Friday, January 20, 2017

Dealing with dog separation anxiety - Furbo review

I feel like this is such a specialized post and also I'm completely outing myself as a crazy dog person, if that wasn't already evident, but this has eaten up a ton of my time over the last month so I'm posting it anyways.

{does not look like a monster who barks nonstop}

Circe is a nearly silent and super calm dog when we're around so we were surprised when our sweet neighbors let us know that while we're at work she's been going on barking sprees that last upwards of 30 minutes. This, of course, made me feel terrible about both Circe's well being and the impact on my poor neighbors (luckily they are also crazy dog people, and were more concerned with Circe than the noise). We're thinking that as she gets older she's probably experiencing a little more separation anxiety. Unfortunately, neither of us work jobs where we can routinely bring a dog to work, so we have to come up with a system that will help her feel better about being at home alone during the day.

I read as much as I could find online about dog separation anxiety and it basically boiled down to a few core things, as far as I could tell:

- Don't make a huge deal out of leaving or coming home (this is hard for me!)
- Have something available as a special distraction when you're gone
- Make sure they're getting enough physical activity in general

Lots of people recommend crating to combat anxiety but Circe is almost 12 and I'm not about to start crate training at this point. In addition, I want her to have access to the backyard because we're gone for the whole day, so crating her wouldn't work for us.

I really wanted more detailed information about her barking patterns, so that we could try to identify what was working and what wasn't. In a fit of desperation, I purchased what is possibly the most extravagant dog item ever - a $200 camera that can also toss treats and send you alerts when your dog barks. I know, I'm crazy. I paid for it out of her allowance, though, and it's less than we used to spend on a dog walker each month (which was not a good solution for us, because Circe doesn't like walking in the middle of the day and she doesn't get particularly excited about seeing people other than family). The Furbo has a 30 day money back guarantee so I figured we had an out if it didn't work well for us. Turns out, it's amazing. We've had it for a couple weeks now, and it's made a huge difference in managing her anxiety. We can check in on her live video feed from our phones and have a mini play session by tossing her treats if she's behaving well. If she starts barking, it sends an alert to our phones and we can check in on the feed. There is a microphone option so you can talk to your dog, but we've had mixed success with this because Circe is going a little deaf and it's hard to catch her attention unless she's really close by. We have used it as a creepy walky talky when one of us is at work and the other person is still home. Ha. You need a certain size treat for the Furbo to function best, and these Zuke's dog treats work really well (plus they're wheat free, which can be tricky to find).

circe + furbo
{bonus - Furbo is not a hideous eyesore - it's the white tower back there on my nightstand}

In addition to the Furbo I stocked up on some dog puzzles (yes, this is a thing) to keep her occupied while we're gone. She usually decimates them within 20 minutes of us leaving the house, but it hopefully gives her a positive association with us leaving. We showed her how to use each one the first time, but now we only give them to her when we're gone. We give her two puzzles each day, rotating which ones we use. We already had this one, which is beginner level, and we added this more interesting activity board, plus the higher level dog chess. (Technically you aren't supposed to allow your dog to use these unattended, I guess in case they tear it apart and eat the plastic? Circe is really gentle with her toys and we feel totally comfortable letting her play with these while we're gone, but that's something to bear in mind if your dog has a history of eating plastic)

I tried getting her this really well designed treat dispenser, but she wasn't interested in it for some reason. I think she only likes ugly toys. It was a big hit with the toddlers, though, so I guess we'll keep it as a kids toy.

dog puzzle

bone puzzle

We've been working this system for a couple weeks and we're already noticing a downward trend in her barking fits. I'm super impressed with the bark alert functionality. It can pick up her barking from any room in the house and it almost never has false alarms (we did have to turn it off over the weekend when we were having a party with multiple toddlers and there was lots of shrieking, but our day to day life rarely sets it off).

Some reviewers have noted issues with their units straight out of the box (treat dispenser not working, speaker sound really distorted) so I was apprehensive, but ours has worked perfectly. I'll update if it doesn't hold up to long term use. They have a pretty responsive customer support team, so I'm not too worried about it.

I am disappointed that it doesn't have logging capability. I'd like a record of when Circe barks and for how long, and also when we tossed her treats. Right now we do this manually, based on our notifications, but it would be so much nicer to have it integrated. I sent this request to the customer support team and they said they would send it to the tech team, so maybe someday this will happen.

Currently, there's no way to link multiple cameras to your account, so you can only have eyes on one room in your house unless you want to sign in and out of multiple accounts on your phone. Circe tends to hang in the bedroom so we put the camera there, but sometimes she moves to the living room and I won't see her for hours. It would be smart to offer the option to link cameras (although I'm not sure I can justify buying multiple units at this cost). Even better would be if you could have a main Furbo with full functionality, but also cheaper satellite Furbo cameras for other rooms without treat tossing capability. I know there are other options for house cameras, but so far I've resisted.

Note - if you aren't on board with spending this much money on a dog camera (I get it), I would also recommend the Dog Monitor app which I used when we first adopted Circe. I haven't used it in a few years, so I don't have the most up to date experience, but it worked decently for us back then. If you already have an iPad, this could work for you. It had the camera function (although you can only get stills when you're not on wifi) and you can talk to the dog through the mic and it will send you bark alerts. We found it tended to drop the connection a lot (and couldn't pick it back up until the app was restarted at home) but that could have been our internet.

Thundershirt - we have a Thundershirt and we have used it each time we move. I find that Circe gets really freaked out by nighttime noises for the first few nights in a new place, and the Thundershirt works great for that and gets her sleeping through the night until she adjusts. I've read that some people will use it during the day to prevent dog separation anxiety, but Circe never seems to be able to move very well in it (she won't jump on the bed when she's wearing it) so I've been reluctant to leave her in it unattended. I would probably consider it if the barking got worse.


  1. I don't even have a dog but this was really interesting to read. We're planning to get a Westie soon and my biggest concern was it being bored while we're gone, so many great tips here to make sure it's kept busy while we're out!

    1. Exciting! I will say, different dogs are sooo different. It's hard to know how they'll react to being left alone. Oddly, Circe doesn't even seem to care that much when we're home. She'll come in and check on us regularly, but she doesn't really hang out with us that much so she's usually in a different room sleeping. So it's really strange that she seems to care so much when we're gone! It barely impacts the way she spends her day, since she's mostly sleeping either way. Such a weirdo.

    2. Right now you’re probably reading this message because you’re desperate to finally learn how to not only train your dog quickly and effectively, but you also don’t want to have to spend a huge chunk of cash on professional dog trainers or read yet another dog training book that doesn’t get you results.

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  2. Thanks so much for the great review! Our dog doesn't have separation anxiety, but we like to keep him busy while we're away. Have you tried frozen kongs? Our guy only gets these when we are away so he really looks forward to us leaving. And if you want to up the ante, you could also start hiding treats. We play a game where we hide the kong and tell him to "find it". Will probably take some training at first, but it's a nice way to extend the activity and tire them out mentally. I have a friend who hides goldfish all over the house for her dog to find when she's away.
    - NN

    1. We haven't tried the frozen Kong tip because Circe likes to eat her treats on our bed and I'm loathe to get melting peanut butter (or similar) all over the place. Have you found it to be messy? Maybe I'm just not understanding how it works.

      And I totally had a second where I thought you meant your friend was hiding actual live goldfish and I couldn't figure out how that made any sense. Ha! I think my brain is fried this week.

    2. Ah yes, it does get pretty messy with all the dog slobber plus slowly melting peanut butter (especially if you use the natural kind). Our dog luckily will just bring it to his dog bed to enjoy, but I would be less of a fan if he was eating it in our bed! Haha and yes, goldfish crackers!

    3. Ugh, that's what I suspected, bummer. I wish Circe would agree to a dog bed, but instead she acts like our bed really belongs to her. I would definitely come home to melted peanut butter all over the duvet every day.

  3. I was going to recommend a frozen kong also--it takes them a long time to get through it, which helps. I wanted to see what they were doing in the crate all day so I used a free app called Presence; you can set up an ipad trained on them and it sends you emails with videos when there is movement/sound. I am also able to stream it to my work computer so I can just stare at them (spoiler alert: they slept. all. day.)! You might not be into this idea but one of mine is a major barker (he's a happy guy, just very very vocal) so we have used a citronella collar on him when needed. He doesn't get sad about it, comes to have it put on very willingly, but it does remind him not to bark, and it's been very helpful on walks when we pass other dogs. My other dog gets VERY DEPRESSED when she has had it on, so we never use it on her. I hope Circe continues to feel more at ease! Best, Tamara

    1. Thanks for the app rec! Is the frozen Kong messy? I kept reading that tip, but was avoiding it for fear I'd come home to a disaster zone.

      I looked into the citronella collars when I was freaking out but D was against it. He thinks (and he has a point) that we need to address the underlying cause of her barking and not just try to get her to stop, even if that means it takes a bit longer to resolve. If our neighbors were less understanding, we might have had to make a bigger push to get her to stop immediately, though!

    2. Oh, I totally hear that!! The collar works best for us on a walk, so that he doesn't LOUDLY greet other dogs.

      Yes, the kong is messy--ours eat it in the crate, if ever.

      I'm glad the Furbo is working for you!! Thanks for the post, I love your blog!


  4. I'll 2nd the Presence app! It's free and you can use it on old android or iphones, too. Just make sure you wipe all your information (contacts, email, banking info, etc.) off the phone before using it, because when it's connected to Presence, it's unlocked.

    We used it before we got Nest cameras. It works well for the motion setting :).

    1. Thank you! So good to hear about this alternative! I definitely contemplated the Nest cameras too, because I have friends that love them. I wasn't sure the added benefit of treat tossing would be worth the extra cost of Furbo, but it seems like it is for us. We try to get in a couple of treat tossing play sessions, and I think it breaks up Circe's day a bit and gives her something to engage with.

  5. Ahhh! My cousin (well, second cousin's husband) designed that Odin / Up Dog treat dispenser. Sorry it didn't work for you but happy to hear you thought it was well designed. : )

    1. Also, hilarious that it works for kids!

    2. It's so pretty! And the packaging and everything is such a nice change from the usual dog toys. I'm not sure why Circe didn't take to it, but I'm going to blame it on poor taste. She just doesn't want us to have anything that looks nice.

  6. We found out our dog had separation anxiety the very same way - super-nice, concerned neighbors. He would only bark when we weren't home, so we would never have known otherwise. It's such a hard problem to deal with because I felt so powerless - I can't be in the house with him every second of the day! - and it made me so sad to know that he was sad/anxious/scared.

    Our dog is crate-trained and happily sleeps in his crate at night, takes naps in it during the day, and rides in it in the car, but we realized that he does significantly better if we don't crate him when we're not home. I think it's that, if he's in the crate and anxious, the only thing he can do is bark. If he's loose, he can walk around, check the kitchen floor for crumbs, nap on the couch (where he is technically not allowed, but whatever), follow the cat around, etc. He has more outlets for his feelings and more to distract him. When we leave, we set up a baby gate to keep him confined to a couple rooms (and out of the kitchen trash...) and it's made a huge difference.

    Frozen Kongs ARE messy and if our dog ate them on our bed, that would be in the end of it. He takes all of his treats and toys to his own bed, fortunately. As long as the puzzle toys are working for you, I don't think you need to add frozen Kongs into the mix. It's the same idea - a special treat that takes a little while to finish.

    The book "I'll Be Home Soon" was a great resource for us, in case anyone is looking for more to read on separation anxiety.

    1. Thanks for the book rec, and so glad you guys found a system that works for your dog! I felt the same way when I realized that Circe was having issues - so sad and powerless! How can you train them not to do something that they only do when you aren't there?! I'm so relieved that we seem to be making progress.

    2. I'm so glad you worked it out for Circe! I am a pet sitter/dog walker and I've seen my fair share of dogs with separation anxiety. It can be very distressing for them.

      One thing you could also try is leaving the radio on for Circe while you're gone, on a classical music station or NPR. I've seen that work well for a few dogs in my care. I'll be remembering Furbo in case I can recommend it to any of my clients :-)

    3. Yes, we always joke that Circe is the best informed member of our household because we leave NPR on for her all day! I think it helps a lot with reducing her reaction to random noises outside.

      We have friends who leave the TV on for their dogs instead, but Circe will almost always leave the room as soon as the TV turns on. Ha.

    4. We always say that our cat is very cultured, as she listens to classical music radio all day :-) Interesting that Circe leaves the room when the TV is on - she must be very cultured, too!

  7. Yes, outing yourself as a dog person, but also a person who cares. <3 Nothing wrong with that!

  8. OH MY GOD in the same boat right now! We just moved our 12-year-old dog from a house w a dog door to a crate. He is not happy. I have spent so much money trying to fix this; I even got him a pot prescription...

  9. Your dog does not have to follow you everywhere. Yes, he can watch but he should be able to wait until you request his company. These little changes will help teach your dog to have the self-confidence he needs to handle being alone.

    Separation anxiety can be overcome, you can turn some dogs around fairly quickly, with others it takes time, patience, and consistency.


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