Abandonment Anxiety. Separation Anxiety.

I couldn’t believe how calm and confident Sketch was when I arrived. She was interested without being pushy.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the ten-month-old Wirehaired Pointer had arrived with my clients. Previous to that she had been turned out onto the streets with her siblings in Hungary, picked up by a rescue and fostered for a few months. Then transported by plane and car to her new UK home.

So far the only problem that has surfaced is her distress when left alone.

Fear of abandonment.

She and their other dog, a beautiful gentle Vizsla called Doodle, get on great. Sadly, Doodle’s company isn’t what Sketch needs. (Don’t you just love their names!).

Abandonment anxiety when leftSketch needs the permanent presence of a human.

Two weeks ago she wouldn’t let the lady out of her sight at all. Now is fine left alone with the gentleman. Things are improving daily. The other day they had a pre-arranged appointment and a dog walker had her all day. She was walked with various other dogs; the walker treated her as she would her own dog for the day. Sketch was absolutely fine.

This is good news because while they work on the separation or abandonment issues, should the need arise they have cover. They won’t need to leave her alone before she’s ready. The lady works from home.

It is totally understandable that Sketch may be feeling insecure in a very different new world. Her distress at being left with no human about could more accurately be called abandonment anxiety.

She is now fine alone in the night, knowing that her humans are in the house.

Where only two weeks ago she had to have human company during the night, Sketch is now okay shut in the utility room with Doodle.

This is a big step forward. She is beginning to feel more secure now she is realising her humans remain in the house. Fear of abandonment isn’t an issue during the night anymore.

They are now at a stage where she can be left in the utility room for short periods during the day also so long as nobody goes out of the front door.

Their front door is very noisy due to a draft excluder that sticks. The sound of this, now, is Sketch’s main trigger for panic.

Where would it be best to work on leaving her when they both need to go out?

As she now seems okay in the utility room at night time, it seems sensible to build on her increasing acceptance of the utility room for when they go out of the house.

So, to start with, they will work on her being comfortable left for very short and gradually lengthening periods in the utility room during the day, probably with Doodle too.

At the same time, they need to work on any triggers that herald their leaving. At the moment it’s the sound of the front door.

Breaking things down.

To start with they will build on getting her comfortable with being separated briefly from them by now shutting doors on her as they go around the house.

They will build a good routine of the dogs being called happily into the utility room at random times for food. This won’t yet involve their going out of the house.

They will work on getting her to feel good about the main trigger for her panic – the noisy front door opening and closing. They will work on this trigger until it is no longer a problem to her – until they can walk out and back in.

When Sketch is happy with the front door opening and closing, they can pair the two things they have been working on. They can shut in the utility room and add the sound of the front door opening and closing.

Next they can add walking out of the front door, shutting it, opening it and walking straight back in again. Then letting her out of the utility room.

Gradually they will increase the time they are outside. With camera and phone app they can ensure they come back to her before she is agitated. They don’t want her stressing or crying to herald their return – they will come back in while she’s calm and happy.

We can then see what to do next. Maybe other triggers that predict their leaving will arise. Perhaps things will get worse before they get better.

Maybe as she gains a feeling of security in general the problem of abandoment will resolve faster than expected. This is possible. Her humans are very perceptive and sensitive to her needs.

Proud.

They must be so proud when they are out with their two wonderful, well behaved and social dogs.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sketch and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Panic. Separation Anxiety. Left Alone

This is very sad. It all started off so well for the first few months of their Frenchie puppy’s life. They could happily leave her to go to work, coming home at lunch time.

Then they had to go away for a couple of weeks and Margot was left with friends. She seemed perfectly happy whilst there.

But, when she got home, everything changed. The couple went out to work the next day and they came home to toilet mess all over the floor. She had chewed the door they had departed from.

Poor Margot was in a state of complete panic.

Since then things have got worse. At my suggestion, they have just filmed her to find that she runs about in a panic from the moment the leave, defecating as she goes. She pees all over the place. She is constantly pacing, running back and forth and jumping at the door. It seems she does this the whole time that they are absent.

A nine-month-old pup should be sleeping at least seventeen hours a day. Instead, she’s spending most of it in major state of panic. Her humans are distraught. Coming home to such a mess each time as she paces and treads in her mess shows just how much of a panic she is in.

Margot is beautiful, friendly and polite. She is just so biddable and amenable. It’s heartbreaking for them to see how unhappy their precious little dog gets.

Chewing.

For much of the time while I was there, Margo was totally engaged in chewing at something – calming herself down. De-stressing.

Panic attack when left aloneWhat is particularly tricky in a case like this is that it’s impossible to take things gradually, one thing at a time, because their work necessitates continuing to leave her for four hours at a time, twice a day.

It seems that the distress comes most particularly at being separated from one person. He is the one who feeds her and is at home one day a week. He, however, works for the emergency services and when he’s on call his bleeper will suddenly go off. He has to drop everything and run.

This can’t help.

What can they do?

Firstly I have given them fairly mechanical exercises to build up Margot’s resilience to their comings and goings. This starts with doors shutting on her and opening immediately, many times, food dropped as the door shuts. Gradually there will be delay before the door opens. Over time, the time left alone will increase. It’s vital for these exercises that the door opens before Margot feels anxiety.

They will start on easy inside doors before going to the outside door that throws Margot into such a panic.

The next part of our programme is to work on each trigger, like picking up keys, the bleeper and putting on boots

They have to go out to work.

Then there is the big problem of going out for real when Margot simply won’t be ready. But it has to happen.

They will optimise the environment including frosting the glass door from which she can see them depart. Cutting down on the area will mean there is less floor to clean. They have tried a crate, but she was so frantic she bent the bars.

Amongst other things, they will leave a plug-in, special calming music and a large cuddly toy wearing the man’s T-shirt smelling of him.

Their routine when leaving will be overhauled.

Instead of their own panic when leaving as they try to get ready and to get out with an increasingly frantic dog trying to push through the door with them, they will do something else.

They can get ready to go. But, instead of leaving, they will then go back and sit down . They will spend five minutes just being with Margot, sitting very still and contemplating on calmness. This may sound very New Age but I’m sure it will help.

Then, slowly and calmly, they can get up and leave.

Unfortunately, because they have to go to work, each time Margot is left before she is sufficiently prepared is going to set her back again.

I just hope that the speed of progress outstrips the unavoidable backsliding and probable breakdown in trust each time they leave for too long.

Medication may be necessary.

If these protocols and exercises don’t result in any improvement in the next couple of weeks, I believe Margot will need the back-up of meds and we will be in touch with their vet. They may also need to look into daycare, if only to give themselves the few months probably necessary to work on the problem slowly, in tiny increments.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Margot. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Learned Behaviour and a Lovely Lurcher

Learned behaviour that needs to be un-learned.

Four months ago a dishevelled, grey, skinny dog in dreadful condition stepped out in front of my client’s car.

After a visit to the vet and a bath, he turned out to be a mostly white Lurcher.

They traced his past from a microchip and were able to keep him.

What a great life Alfie now has.

Alfie has brought with him what I’m sure is some learned behaviour from his past life and it’s now causing problems.

The lady is a dog walker and has two other dogs of her own.

The young Lurcher pesters other dogs with too much excited and mouthy play, whether they want it or not. He seems unable to pick up their signals. He won’t leave them alone and he will scruff them, irrespective of the size of the dog.

Alfie just won’t take no for an answer unless a dog gets very cross with him.

This is bad news for the lady who is a dog walker.

This learned behaviour is constantly rehearsed at home. Tiny Yorkie Chihuahua mix Pip is very playful and sometimes even goads him into it.

Play consists of Alfie grabbing her by the her neck or she puts her head in his mouth. He doesn’t shake her. He self-handicaps because she is so small and she is a willing participant. He doesn’t hurt her.

However, not all other dogs are willing participants like Pip. Alfie just doesn’t seem to get this.

He simply won’t leave them alone.

While he still rehearses the learned behaviour it will continue – it may even get worse.

This type of play can be better controlled at home with Pip. The lady can work on a method at home to teach Alfie stuff he should have learned when a puppy. She can adapt the same process when she is out, when Alfie either is with the dogs she walks and with dogs they meet.

Alfie and Pip will learn a STOP signal when she feels enough is enough. She will call both dogs to her and reward them for dong so.learned behavour

If Alfie then goes straight back, I suggest the lady walks out of the room for a couple of minutes. He will stop anything he is doing to follow her if he can.

Four months ago the lady couldn’t even walk out of sight without Alfie panicking. She has done very well and can now leave him for up to an hour so long as he’s with the other dogs.

If, after walking out, Alfie goes straight back for more, she can separate the two dogs for a while to calm down.

The more arousal there is ‘in the air’ the more this sort of play happens, so avoiding winding him up is vital. When left alone, away from humans, the dogs don’t do it (they have videoed them). Often dogs only play when their humans are about.

It will be hard work but if this is a habit to be broken the couple must be consistent and work at it.

On walks they have tried muzzling Alfie to spare other dogs, but he goes wild and body-slams them instead. He will now be on a long line attached to a harness. She can call him to her as soon as (or before) he starts. She will always reward him even if he needs to be reeled in.

If he goes straight back for more she can walk off briskly in the opposite direction. Knowing Alfie, he will forget about the dog if he thinks she might leave him.

This learned behaviour needs to be un-learned.

It has probably been rehearsed over and over for much of his eighteen months, so it’s only constant repetition of a different behaviour that will stop it. It’s also possibly a sighthound ‘thing’.

It sounds to me like he may have lived with lots of dogs in his early days, mainly unsupervised. Just guesswork of course.

Here is a nice quote from a Dog Trust fact sheet: ‘Sometimes the unwanted behaviour can become learned by the dog, and then he will use it automatically when under stress or motivated. This means that the dog has no choice over whether he shows that behaviour or not under those circumstances, which makes punishment very unfair and ineffective. If punishment is used, it can make the problem much worse since this will increase stress and fear in the dog even further.’

When Alfie is playing nicely or just politely near to another dog, this should be recognised and reinforced too. Good Boy. Well Done. Food. He’s not interested in playing ball. If he were, she could reward him with a game instead.

In time he should learn to play nicely so long as they help him to read when the other dog isn’t willing or the play isn’t equal by calling him away.

Alfie has settled into his new life so well in just four months. His separation issues are improving and the only real shadow over them is his behaviour with other dogs.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Alfie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

 

Marking or Housetraining?

When the couple go out, they usually come back to small amounts of yellow pee in various parts of the kitchen.

marking in the house

Buddy – with Marley peeping in the background

Recently this had begun to happen at night too.

So they had gone back to ‘housetraining’ the little terrier with frequent visits to the garden. Adorable Buddy is now two years old.

The only thing that has so far made any difference has been putting him back in his crate at night where he used to sleep when he was younger.

Buddy crated – no urine.

The peeing never happens in the day if people are at home. However, if they go out and leave the two dogs alone for just a short while they come back to urine.  They will be videoing them to see exactly what happens during the day when they are out. Now that Buddy is in his crate during the night there is no urine – so we can be sure the marking is not Marley.

This is not actually a housetraining problem as it never happens when the dogs have access to their humans. The cause of the marking has to be Buddy’s feelings when left.

To compound the problem, it’s only recently that the dogs have been left alone, downstairs in the kitchen, at night time.

It’s not just peeing to empty his bladder. It’s marking.

The other dog, also two years old, is a beautiful Sprocker called Marley. Now left in the kitchen with Buddy at bedtime, he too is very stressed. He cries all night and scratches at the door. He wants to sleep upstairs on their bed like he used to.

The young lady has recently moved into her boyfriend’s house and they have decided that from now on the dogs will sleep downstairs. Previously they had slept on her bed with her – both where she lived previously and upstairs in this house. Now they are shut in the kitchen.

She has left Marley to cry for a couple of nights. This obviously is upsetting and tiring for her but imagine what state the sensitive Marley will be in after a whole night of crying.

Separation is the real problem. Marking is a symptom.

They may, understandably, be cross with Buddy when they come home which can only add to anxiety which is the cause of the whole problem. Because by definition ‘marking’ is about being noticed, in case he does see any connection with their crossness and the marking which is doubtful, they should ignore it and clear up when the dogs are both outside.

Because he has always marked when left alone there is also bound to be an element of habit to it which can now be broken.

Some days the dogs are left home alone in the kitchen for nine hours. Add to this their no longer being allowed in the bedroom for the night, it does mean a lot of time apart from the couple who adore the dogs and want them to be happy.

What can they do?

Buddy and Marley

They will need somehow to make sure the long days are broken up with someone coming in the middle of the day.

Some days the young man has been working from home. He says he will now take them to work in his office when he can. They have friends who may be able to help out on other days.

Left for shorter periods, they can perhaps keep alternating crating Buddy with leaving him free in the kitchen with Marley. When he’s in the crate he won’t pee. Both dogs can be left with a stuffed Kong to work on – something not wise if both are loose together just in case there are arguments over the food. (Take a look at this: Ode to a Kong).

They can also leave toys and other things for them to do. Background music especially created for dogs could help keep them calm.

They can gate the stairs so from now onwards both dogs no longer expect to go upstairs ever again. At present they can still be upstairs in the bedroom with the couple during the day and evening but have to go to the kitchen at night.

There are some other problems we are addressing. Sprocker Marley is constantly active, running about, leaping over things, sniffing and being busy and no doubt needs more to do. The little terrier is noisy, reactive and prone to obsessing over moving shadows and reflections. They have two kittens which over-excite Buddy. General strategies to lower their stress levels along with appropriate healthy stimulation will undoubtedly help with everything.

When people work hard with only so many hours in the day, something somewhere has to give. In this case with the young man is really on board with helping his girlfriend’s dogs and I am sure they will make the changes necessary to give them more healthy mental stimulation, less arousal and less time alone.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Buddy and Marley and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Yorkie Pup’s Separation Barking

Yorkie pup who suffers separation

Gizmo could fit in my bag

The tiny six-month Yorkie is so beautiful I could not resist three photos.

Gizmo cries when left alone.

The key to relieving him and his young humans from all the anxiety and stress around separation is to find out just why he is unhappy when left.

Separation Anxiety is a blanket term that covers a lot of possibilities.

In many separation cases the dog won’t let a particular person out of his sight. Gizmo is fairly independent and is perfectly happy to go into the garden alone. He’s a confident little fellow and he has a lovely life, being trained and treated as a ‘proper dog’ despite his minute size.

He may cry at the gate, however, if the lady goes upstairs for more than a minute or so. I’m sure he believes that his noise is what brings her back down (because it always does).

From looking at the whole picture of his life, like any puppy he generally doesn’t want to miss anything that could be action or fun, and he’s learnt barking is a way to get it.

Gizmo wearing a hat?

In the early hours of the morning he barks, which results in someone coming downstairs and letting him out, then taking him up to bed with them. For the past week they have tried having him in their bedroom all night, but he’s still barking at the same early hour.

When Gizmo stays with the young lady’s mother for a night or two he doesn’t bark at all and he will sleep in until much later.

These two things rule out the barking at night being due merely to loneliness, and it’s not that he can’t last through without being let out to toilet.

Everything points to the fact that unintentionally they have taught him to call them. Gizmo wants action and company and usually gets it when he barks!

They have very helpfully taken a video of his first ten minutes alone.

The little dog seems unconcerned about being left initially. He starts by working on the Kong he has been left. Gradually he gets tired of that and starts looking around for company. This develops into some wandering around and pacing like he’s looking for them, some crying for them. He gets a bit more agitated, probably because he’s getting no response. Then he eats the food he’s been left.  A really distressed or scared animal would not want to eat. Food finished, he’s barking and wandering almost like he’s looking for something else to do and for some company. He only briefly goes to the back door the lady had walked out of.

Certainly he’s distressed, but not in a real panic.

When the lady does get back after two or three hours, never longer, Gizmo is getting out of his bed.

This pattern seems to be much the same at night when, if left to carry on crying, after about half an hour he gives up and settles.

Gizmo’s humans will work on him being happy to be by himself for longer while they are in the house. We have worked out a few carefully controlled and graded exercises with them leaving him to go upstairs, leaving him behind the gate in the kitchen and leaving him to go out of the house.

Added to this, more fun things should be available when they’re not there and not always when they are there.

Sleeping Yorkie pup

Gizmo asleep

People have more control over the situation than they realise. Gizmo’s humans can influence what happens before and what happens afterwards.

They can prepare Gizmo for people departing. The exercises will help this. They can put in place much more imaginative things to occupy him when he’s left. There are several things they can work on to help him associate being left alone with good stuff and with relaxing.

They can pre-empt the barking for attention in the evenings by initiating more fun themselves instead of responding to his barking, in order to teach him that barking is not the way to get what he wants. They can rehearse over and over tactics for getting him used to being left for short periods and they can change their rituals immediately before leaving for work. Being left will be associated with all sorts of good stuff.

And what happens afterwards? They have control over that too and how they respond. If reuniting is too big an event, it gives the dog yet another thing to bark for. Barking generally ends up in attention and fun, after all.

With separation issues, whatever the reasons, the dog is not happy. This makes his humans unhappy too.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Gizmo. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. One size does not fit all and there are various causes for separation issues so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Helppage)

Marking or Separation Anxiety?

Black greyhound lying downWhether marking or anxiety through being left, the root cause will be Herbie’s feeling of insecurity.

Greyhounds have hidden depth. It’s easy to assume that because five-year old Herbie lies around quite a lot and appears peaceful and a bit lazy, that he’s calm inside. I noticed a lot of jaw-chattering that is usually associated with stress of some sort, along with yawning and lip-licking. In Herbie’s case, it seems that it’s not ‘stress’ necessarily in an anxiety sense, more slight arousal.

He loves a cuddle – seeking the affection himself – but his jaw may still chatter. He’s a very friendly boy and gave me a happy but polite greeting, very curious to smell my own dogs on me.

The signs that there is more going on inside him than most people might immediately notice, however, is one big clue as to why, over the past few months, Herbie has taken to peeing in the house.

He is a retired racing dog they have had for eighteen months. At the time the couple were both out all day at work and they had a tight routine. There was no marking or peeing indoors at the time.

Then came a lot of upheaval. The lady took maternity leave which meant Herbie had company much of the time but her comings and goings were unpredictable. They had extensive building work done opening up the house which at times upset him so much he had to be shut in a bedroom. This is when the trouble started.

Then six months ago the baby arrived. The toileting indoors is now becoming a real problem because the baby will soon be on the move.

Initially the ‘marking’ could be anywhere in the house and not necessarily when the couple were out and seems to stem from all the change making him unsettled. Initially I felt this might have been marking ‘his’ territory, scent marking anything new that was erected or appearing in his house.

Black greyhound lying downMore recently, though, the weeing has only happened when he has been left, and nearly always it is in the same place – by the window from which he watches them disappear down the garden path.

The next question is whether it’s because he doesn’t like being left all alone per se, whether any company is sufficient, or whether is he pining for the lady in particular and to whom he’s closest.

Possibly he actually feels that it’s the lady who needs him, and that he should be keeping an eye on the baby? The only time he has shown any aggression has been when a large dog rushed up to the buggy.

Another questions is, does he pee immediately as he watches them go or some time later?

Answers to these things can affect how we approach the solution.

They will video him. During the week the lady may go out a couple of times a day with the baby, and nearly every time she comes home to a puddle in the same place, on the rug by the French windows. At the weekend the couple will go out together.  I suggested they tried the man staying behind with Herbie while the lady takes baby down the garden path, then five minutes later he joins her. If this improves things, we know the lady must then work on the dog’s separation specifically from herself and possibly the baby.

The dog disturbs them in the night also, going upstairs and whining – probably waking when he hears them get up to the baby, and this is disturbing their nights even more. They eventually take him back down again and nearly always find a puddle in the morning.

It’s only since the building work that he has gone upstairs at all. They want him to come up in the morning only now.

My feeling is that they need to be consistent and start to set up some solid boundaries and routines again – as they had when he first came to live with them. They can once more stop him going upstairs. The house wasn’t open plan before and Herbie was more contained.

I suggest they gate the front part of the house from where the stairs lead during the day. They can first do this for a couple of days so he gets used to more restriction before shutting the gate at night. This then gives the lady lots of opportunity to depart from Herbie, taking baby with her. He won’t be able to follow her everywhere – good preparation for leaving him when she goes out. If she drops a couple of bits of his kibble over the gate each time she leaves him behind, over time he should be associating the sight of her walking away from him with something good.

What’s more, these short indoor departures will reinforce to Herbie that she always comes back.

Separation issues can take time and patience to conquer. In Herbie’s case there could well be a bit more to it. With insecurity being the real problem, it’s his feelings of insecurity that need to be addressed.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Herbie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good.  One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Welcoming the New Puppy

Black Maltese puppyThey had picked up thirteen week old Maltese, Oakley, the day before I came. He now lives with a couple and their two young sons aged eleven and eight.

About a month ago I had been to see the grandparents who live next door and the puppy lives with the young boy who was bitten by Asha and who has been doing so well in learning to understand her. He has even been training his friends.

My job is to help them to make sure all goes well from the start with little Oakley and the boys, and to help with the tricky situation of introducing the two Shitzus next door to the new puppy. One little dog, Gizzy, should be fine. Asha, however, is not at all good with other dogs and it’s important she doesn’t frighten the new puppy.

There is a gate between the two properties which both dogs and children freely go through. For now the gaps have been blocked although there is still a space underneath – a space large enough for little noses and for barking.

Although not house trained by the breeder, Oakley is taking to it naturally, and will even go to the door when he needs to toilet.  When I was there, however, this coincided with the two Shitzus being out in their garden. Asha barked and little Oakley barked and came dashing back into the safety of the kitchen. The younger boy sat on the swing while the puppy was outside and this scared him too.

It’s important that nothing frightens him outside else he won’t be so willing to go out to toilet. We don’t want him having to run the gauntlet past that gate which may have an aggressive-sounding Asha barking underneath it.

When little Oakley has settled I shall go back and work out a plan for integrating the new puppy with the other two dogs. We can start with the more relaxed and dog-friendly Gizzy first. Meanwhile, they should block the gap under the gate and both sides should be ready to start throwing tasty bits of food on the ground when dogs and puppy are aware of each other – far enough away from the gate and fence that they are not so aroused they won’t eat.

This way the dogs will begin to associate each other with something good – food.

We looked at the other basic ‘puppy parenting’ aspects such as gradually teaching Oakley that being all alone is fine (he had a good first night fortunately) in order to pre-empt separation problems, teaching the boys how to deal with puppy nipping, not to over-excite him and to give him space.

We looked at what is good food and what is not so good. I showed them how to lure him into sitting but suggested leaving any more training for now and allow him to settle in before putting any pressure on him. I stressed, as I always do, the importance of appropriate and non-scary acclimatisation to people, other dogs, appliances, traffic and everyday life outside the home.

One boy took a feather off him that he had found in the garden. This was a good opportunity to explain the importance of never just ‘taking’ something – but to exchange (and also not to remove things that don’t matter!). This then pre-empts any resource guarding behaviour.

I am really looking forward to my next visit when Oakley is properly settled. One boy is keen to learn to clicker train Oakley. We will then look at the best way to work on getting that gate between the gardens open again.

It took a while, but a couple of months later here are all three dogs happily together.casey

Separation Problems and Fresh Ideas

Louis‘The Samoyed is gentle and dependable in heart and mind — robust and spirited in body’. I would say this sums up on-year-old Louis perfectly. He is little more than a puppy with abundant energy.

He was initially stirred up because, over-excited when people visit anyway, he is usually made to stay on his bed until the person goes over to him, and because I didn’t want him ‘controlled’ – wanting to see what he was really like – the break in routine may have unsettled him. Now, fully fired up, he was jumping about and chasing the cat. The cat teases him.

During the evening we worked on coming away from the cat using clicker and also worked on teaching him to self-calm, again using the clicker. Only when we put the clicker away did he start again to walk about panting, yawning and stressing. Eventually a time-out break in the kitchen did the trick.

Ever since they had him as a puppy they have had to work on both separation and toileting issues. They are extremely switched-on, having done a lot of online research. The downside of this is that there is so much conflicting advice and it’s not tailored to their own situation.

They both go out to work, so Louis has to be left alone. Someone comes home for half an hour at lunch time but then he’s alone again until the man comes home from work.

His barking when alone used to be so bad that the neighbour complained. As he’s got older things are a lot better but the toileting indoors still continues – but now only when they are out. The crying and barking continues, but strangely doesn’t start until late afternoon – and this is a regular pattern.

They have already tried all the obvious usual things. They video Louis each day when they are out to see if there is any trend.

I would say that Louis is a dog of routine. In the morning he is only settled if the lady goes to work first and the man follows about twenty minutes later. She is usually in a rush but the man takes it calmly which could have something to do with it. After that he is quiet and settled all morning. If they break this routine as they will at the weekend when they leave together, he starts barking almost immediately.

In the afternoon he may toilet as soon as he is left. Then, either through boredom or maybe some sound (I wondered whether it may even be the neighbour’s central heating coming on as dogs have fantastic hearing), he starts to bark at around 4pm. He then will bark until someone gets home. He has doubtless learnt that it’s his barking which has brought them back.

It may well be the same with the toileting. Since he was a puppy toileting has brought his humans to him – to clear it up.

So, a couple of my suggestions were that they don’t go straight to him when they come home in the evening, but wait for him to quieten down first. I also suggested they don’t clear up any mess until the dog is somewhere else. Give him no feedback for either barking or for mess. I suggested that when they want to go out at the weekend they copy their weekday leaving rituals. With further strategies they can slowly and gradually change these rituals until they are able to leave together – but it will take time.

With a bit of lateral thinking we thought of a few more ideas to try that may help them through the toileting and separation problems, including sprinkling food around the area he’s left in when they are out in the hope that he won’t want to soil where he eats.

They have worked extremely hard with Louis and he can do all sorts of training tricks. I now feel he needs to learn to de-stress, to be better equipped to handle exciting or stressful situations like the arrival of people to his house. Sometimes commands can amount to pressure, so helping him to work things out for himself will be great exercise for his brain and have a calming effect. Clicker training is perfect for this.

I would say to anyone reading this that it’s not a question of just picking up a clicker and then having a magic tool. It’s not the clicker itself – it’s the technique and ideally people need help with this from someone who themselves has been trained in its use.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Louis, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

They Come Home to Destruction

Staff mix is destructive and bored

Lola

The young couple, with their dog, are caught up in a downward spiral of manic behaviour, destruction, scolding and nearly tearing their hair out. The young lady is reduced to tears.

They have a well-behaved but slightly odd Staffie called Saxon, 5, and Border Collie/Staffie Mix, Lola – a one-year-old adolescent behaving badly.

I say Saxon is odd, because his normal lying position is with his back to people, and every now and then, whatever he is doing, he may freeze or shake. These are thing which we can look into later, but at the moment their main issue is with Lola.

Saxon lies with his back to people

Saxon

Over time, in addition to wrecking other furniture, Lola has destroyed one sofa and has now started digging a big hole under the cushions of the new one. This has happened when they are out. She is bored and alone despite the company of Saxon, and if she’s feeling restless (which she is much of the time) she will start to chew furniture.  It could also now have become a habit.

Yesterday she started chewing on the bottom stair while the lady was upstairs – the stair gate was open and she was free to follow. Once Lola starts a ‘project’ she will continue!

When they go out she is left with food in various places with the intention of keeping her busy, but she starts on it before they have even left and has finished it all soon after they are out of the door. They have videoed her.

They have a little girl age three and the young man works shifts, so finding time to give Lola the amount of daily stimulation and exercise she needs is difficult.  It’s not safe for the lady to walk Lola if she has the child with her.

Lola is constantly on the move. She may prance about and make little growly sounds if someone is on the floor playing with the little girl and ignoring her. Saxon takes as little notice of her as he can! In this state she is just constantly looking for ‘trouble’ – stuff to occupy her and to release some of her stress. At my suggestion they will now have a gate on the sitting room doorway so Lola can be removed if necessary to avoid possible accidental danger to the little girl (a child who gives the dogs space and who both are very good with).

While I was there we ignored jumping up – looking away and tipping her off, whilst constantly rewarding calm behaviour. She became more settled than they had ever seen her. As often happens, the day after I left she was so much calmer and happier, and so were the people. Then the next day, yesterday, she chewed the stair carpet. Then they had an excitable visitor and the day continued to go downhill.

There is a common pattern where things start off brilliantly then go rapidly downhill for a couple of days. This is the time that people must hold firm and keep faith – and consistently stick to the plan until they work their way through this until things start to improve steadily, if slowly. There are all sorts of other related things to be dealt with at the same time that when established should influence the eventual outcome.

Because the lady goes to work a couple of days a week, Lola has to be left alone and logistically there is nowhere else other than the sitting room to leave the dogs. Whenever she is left they could either come home to destruction or to no damage at all. I suggest for now leaving her all sorts of items she can chew and destroy – cardboard cartons, toilet roll tubes, empty water bottles with lids removed, maybe stuffed calcium bones. I am always wary of dogs being injured by chewing on things left for them, but in this case stuff around the room could be a lot more dangerous. I so hope that this helps while they work on her.

I have also lent them a crate. I have known very restless dogs who, when crated, settle. They won’t be able to use it straight away though. If they can spend the next couple of weeks getting Lola to love that crate (and it is possible if taken slowly enough and associated with fun and food), they can start to leave her shut in there for the shorter absences.

If Lola is happy in the crate they can relax. If she is given more exercise and stimulation this will help her mental state – and they will have to find a way somehow if they want to improve the situation. If she simply has no opportunity to chew inappropriate things for long enough, she should get out of the habit too.

It is going to be hard work.

A week has gone by and I received this message: ‘We are really good, feeling a lot more positive and actually enjoying our dogs which is great, dont get my wrong we still have a long way to go but the change in a week has been amazing!  Since Tuesday the dogs have been left on there own on the Thursday, Friday, Tuesday and today. Now I do not want to jinx anything however so far no damage at all.  
Lola and saxon are left in the lounge with the babygate closed. They have a box of toys and chew left the room, I have found if I leave it in the box lola likes to help her self its more exciting for her, we also leave milk cartons with a few biscuits in (no lid) and the odd toilet roll etc. we also put our ironing board and washing basket on the sofa and our washing airer in front of  it to stop them jumping up.  We have had a couple of sucessful trips in the car without any dribbling or sick ( this is a true turning point for her)’.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lola and Saxon, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Owner and Dog Too Attached

Yorkiepoo is scared and protectiveSeldom do I go to see dogs that so clearly reflect the state of mind of their owners.

Poppy is a ‘Yorkiepoo’, a tiny underage pitiful little puppy for sale three years ago in a shop. One can only guess that she came from a puppy farm somewhere, very possibly shipped over from Eastern Europe as so many are. Not a good start in life.

Ollie is a Miniature Schnauzer, chosen to keep Poppy company and to give her a bit more confidence which hasn’t really worked.

The most concerning thing is how inseparable they are from the adult daughter, Poppy in particular. They are much too attached. Poppy won’t let her out of their sight. If the daughter moves, she moves. All the time I was there Poppy sat beside or in front of her, scared but protective. Even thought the young lady wasn’t touching her, a sort of invisible concern cloaked her.The more stable Miniature Schnauzer hasn't helped Poppy

The girl herself is equally needy of the dogs and worries and watches over them constantly (as do the whole family to a lesser extent). She hates going out to work, conjuring up all sorts of scenarios of their coming to harm when she is out. This started, somewhat understandably, when the tiny, scared and vulnerable Poppy came into their lives.

When I arrived it took Poppy quite a while to stop barking at me, keeping me away from the young lady. When the lady goes out, she cries at the door, even when other people are in the house. She then transfers her ‘following’ onto the mother. The family has not felt able to go out in the evening for two years now. Predictably, Poppy is very scared of people and other dogs, and when off lead may run away and hide. Both she and Ollie bark constantly at anything they see. Ollie is a much more stable character in general, but is affected by Poppy’s barking and panicking.

We discussed ways of dissolving the invisible umbilical attaching Poppy to the daughter because they are literally too attached. We looked at ways of enriching the dogs’ lives and encouraging independence. The humans’ tone of voice and body language can make a huge difference – hellos and goodbyes can be matter-of-fact. The young lady and the little dog are simply over-dependent upon one another. We put in place little changes in many aspects of the dogs’ lives. A bit like a jigsaw puzzle, if all the bits are slotted into place then you start to get the whole picture looking different.

One day later I received this email – before even they had received their written plan: ‘We made all of the changes that we could remember and the transformation with Poppy has been absolutely astounding. It is literally as though someone has pressed a switch. I can’t explain it any better than that. She is like a different, chilled out little dog. Would you believe that neither Poppy or Ollie followed ……… when she came home from work today? They stayed in the living room, sprawled out and (hopefully) carefree. They both ate all of their dinner. The baby was here today but they did not seem as interested in him as they usually would be’.

I did give them one word of warning. A familiar pattern I see is dramatic improvement immediately, followed by a downturn as the dogs start to adjust and test the new boundaries, maybe even becoming frustrated. If this does happen, the people can now see what they are aiming for if they work through this and remain consistent.

A week later I received this: ‘Things have improved SO much that you would be amazed! ‘Annie’ (daughter – not her real name) is on board now… WooO! We had a nice chat and I reminded her what you said about this being very difficult for her and that everyone understood. My giving her some slack and some understanding helped massively. We have not had any pees in the house since Sunday, so fingers crossed…!Another major development is that Poppy will now venture right across the garden, as opposed to staying close to the edges. She has gained so much more confidence than I thought possible at this stage. Walks have been calm and lovely with Poppy happy to wander a little bit, just turning to look at us every now and then. They are hardly barking at noises now and are quiet when people come in. There has been another development which was unexpected…. They both eat all of their food now.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Poppy and Ollie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).