Sorry for the long read but I need to get the details out…this is not a rant this is a desperate plea for advice on training my rescue GSD...
I adopted an adult (2-3 y/o) GSD in May. It was quickly apparent that he had severe separation anxiety – I observed him jumping/scratching at the door and pace all of the time while left home alone – he would not just sit/lay down (used a web cam). He also would mess in the house which I attributed partly to not being fully potty trained and partly to the separation anxiety. For instance, if I was in my bedroom and I let him chill in the living room while taking a shower, I would be greeted by a nice mess.
I structured his feeding times and walking times. I used positive reinforcement with both treats and praise while outside. I started using commands like “go potty” to initiate #1, “good potty” when he started/finished #1, “do your business” to initiate #2 and “good business” when he started finished #2. He started improving and eventually went from one #2 to two #2 per day. His separation anxiety was still a major issue though and he was still having accidents so it was time to try a crate.
The crate started as a disaster. He broke through the metal bars and cut his face up. He would mess in his crate as well and lay in it to the point where I had to bathe him almost every time I came home and clean up a huge mess. He chewed the plastic bottom of his crate so I went out to buy a metal bottom. I could not leave any food or water in his crate otherwise it would go upside down. He somehow moved his crate across my entire bedroom to the closet and pulled in clothing which he destroyed. I tied the crate to the bed and reinforced it with zip ties. That stopped the destruction but he would not settle down. He would howl and dig at the bottom of the crate to the point where he would be limping from straining his muscles. I tried kongs, billy sticks, etc, he would pay no or little attention once left home alone.
It was at this point I decided to try medication: clomicalm. After a few weeks building up in his system he did seem a little better but not completely. There were triggers that got him riled up when I was leaving – putting on clothes, shoes, touching the keys. So I started jingling my keys randomly throughout the day. He still was not doing great at this point the vet suggested Xanax on top of the clomicalm. I was extremely patient and kept up the routine – clomicalm daily, Xanax a bit before I was to leave him alone, kong, ignoring him before leaving and when returning, jingling the keys, etc. After a couple months he showed very good improvement.
I should mention that I was leaving my current job and decided to use up my vacation time so spent most of the summer chilling at home with him. That was probably a bad thing that we spent so much time together because it added to the separation anxiety when I would leave him. Then I started a new job where I was three days in office and two from home. I got him a walker to come mid-day for the three days I was at the office (I wasn’t gone long anyways - standard 8 hour work day). I would limit his water intake and not leave him with any during the day. He was still doing well and after several weeks of working I began to phase his crate out. I would keep the TV on to try to help. No accidents and the separation anxiety seemed to be in control. He would actually chill, lay down, sleep. Then I got rid of the crate.
He continued to do well for several weeks then Hurricane Sandy happened. Both my office building and apartment were severely damaged. I couldn’t live in my apartment for a couple weeks so we were couch surfing and staying in hotels. He had zero accidents and I was quite impressed. He did have a lot of energy though since we weren’t in our normal routine and going to the dog park as much as normal. Unfortunately my office building was so severely damaged I was told to work from home indefinitely and am still to this day. We got into a good routine – feeding time, business in the AM and PM, tried to get to the dog park regularly. I then decided to stop his clomicalm and xanax. The cold weather definitely boosted his energy as probably did taking him off the meds so I would take him on a 2-3 mile run on top of his regular walking.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I always spent a lot of time walking him because it would some times take forever to get him to go to the bathroom. I had a family situation where I needed to leave him for the day. I walked him for a good 45 minutes, he did #1 but did not do #2 which I knew he had to. I had no choice but to leave him. I came back to both #1 and #2 mess all over my bedroom (I keep him confined to one room). I treated it as an accident and did not get mad at him. However and unfortunately, over these past several weeks he has had a number of accidents – almost every day - and its not like I am leaving him alone for a whole day only a few hours maybe 4-5 at most. I’ve been using the standard natures miracle cleaner and my bedroom constantly smells of urine/cleaner – its disgusting.
I don’t know what to do now? Back to the crate? Back to the meds? The thing is his separation anxiety seems so much better. I come home to him actually asleep on the couch in my bedroom. In the past he would be right at the door going crazy. Sometimes recently when I leave him I hear him scratch at the door a bit but he usually calms down. I recently started trying a sound machine that makes ocean/water/nature sounds. That seemed to help even more so he couldn’t hear other people in the apartment or me leaving. I am so beyond frustrated at this point. I know he can hold his #1 and #2. There were times during the hurricane where he held for 24 hours and other times I’ve been with him at home and have tried to make him wait. He has only gone in front of me once and that was during the superbowl the other week after I brought him to a friends house who has three dogs and I probably should have let him pee before meeting them inside (he lifted his leg and peed on the wall inside). The thing is he messes when I’m not there to catch him so I don’t know if going back to the crate will be effective?
I read the recommendations found here: Need a little help potty training an 11 month old