Holistic approaches to managing separation anxiety: Helen and Holly's story

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It’s the keys. It’s always the keys. Even the slightest jangle from two rooms away is enough to ring Holly’s alarm bells.  

Separation anxiety can be hard to live with. How do I know? Holly and I have been tackling it for the past 3 years. A holistic approach to calming my dog's anxiety has been the best way forward — but it's still a work in progress.

Her condition means I can’t leave her alone for long periods without triggering a panic attack: shaking, hypersalivating, and crying. It’s a horrible experience for us both.   

In the past, she’s scaled 6ft walls into the neighbour’s garden to find me. Holly has also learned how to use door handles to check I’m not hiding in a room somewhere. She’s clever and learns quickly, but that’s also part of the problem — there’s no fooling this girl! 

Holly wasn’t always like this. For the first 2 years of her life, she was happy to stay at home while I went to work. I’d pop back every lunch and she had a dog-walker to break up her day too. Whenever I checked on her via my pet camera she’d be snoozing peacefully in a sunny spot.  

The trouble began during COVID: I had long stints working from home that became a full-time situation when I changed careers. Holly simply got used to the pack being together 24/7. 

Up to 40% of dogs experience signs of separation anxiety, but it can also affect the mental health of dog parents.  

It’s just Holly and me at home, so not having the freedom to leave the house when I want can be very frustrating and lonely. Some days are harder than others and there have been a few tears shed over the years, but we’ve found a way of life that works for us. When I make plans, she goes to daycare or a sitter, or she comes with me — I know every dog-friendly hotspot in my local area, but spontaneity is a thing of the past! 

What’s worked for Holly and me? 

The complex nature of mental illness in dogs means there’s no quick fix. For us, it was a case of trial and error to find the right combination that suited her demeanour and our lifestyle.  

What works for one dog, may not work for another. Holly appreciates a routing, but for some dogs a routine is not advisable because the smallest change to the schedule can trigger their anxiety.

Exercise and enrichment    

Hungarian Vizslas are known for their high energy and intelligence, so Holly needs plenty of enrichment activities. I’ve noticed a reduction in stress and anxiety when she’s depleted her excess energy levels, and her mind has been stimulated.  

Holly gets two long walks a day, but she’s particularly obsessed with fishing. As soon as we hit the beach she heads off towards the lagoon, regularly doubling back to make sure I’m following close behind her and to nag me if I’m walking too slowly.  

Her technique is something to behold: she leaps in the water like a dog-shaped gazelle, pouncing on anything that moves. Unsurprisingly, she’s never caught a single fish, but it never fails to make me (or others) laugh.   

To see her play at the beach, you’d never think this confident and sassy girl has separation anxiety!  

Diet and nutrition 

There's a direct connection between nutrition and anxiety — when I eat a healthy diet, my health and wellbeing improve, the same goes for Holly.

I choose to feed Holly Lyka fresh dog food because it contains a variety of high-quality ingredients to support her gut health and nourish her mind and body. I’m reassured to know she’s getting the best nutrition — it’s one less factor to consider when addressing anxiety. 

Holly and I get a lot of joy from our Lyka routine, and we’ve found that it has strengthened our bond of trust.  

I usually feed her after exercise, so she’s worked up an appetite. It also acts as a signal that it’s time to rest and digest — an important step in developing calm habits. I choose a different protein every meal to increase her enjoyment and to give her microbiome the benefit of food variety.

If I know there's going to be a big change, like a house move or a holiday, I'll also give her Lyka's Calm Supplement in advance, to support her sense of ease. If she stays with friends or a sitter, they follow our mealtime schedule for continuity and comfort.

Calm environments 

I’ve created a quiet home environment for Holly, and our routines are predictable which helps her feel secure and relaxed.  

In the evenings, after a walk and dinner, it’s wind-down time. I don’t engage in any activities that amplify her arousal levels, like squeaky toys, balls, or games. Instead, I encourage her to lie on her bed with a long-lasting chew to help soothe and relax her mind ready for sleep.

Holly has two beds that she loves equally: a cave bed (cosy and warm) and a stress-relief bed (space to stretch and nuzzle into the fur). 
 
I’m also very lucky to work in a dog-friendly office, which makes both our lives much easier. She loves playing with the other office dogs and especially loves the treat jars. It's like doggie daycare, so she’s usually mentally and physically tired after a hard day at work.  

Veterinary support 

When Holly was first diagnosed, I worked closely with my veterinarian to find the right ad hoc medication that suited Holly’s demeanour and our lifestyle.  

We’ve also tried pheromone treatment, stress-relief clothes, calming beds, and alternative remedies with varying degrees of success.  

Trainers and behaviourists 

I’ve engaged with trainers and a behaviourist on counterconditioning and desensitisation activities to build her tolerance.  

If I go on holiday, it can put us back to square one, even if she’s stayed with friends (and their dogs) that she loves.  So, this is always a work in progress. 

Community care 

Separation anxiety can be a long-term condition and sometimes I need a break and that’s okay. I’m thankful to have close friends and a handful of great dog sitters around me to support us both when I need it. 

Curing Holly’s separation anxiety: it’s a work in progress 

I wish Holly didn’t have separation anxiety, but I wouldn’t change her — she’s my girl and I love her unconditionally. The joy she brings far outweighs the difficulty of navigating her mental health issues. So, it’s up to me to implement strategies to desensitise her triggers until she’s comfortable with separation again. 

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