I have also done what I call situational training to help reduce the separation anxiety.

Things like leaving Zeke, and the dogs on each side of him, in their crates while I am home. This is never much of a problem. Zeke is fine in his crate when I am home. Then I picked up my keys and put them down. Then walked to the door and back. And opened and closed the door. Then went out on the porch and back inside. Several times. On to opening and closing the car door and back inside. Driving up the street to drop off the recycling and back home. (No, they don’t have curbside recycling out here.) Then I drove into town to buy dog food and back, etc.

The ideal is to do this slowly over days or weeks, until the dog does not react. I had to speed this cycle up over a long weekend because, hey, I have this thing called a job. My boss was quite understanding. There were a few days I had to take extra time off to deal with Zeke and my leave slips were granted, no problem. Once I threatened to bring Zeke with me for a meeting I couldn’t miss. When I showed up without him, several people were disappointed because they wanted to watch him in their offices. And all coworkers I mentioned my trials with Zeke to were sympathetic and supportive. One even thanked me for doing rescue work and adopting and dealing with Zekie. It goes without saying, my coworkers are awesome! And their kind words were a balm when I really needed it.

Since I had to do a shortened version of training Zeke to my leaving and coming back, my results were less than stellar too. Although there was some improvement. The rate and intensity with which he chewed and destroyed crates was lessened. The mania he exhibited was more subdued. Whenever I returned from anywhere, I did not let Zeke or any of the dogs out of their crates until he was calmed down. As calm as a Zekie gets.

Some other things I did that I think were of minor help follow. I give him Cannabidiol oil shortly before leaving, along with a couple of herbal homeopathic chews. I make sure there is a nylabone or peanut butter stuffed Kong in his crate. I do not rush to greet Zeke or free him from the crate immediately upon arriving home. I want my comings and goings to be no big deal.

What really returned our lives to being somewhat normal though, is finding an impervious crate. We ended up with an Impact brand crate. While an investment, it has been a lifesaver. Literally. All of the retraining was not wasted though. All of these steps helped to make Zeke a calmer, happier dog with less reaction when we do go away. He still reacts, but not to the same degree.

I hope that someone is able to find some useful information and things to apply to their own dog from these articles. And if it prevents someone else from doing things that result in separation anxiety, even better!

Separation Anxiety and Retraining, Part I

Zeke has separation anxiety. One of the things I have undertaken as part of his treatment to manage this is retraining.

When people contact me, via our dog rescue (Northeast Ohio Shetland Sheepdog Rescue) to ask for advice on a multitude of things, I almost always advise obedience training. This helps with so many issues. People tell me that their dog’s lack of obedience is not the thing they are unhappy with. Training your dog for sits, downs, and stays is not exactly the point.

The point is that you are working with your dog and teaching him that you are a team, and you are the leader of that team. He learns that he should listen to you. You call the shots. This carries over to so much more than just the sits and stays. Dogs are creatures of habit. Listening to you and watching for cues become a way of life. This in itself should result in a calmer dog. It is stressful being the leader. Take that stress away from your dog. It was time for me to practice what I preach and start training.

Taking an obedience class together is a good option but not strictly necessary. For Zeke, I chose to train him myself. We have multiple dogs and regularly encounter multiple dogs so I didn’t need the group setting that this socialization can provide.

Because Zeke’s training was mostly to deal with separation anxiety, I began making him earn everything, including attention and affection. Zeke was so attached to me that he could not bear to be away from me. Part of this started because I needed to know where he was at all times to know if he was getting into trouble. Often, yes, he was. Then it became cute, Zeke had to be near me all the time. It was gratifying that he followed me around the house and jumped up to stare in my eyes and lick my face. And it was comforting when he laid on me for a nap.

Shame on me! These things were comforting to him too. So much so that Zeke became stressed when I wasn’t nearby. My husband said to me on more than one occasion, he’s sitting on you so he knows where you’re at and you can’t get away. It wasn’t too long of a trip from there to full blown separation anxiety. Rather than cracking down on his neediness, I gave him attention. I released the monster.

Now I think Zeke did have issues with this before I got him because he was already missing two fangs, probably from crate chewing. But he could be contained, and he crated well when he came to our house from the shelter. If I had known what I was dealing with things might have gone differently. Then again, maybe not. I have never dealt with anything like this before and we have fostered over 50 dogs in the past 15 years.

So the training began. I took a cue from Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer. He always talks about calm assertive energy from the human and sometimes from another calm dog. So I had Shelby, my certified therapy dog, with us during all of our training sessions. Shelby exudes confidence. Our sessions took the form of walks with stops along the way for obedience work.

We worked on walking on a loose leash. Zeke was on a choker collar. I like to train new dogs with a choker because the sound of the chain becomes a cue for the dog. Occasionally we would stop and I would ask the dogs to sit or perform some other command. After they successfully did each task they would get a treat. (I just used small pieces of kibble so as not to add a lot of calories and I could treat often.) At first I gave a treat after every obeyed command. Training science says that once a task is learned, random treating, rather than every time produces better results. I don’t understand this but who am I to argue with science. I can see how not treating every time would be helpful for when you don’t have treats. So I started asking for multiple behaviors before giving the treat. And a few times I didn’t give any. I do always give praise in some form for each task done.

Shelby thought this was all great fun. Zeke was confused. In fact, the first night we attempted this, Zeke’s behavior was terrible! But I persisted. The next night was better. Both dogs began to look forward to our special time together. Zeke became easier to walk. He started paying more attention in case I gave a command with an opportunity to earn a treat. I know dogs can learn from each other. I have seen it many times. My decision to include Shelby was I think, a good one. I could tell when I asked Zeke to do something that made him nervous, such as a stay where I walked about 15 feet away while the dogs were in a sit-stay. Once I got farther away than Zeke was comfortable with, he whipped he head around to see what Shelby was doing, without breaking his stay. He saw Shelby still sitting there, smiling happily. I could just see Zeke’s mind processing this information. “Oh, Shelby’s not upset and she’s still sitting. It must be ok, I think that’s what I’m supposed to do too.”

Over time we’ve worked on various commands: watch me, sit, down, stay, give paw, wait. We worked on these for varying and increasing lengths of time. And Zeke definitely got better at the commands. In fact, he is quite good at them. I think I saw Zeke’s behavior improve in regards to the separation anxiety too. Since it was so severe, I did pursue getting him the mega crate from my previous post but I have hope that, in time, he will be a mostly normal dog.

We retrained on many other things too but those will have to be shared in the next post. So until next time…

Salvation

Salvation came for Zeke in the form of a crate. (If you look closely, you can see him through the door.)

Being a scientist, when Zeke’s behavior from separation anxiety became unmanageable, I started to research. And most of the final resolution will be achieved through retraining. But what to do in the interim? We were to the point where we rarely went away. When we did, we factored in, could we take Zeke with us? Mercifully, the worst behavior occurred over the holidays. I had quite a bit of time off from work and we had understanding and gracious family who welcomed him at holiday gatherings. My mother-in-law even said he was an angel as he slept under the dining room table during Christmas dinner. Just don’t leave him alone. It awakens the beast.

My husband and I also tried to schedule our responsibilities so our time away from home did not overlap. We were mostly successful. This was no way to live. So, I called various dog control agencies seeking a crate that might hold Zeke. From them and on line searches I discovered the Impact High Anxiety crate. It is the only crate I found that is guaranteed against damage, even destruction from the dog, for two years.

This crate comes with a hefty price tag but it is guaranteed. If it worked, Zeke’s life was worth the cost. There was brief pondering, after some of his more destructive episodes to our home, if we would have to put him down. Luckily these were brief considerations and are now in the past. We decided we couldn’t do that to a dog that wasn’t aggressive. Also, what it would do to me would not be pretty.

So I pursued the Impact crate. It is made of aircraft grade metal with marine quality butterfly latches and a large metal main door latch. It has many, small ventilation holes to prevent the dog from getting its mouth in them. The turn around time was approximately three weeks. This is a small, family owned company that makes the product on demand. And then 5-7 days to ship from Idaho to Ohio. This seemed an eternity.

I must have sounded desperate because our crate showed up in about a week. I did tell the lovely lady on the phone about Zeke trashing the dining room. She was sympathetic and I am so grateful. You can see Zeke’s crate between the “normal” crates of two of our other dogs.

Life is back to normal. At least as normal as it ever gets around here. We can go away for a few hours. Of course there is much retraining still to be done with Zeke. This will be a work in progress and I will continue to report on that. To date, Zeke has only put a few surface scratches on the paint of the new crate and I don’t foresee that changing. I even anticipate being able to foster dogs again in a couple of months.

I can’t help but think that part of Zeke’s purpose may be to teach me greater patience and humility. And just maybe to share his tale and trials in the hopes of helping another.

Separation Anxiety: Things That Didn’t Work

We have had Zeke since late October of 2017. We (read I) decided to adopt him as our own sometime early last spring. He has always had problems with separation anxiety since we’ve had him.

I suspect that he had problems before we ever got him because he showed up missing two fangs. At first we wondered what happened since the owner who turned him in said he was only three years old. As I have seen what he has done to his teeth over the last year, I suspect that he had separation anxiety even then. That may be what led to him being turned in to a Humane Society. Although I wonder if it is true, the story goes that he was turned in with another dog and that the owner was moving. It’s just one of those things that we’ll never know. Was it a fabrication? Almost certainly there was more to the story.

Zeke’s separation anxiety has definitely escalated in the time he has been here. The drooling in his crate increased from some drool to puddles of drool drenching him and the crate. Then the crate chewing began. And the increased crate destruction and dental destruction. On to escape, and house destruction. We have made some various changes and, I think, are slowly reversing the tide of destruction. A future post will share the improvements.

I have come to believe that I have been part of the problem though. I was too accommodating with him. Now, we should be nice to our dogs. But we should not let them do things that lead them to perceive that we are not in charge and that they are in control. We must be in control or chaos will ensue. I have evidence.

Zeke’s issues did not go ignored since he has been with us. I knew that we needed to do something to try to deal with the drooling and frantic reactions. Early last year, I got Prozac and Valium from the vet and tried them for a month or two. There was no visible change. I obtained some homeopathic calming chews. I thought those were having no effect but he did have some bad episodes when we ran out of them so I got some more and continue to use them.

I tried hemp oil. I didn’t notice much difference. After “The Big Incident” with destruction in our dining room, I immediately got some Xanax from the vet. If anything, this made him worse. It seemed that Zeke lost control while on it and ran around the house getting into trouble left and right.

I researched and discovered that hemp oil and cannabidiol oil are not exactly the same thing. Hemp oil is made from stalks of the Cannabis plant. The cannabidiol oil is made from leaves, flowers, stems and has more active ingredient. So I purchased some cannabidiol oil for dogs. I’m not sure if this helps a little or if some of the other changes I have made are helping slightly.

I’m a scientist. My first inclination was to change one thing at a time so I would know what did the trick. At this point, I don’t care. I tried a bunch of things at once, not caring which one helped. And it is probably most likely that multiple things helped when done in conjunction.

This post has been dedicated to medicinal things that I have tried. I will write a separate post about training and situational changes that we have been working on. And by the way, I have some great friends who will let me bend their ear, vent, and then offer me ideas to try or support. Thank you all, I really needed the moral support!

The Journey Continues

We search out experts and expect them to tell us how to fix our dogs. We look for someone to tell us how to change behaviors, overcome problems, and transform our dogs. We look for pre-set formulas and actions. We want that “magic pill”, or course of action to make everything better.

And of course, it is wise to learn and absorb knowledge from others who have dealt with similar situations to ours. No sense in reinventing the wheel. We should seek to learn from the experiences of others.

But all dogs are not the same. The path to where they are right now, and their travels to get there are unique to them. The reasons for behaviors such as separation anxiety, reactivity, excessive barking, are not exactly the same. You can apply general rules and processes to a problem. But the dogs are individuals. Might not the best course of action for each situation/problem, be somewhat different then? Might it not benefit from something like an IEP (Individualized Education Program) similar to what the schools come up with for different kids? I suspect that this is so. This is the approach I am taking in my trials to help Zeke. I have tried many of the recommended courses of action without success. So I am formulating an IEP.

Zeke truly is a loving dog so we are not giving up on him. We have had him for over a year now and even with the trials, he has managed to endear himself. He is one of the pack. He gets on well with the other dogs. They have bonded. And so our journey continues.

Separation Anxiety: the Journey

So, my friends, you know that Zeke has “a bit” of separation anxiety if you have been following our tale. That is a tongue in cheek “bit”. Severe separation anxiety is a devastating problem. I never truly appreciated the effects of it until I had experienced it myself.

You can see some of our trials in my previous post titled The Artist. https://sanctuaryacres.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/the-artist/  It shows Zeke’s second bowl chewed to shreds, among other damage. Little did we know that was to be the tip of the iceberg.

This is Zeke’s crate when we came home one day last month and found him loose in the house. He had previously broken off all four of his fangs by chewing from stress. After this, one of his molars is cracked off too.

This was the inside of the crate from that day. It contained the dining room table cloth and several shopping bags, plastic and cloth. Everything shredded to ribbons. That was a small portion. I could not bear to photograph the rest of the carnage. I was hoping I could forget.

Everything that had been on top of the dining room table was scattered across the dining room. Christmas presents. Tools and nails from installing a new window near the table. Mail. Christmas cards, books, etc. I think you get the idea.

Since then Zeke has chewed the side latches off another plastic crate. He has bent the bars on a standard wire crate. It is fastened with zip ties and carabiners in addition to its latch. It continues to hold him. For now. We limit our time away to places that he can not go with us.

This post sets the stage. It lets you know what we are dealing with. Zeke is a loving and fairly obedient dog. He is just apparently terrified of being alone. I want to share Zeke’s tale in the hopes that it will benefit someone else and other dogs. In future posts I will share things we have tried, other behaviors, and where we go from here.

Stay tuned…