Our Gentle Giants

The story of two Floridians and their foster Great Danes

July 7th, 2015

Rocco’s Separation Anxiety: Self Confidence

By Tara

Rocco has, what I would call, severe separation anxiety, something I’ve never experienced before.

  • The first night with us, he absolutely refused to go in his crate so we reluctantly allowed him in our bedroom (which actually went pretty well).
  • He still is very, very slow to get in his crate. It usually takes him a few minutes and lots of “good boy; come on boy; let’s go, Rocco.”
  • I left him alone in the bedroom with his raised bed and favorite blanket to go out to an appointment. I set up a camera to monitor him. He paced and whined. After 15 minutes, he started tearing up his blanket. I turned around and went home.
  • I had to go to another appointment a few days later. I put him in the sun room where he couldn’t destroy anything (the windows into the house were open so the A/C was able to cool the room). He pooped and tracked it everywhere.
  • I was out of town for two weeks and Christian couldn’t miss work. Rocco was left alone for a few hours and would sometimes poop, but consistently tore up his paws trying to climb through the windows.

Needless to say, he does not like his own company.

So, we need to work on his separation anxiety because at this point, I cannot leave the house while Christian is at work. I usually have many appointments (because I’m so damn popular! No, really though, they’re piano/voice lessons and doctors appointments), so this is a big problem. I came back from my trip last weekend and had to cancel all appointments this week.

We are working on crate training him in two ways: when we are in the room, he insists on being near us. Even if his bed isn’t nearby, he’ll just stand behind the chair and occasionally ram his head into our armpits. We encourage him to go in his crate and lay down and we will leave the door open. Actually, as I’m typing this, he is peacefully napping in his crate. I am thrilled.


And some bonus photos of where Roxie and Mia are currently hanging out.cairn-terrier-sleeping


My favorite desk accessory.

The second thing we are doing is occasionally closing the door. We have begun by closing the door when we are in the room for 15 minutes. We will gradually increase the time. At some point, when we feel he feels less anxious than he did at the beginning, we will go into another room but still be in his line of sight. I did this once and he was so not okay with it, which put us back at square one. Once he’s okay with that, we will increase the time spent apart but within view. Then we will try being fully out of his sight but only for a few minutes. Then increase that time. Eventually, we will leave the house and gradually increase the time he is alone. I am hopeful that we will reach this point.

We never do this during storms or during any other time he is anxious. We want crate training to be a positive experience and if we train while he’s already anxious, it would be a disaster.

I think a huge part of separation anxiety has to do with the dog’s confidence.

For example, one of the things I’ll try when coaxing him into his crate is to get Roxie to run in there and sit down. I say “run” because she is fearless and eager. Maybe also because we feed Rocco in there and she’s hoping to find crumbs. I’ll praise her and then encourage Rocco to join her. There was one time when he did go in the crate while she was in there. Now, I wait a minute and if he doesn’t go in, I ask Roxie to come out (which she does). He goes in after a few moments.

Another example: when we first got his raised bed from the rescue, he was terrified at the idea of going on it. We first tried coaxing him on it and eventually, Christian was a little more forceful in getting him to go on it by gently grabbing his front legs and moving them so that they were on top of the bed. Once Rocco was on top of the bed, he had a hard time laying down. I don’t blame him; it’s an awkward feeling to be on a “tight hammock” (see the second photo in the collage below and you’ll see what I mean). Once he got a hold of his balance and had more confidence, he laid down. After that, it was super hard to get him off. Not because he was afraid, but because he was so damn comfortable.

At this point, he doesn’t have any anxiety about getting on his bed and happily goes on his own. He is still a little shaky, but we think it’s because of his weak joints and maybe because he’s still a little unbalanced.


Look at our confident boy looking up with a straight neck and perky ears!

During these two experiences, I found that Rocco had new self confidence after overcoming his fears. This makes me think that if we continue to work on his self confidence, maybe he’ll have less anxiety about life in general. I did a little research and found these articles to be helpful:

The more “strange” things you introduce your dog to, the more confident he will become.

Source: ABC Pet Training


Obedience training and agility training are excellent ways to help a dog feel more comfortable and confident in public and with other dogs and people. Just as it works with people, learning new skills improves the dog’s outlook on life as well as self-confidence.

Source: Paw Rescue


Simply teaching him basic good manners – to respond appropriately to your cues – will make his environment more predictable. It builds confidence to understand what you’re asking of him, and to understand the consequences of his behavior. 

Source: The Whole Dog Journal

Does anyone have any additional tips to share?

  • Barbara Rivers July 8, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    Have you tried taking him for a long walk (at least an hour, maybe with a doggie backpack) before you have to leave for an appointment, and then turning on some gentle classical music?

    • Tara July 9, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      The walk is definitely a good idea. Why the doggie backpack, though?

      You know, I keep forgetting about the classical music. I always remember when we are in the middle of a training session. However, I don’t want to turn it on at that time because he doesn’t have it associated with anything. I don’t want him to associate the classical music to anxiety :( But! I am turning it on right now for him.

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