Our Experience With Husky Isolation Anxiety
Hello everybody. I write a blog for my hobby of reptile keeping, so I thought I would write about my wife and I’s experience with our dog Kai and her isolation anxiety. I felt this would be a good method to explain her history, and how we have gone from the all to common nightmare of husky ownership, to being able to leave kai at home for up to 10 hours while we are at work. Most people only know of separation anxiety, so they automatically default to describing their problem as that when seeking help. While there is such a thing, we realized after deeper research that what kai sufferers from was actually isolation anxiety. They are two different things that require a different approach, so please don’t look to this blog for advice on separation anxiety. That being said I would also like to point out that what we have done, may or may not help you even if your dog does have isolation anxiety. Every situation is different. Every dog and their owner is different.
I thought I would start with a little background. After losing my boxer of 13 years, the time finally came to begin searching for a new family member. One day we walked into a Petco where some rescues were holding an adoption event. The original intent was to look at some lab mix puppies they had, but our attention soon fell on a small frame 2 year old female husky…better known as my wife’s dream dog. Obviously she came home with us that day and changed our lives. I should preface this by saying, she is the absolute most amazing dog. Extremely well trained, house broken, and
not a maniac in the house even when not exercised. She. is also crate trained beautifully(except if left alone). By the end of that weekend we felt comfortable enough to leave her for about an hour so we could run to the store together. Not really knowing her well yet, we decided to crate her in our bedroom while we ran out. I’m sure many of you can guess how that played out. One hour later upon our arrival, a dog no longer in her crate and some damage done in the room.
What followed was a couple months of the nightmare so many of us know all to well. We no longer crated her but closed her in our bedroom to attempt to minimize the damage to one room. Every day there was damage, often one or 2 bathroom accidents, and a dog that was incredibly panicked mixed with relief when opening the door upon arriving home. At the peak of all this, and at our wits end trying to decide if we could commit to this situation…my wife happened to find out that the rescue we adopted kai from knew of her anxiety issues and still adopted her to us regardless of the fact that on our application, we specified she would be crated and we both worked full days. Shocked and angered only begins to describe how we felt. She is an amazing dog, pretty much the perfect dream dog, except for the anxiety. She is even incredible with our 2 cats.
It was at that point that we started the list of things pretty much every website and veterinarian source recommends. I’m sure if your reading this, you know what I’m talking about. Leaving music on, exercise, calming scents, types of toys, etc etc etc. Literally every single method. I would say all of that helped maybe about 5% worth. Some days the damage was less but she was still panicked. Eventually we went the vet method and put her on medication for anxiety. But alas even at half the dose they wanted, she had no appetite, and seemed drugged all the time…that beautiful soul of a husky drugged down to dullness in her eyes. This was something we couldn’t live with nor felt was right for kai. So we took her off of the medication. I then purchased a Vari Kennel with thoughts of closing her in that and keeping her from escaping or doing damage. But once again, I realized how bad her anxiety would be, especially locked up like that…and decided to return it. This wouldn’t be fair to her. We were at our wits end by now.
The beginning of the turn around for us, was doggy day camp. That coupled with a lifestyle change started to make things better. For many many months, we treated kai as if we had a human baby. In other words we never left her home alone. She spent many days at day camp, she would go with us everywhere, or we would find a sitter. We knew that this couldn’t last forever though, and my wife’s job, where the day camp is located near, changed her schedule around often as well as where she was located. We toyed with the idea of getting a second dog because I began to understand that kai suffered from isolation anxiety and not true separation anxiety. Basically she was perfectly fine at day camp, and was usually an angel for our family that would watch her for us. So we began watching for a second dog that would fit our situation and hopefully help kai.
Enter Odin, our unknown mix breed from the Cayman Islands, who looks and sounds like a small white Shepard, but plays rough like a husky. Now please understand that a second dog is not the cure, and can even back fire. This is where the part of me talking about every situation is unique comes in. Odin is just over a year old and at the end of his puppy stage where he will destroy things that are not tied down and he hasn’t been corrected on already. This presented a challenge for us, but he is a very smart trainable dog so we’ve adjusted quickly. When we first adopted Odin I took some time off of work to allow them to get adjusted to one another better, and to begin small times away to see what would happen. We set up my wife’s iPad on Facebook live so her and I could watch them and specifically Kai and how she acted. As I said, Odin made this a challenge while he found things to mess with, but there were some very hopeful signs.
When it finally came time for me to go back to work, the big tests would finally happen. I should mention that not long into this process we enrolled Odin into day camp as well, and both dogs, then and now …attend that a couple days a week. The exercise and socialization they get is amazing. When they finally started being alone at home during the day, luckily the first couple weeks my mom would come over in the early afternoon to check on them and take them out to the bathroom. At this time we were also still watching them on Facebook live during the day. What we noticed was kai still had her anxiety. It was less, but still there. She was also scratching at the front door for a couple sessions a day around maybe 2 minutes each time. So we knew we had made progress, but still weren’t happy. Enter the final ingredient: CBD oil. When you hear so much about it all the time, we figured it was worth a shot. After all we were looking for that last little thing to help her calm down just a bit more. Amazingly it seems to work pretty well. For the first time on video we would see kai sleeping on the floor, laying in her bed or on the couch. Not laying by the door, in the front window watching, howling, or on assorted furniture(she actually climbed on the kitchen table, looked into the camera, and knocked it down once).
So what has this all taught my wife and I about this common issue in Siberian’s. Well first let’s face it, this breed is not even close to being for everyone. Even under the best circumstances they require a lot. I want to hammer home the point again, that this is what has worked for us, but every single situation is different. The common factor I believe though, is that it requires commitment of owners to make change in favor of fitting the dog, instead of forcing the dog to fit you. Also that it takes a combination of things to help the anxiety, especially doing so with no medication. We have done the things we have because we felt the evidence showed it was possible to work. Kai is perfectly fine at day camp. Kai is also perfectly fine when my wife and I are outside doing yard work and she’s in the house. She can sleep on the couch for hours perfectly fine while we are outside but not gone. So we knew we had a chance of making this work with out professional training help and such.
To conclude I thought I’d give you guys a quick glance into what our days look like now, and the routine that we have basically when ever they will be home alone, but specifically the full work days. It starts with the day/evening before really. Either doggy day camp, or another form of rigorous exercise such as a hike, or time at the dog park. The next morning I wake up at 4:45am to get ready for work and also take them out for a brisk walk. Before leaving for work I will usually do a couple walk arounds and make sure that there is nothing they can get into or destroy. I also make sure to open the curtains on a couple of the windows so they have the ability to look outside. My wife is usually up a bit before I leave for work, and shorty after I leave she takes them on their second vigorous walk of the morning. She then takes care of feeding them, and double checking the house to make sure all the upstairs rooms are closed, and everything else is put away or not reachable. She also makes sure that their collection of toys are all out including their marrow bones, chew toys, rope toys, etc etc. The last step before she leaves is to give Kai her CBD oil. The dogs are then home for about 10 hours until I get home from work and hurry to take them out to the bathroom. That’s our routine and a glance of what we do when leaving them alone. It’s not always perfect, sometimes we come home to something messed up still…but they are dogs and you have to expect some days things won’t be perfect. But we can finally leave them and either go to work, or do things together that the dogs would otherwise prevent. It takes a lot of work and dedication, but they are a part of our family. I wrote this because I see how many people go through the same exact thing that we have and I wanted to give you some hope that it can get better. Just figure out what works for you and your situation, and put it into practice and routine. Once you have that routine, don’t change it because that’s what dogs are reactive to. Best of luck friends, stay positive and realize it can and will get better. Just be willing to put in the work. I promise the reward and enjoyment of an amazing family member is so worth it!