Lucy-Lou is a beautiful girl...except she had pretty severe separation anxiety.
When she arrived, it became apparent very quickly that she was not comfortable away from human company. It didn't matter how many dogs were with her.
So what did we do?
We implemented a multimodal approach.
#1 Pheromone therapy - Adaptil collar 24/7 - fitted firmly as it is activated by body heat, and replaced every 4 weeks.
#2 Talked to General Practice Vet and Behaviour Veterinarian - Lucy-Lou started on Anti-anxiety medication after 2 weeks of behaviour modification (when things weren't progressing at the speed I would like). She still has situational medication now if we need to go out. Medication does not sedate her however, just allows her brain not to panic, and her to learn.
#3 Mat/Station training - teaching her to go to a place and be comfortable and confident
#4 Home alone training - this includes working at her pace and not pushing her past her limits if at all avoidable.
#5 Technology was our friend - cameras, apps, remote food dispensers.
#6 Calming music (Through A Dogs Ear, or audiobooks (I used Game Of Thones).
When Lucy-Lou started her home alone training, we used a physical barrier. She wasn't alone, just prevented from following humans. We were right on the other side and didn't leave her sight (baby gates/pen).
Initially her progress was slow, and her comfort zone was literally seconds. The Pet Tutor (an awesome little machine) would reinforce calm every 2-5 seconds.
Over time, we built up time second by second and increased distance away from her to include out of sight etc. This wasn't an easy task, and initially felt incredibly overwhelming.
We also spent time uncoupling cues such as putting shoes on, picking up keys, moving toward front door, touching car door and opening car door.
I had an advantage that some do not have. Lucy-Lou did not have to be left alone for longer than she was comfortable at any time as I could take her to work, or arrange friends and family to come and puppy sit. Having this set up helped immensely, and in the past is where I have recommended clients to take their annual leave to begin the training process and set their dogs up to succeed as fast as possible.
Over a period of approximately 4-6 weeks we were able to build up her alone time surprising rapidly, until she was comfortable being alone for up to 4-5 hours. She may be capable of longer, however this has not been tested.
Although she has improved 100% on what she was, we still implement tools for planned departures - including music/audio books, the Pet Tutor now set at 1 treat every 3-5 minutes, long lasting chews/enrichment toys and situational medication 2 hours prior to going out.
Please, if your dog suffers distress when you leave, contact your veterinarian, a behaviour veterinarian and force free trainer. Follow this link for information on how to choose a trainer.