Panic. Separation Anxiety. Left Alone
This is very sad. It all started off so well for the first few months of their Frenchie puppy’s life. They could happily leave her to go to work, coming home at lunch time.
Then they had to go away for a couple of weeks and Margot was left with friends. She seemed perfectly happy whilst there.
But, when she got home, everything changed. The couple went out to work the next day and they came home to toilet mess all over the floor. She had chewed the door they had departed from.
Poor Margot was in a state of complete panic.
Since then things have got worse. At my suggestion, they have just filmed her to find that she runs about in a panic from the moment the leave, defecating as she goes. She pees all over the place. She is constantly pacing, running back and forth and jumping at the door. It seems she does this the whole time that they are absent.
A nine-month-old pup should be sleeping at least seventeen hours a day. Instead, she’s spending most of it in major state of panic. Her humans are distraught. Coming home to such a mess each time as she paces and treads in her mess shows just how much of a panic she is in.
Margot is beautiful, friendly and polite. She is just so biddable and amenable. It’s heartbreaking for them to see how unhappy their precious little dog gets.
For much of the time while I was there, Margo was totally engaged in chewing at something – calming herself down. De-stressing.
What is particularly tricky in a case like this is that it’s impossible to take things gradually, one thing at a time, because their work necessitates continuing to leave her for four hours at a time, twice a day.
It seems that the distress comes most particularly at being separated from one person. He is the one who feeds her and is at home one day a week. He, however, works for the emergency services and when he’s on call his bleeper will suddenly go off. He has to drop everything and run.
This can’t help.
What can they do?
Firstly I have given them fairly mechanical exercises to build up Margot’s resilience to their comings and goings. This starts with doors shutting on her and opening immediately, many times, food dropped as the door shuts. Gradually there will be delay before the door opens. Over time, the time left alone will increase. It’s vital for these exercises that the door opens before Margot feels anxiety.
They will start on easy inside doors before going to the outside door that throws Margot into such a panic.
The next part of our programme is to work on each trigger, like picking up keys, the bleeper and putting on boots.
They have to go out to work.
Then there is the big problem of going out for real when Margot simply won’t be ready. But it has to happen.
They will optimise the environment including frosting the glass door from which she can see them depart. Cutting down on the area will mean there is less floor to clean. They have tried a crate, but she was so frantic she bent the bars.
Their routine when leaving will be overhauled.
Instead of their own panic when leaving as they try to get ready and to get out with an increasingly frantic dog trying to push through the door with them, they will do something else.
They can get ready to go. But, instead of leaving, they will then go back and sit down . They will spend five minutes just being with Margot, sitting very still and contemplating on calmness. This may sound very New Age but I’m sure it will help.
Then, slowly and calmly, they can get up and leave.
Unfortunately, because they have to go to work, each time Margot is left before she is sufficiently prepared is going to set her back again.
I just hope that the speed of progress outstrips the unavoidable backsliding and probable breakdown in trust each time they leave for too long.
Medication may be necessary.
If these protocols and exercises don’t result in any improvement in the next couple of weeks, I believe Margot will need the back-up of meds and we will be in touch with their vet. They may also need to look into daycare, if only to give themselves the few months probably necessary to work on the problem slowly, in tiny increments.