October 5, 2011

New Attempts with Separation Anxiety

We promised a Basil separation anxiety update and today we're bringing it. Mary and I have the perfect dog and our only hurdle that remains in the almost year we've had Basil is overcoming his severe case of separation anxiety.

We read long before finding Basil that Weimaraners are prone to separation anxiety but we both thought it would be something we could train out of him fairly quickly with consistency and hard work — we obviously underestimated the issue given almost a year later we still fear leaving him alone. When we made the decision to get a dog, it wasn't a light one. We considered many factors and wanted to make him as much a part of our daily lives as possible; when we talk about leaving Basil alone we simply mean for short periods of time.

Basil is his best when around people and other animals and his anxiety (from what we can tell) has never been assigned specifically to us — meaning we can leave him with other people and he will be happy as can be. Also, for some odd reason, he does fine completely alone in the car; he'll just lay down and go to sleep for 2 hours at a time, but as the weather got hotter over the summer this wasn't an option any longer.

Throughout all of our training courses with Basil, everyone recommended us using a crate to help ease him out of his anxiety – saying that dogs find the crate to be a safe and secluded area of their own. While this may be true for many dogs, Basil has never become accustomed to being in a crate. He becomes severely anxious, barks, pants, drools, and obsessively scratches the bottom pan to the degree of injuring himself. He escaped the first crate we got him by cracking the plastic pan in the bottom and physically bending the metal wire up from the bottom — then shimmying his way out. We've pretty much tried everything except for puppy prozac to be able to leave the house for even 15 minutes without Basil getting worked up.

We've never tried leaving him in the house alone outside of the crate because he can be destructive while unsupervised and we weren't confident we'd come back to parts of the house not being destroyed and ingested (remember his old collar?). While in the crate he's ripped blankets and towels through the holes and ripped them to shreds — we had been told to try putting a blanket over the crate to make the space feel more secluded for him. Fail.

On one of our last trips to the vet (we think he sprained his paw trying to escape the crate) they recommended we try a trainer who specializes in separation anxiety. She came over and evaluated Basil and thought he'd have no problem getting over the hump with a few new tactics. Everything we tried though didn't work - and this was 2 weeks of consistent training. She seemed to think if we could get him accustomed to the crate for a 2 week stretch that we could then get rid of it and he'd never need it again — the idea of this was music to our ears. All of our friends and family love to ask us if hiring the Richmond, VA version of the dog whisperer worked out.

This is turning into a really long story, but I'm gonna keep going...

In the same consultation with the new trainer, aka dog whisperer, she let us know she boards dogs in a setting where she lives on a farm, has 8 of her own dogs, and lets them all sleep in her house. This sounded like a dream come true for us — since we brought Basil home, Mary had been wishing to find someone who would literally let Basil sleep in their house instead of a kennel type setting. During our recent trip to NYC and Mary's trip to LA, we took Basil to stay with the trainer twice, thinking she may be able to evaluate his situation on a better level having him with her for an extended period of time. Each time we picked him up she told us that he never once had any separation anxiety problems with her, that she could leave him in her house, the crate, and all by himself for hours on end with no problems whatsoever. The minute we tried to leave him in his crate here though, he immediately went into full scale anxiety mode.

We can't believe it.

So the point in all of this is to say we are trying a new plan. The trainer recommended that we simply try to leave Basil alone in the house outside of the crate for short periods of time and just "see what happens." Sounds simple enough. So this weekend we left Basil in the house, hopped on our bikes, and returned to no barking, panting, scratching, or destruction. It was such a short period of time, maybe 10 minutes at best, so he could have simply been in shock, but hey — at least we're maybe getting somewhere?

One thing we've learned for certain is that every dog is different and no one solution works for all dogs. While it's been a frustrating and ongoing process, we'll continue on to find the right solution for all three of us — and you can bet we'll keep you posted.

Now if you've made it this far, we'll take a break and finish up this post with Basil chasing after a squirrel:

One of Basil's favorite pastimes is watching out the window for squirrels in our front yard. When he spots one, he starts pacing and whining near the front door — hoping I will open it up and let him chase one. We never let him out front alone since there's a road right there and it isn't fenced in, but occasionally let him have a chance to chase a squirrel when they get really close.

He's never actually caught one as they have a quick and direct getaway route right up the tall tree in our yard, but Basil is determined, never losing sight that one day he may see victory.

I took the video above of one of his attempts. Poor Basil... foiled again.


  1. He is so adorable! I hope this new route of leaving him in the house without the crate works out for you all.

    Our problem with our lab/Weimaraner mix is that he is always looking for a way to escape from us. We could never open our front door and let him run out as he would be long gone in seconds. Even with the training we've done he immediately dismisses us and our commands as soon as he is out of sight.

    Our other pup is totally the opposite and loves to be by our side always.

  2. Sometimes my lab mix gets anxious when I go out--not when I go to work, mind you, but on a Saturday, if I go out and leave her alone. Then she barks and chews up some random thing like the phone bill. I try leaving the radio on when I go out, and I could be wrong, but she seems to like it.

  3. We adopted a dog who had extreme separation anxiety and we thought as you did that with consistent patience and training she would overcome this disorder but when we finally realized we couldn't do it alone we adopted a second dog sooner than planned and he was her savior!

  4. @Monica isn't it funny how different they all are. We too have a hard time with getting Basil to effectively "come" to us if he outside - but he doesn't try to bolt away. We've learned tricks along the way that work for us as bait - like sticks or his favorite ball (we call it the crack ball because he is so obsessed with it).

    @Anonymous - thanks for the tips, we've tried leaving the radio on when he was a lot younger but maybe this is something we'll give another go with the new plan.

    @Gina - Monica has suggested we get another pooch too. This is something we'd very much like to do but are unsure of when. When you leave your dogs do they do well in the house or do you have a crate for them? So curious what works for other people!

  5. We crated Buddy for the first year when leaving the house. One day we just felt like he was ready and did exactly what you did - left him home for short periods. The first one was a walk around the block and we gradually increased the time. He did just fine.

    Even one time we set up our camera to see what he was doing when we left. All he did was watch us leave from the window - hang around for about 10 minutes to see if we were coming back then took his place on the sofa and napped pretty much the entire time. Once, right before leaving the house I left a treat on the kitchen floor just to see if he walks around. When I came back a few hours later it was still there, so I am pretty sure he just naps the entire time he is waiting for one of us to come home.

    I have always left music on for him as well. I am so happy to hear that Basil is doing better and things are working out.

    1. Awwww, loved this story and sounds so similar to where we are with Basil right now. Maybe it just takes some patience and age. Definitely glad we hung in there. Hi to Buddy from Basil!

  6. My weim hated the crate, she would rub her nose raw. My solution has been to take her with me everywhere. I got a barrier for my car and she just hangs out while I go to meetings and run errands. She feels pretty happy to be going along with me. Now that she is older she can stay alone for pretty long periods of time. She sleeps on the couch when I am away and pines but she is not destructive. Weims are companions, they want to be with their people. At least Basil is happy with others. My Weim is mine, she won't even interact with my husband when left at home with him. She prefers me. I like it. Great pics by the way, Luna rarely sits still, she's 7!

    1. Rowan it sounds like we have kindred spirits, ha! We love bringing Basil along with us anywhere we can and it also helps that I'm (Mary) able to work from home the majority of the time. You are so right when you say that it is the weim's nature to just want to be with their family members.

      Hi to Luna from Basil!


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