LabradorOscarI was quite worried before I met three-year-old Oscar and his lady owner. They live in a small flat with no garden, there have been complaints to the landlord about Oscar’s barking and he’s only been there for three weeks. He has already had altercations with a local off-lead Staffie.

Instead I met a young lady who was really switched on where dogs are concerned, having owned a greyhound that then retired with her as a pet and who is a Victoria Stilwell fan (advocate of Positive methods – www.postively.com). Oscar himself was polite and self-controlled.

His problem is that he won’t let the lady out of his sight and he follows her around constantly. She is now house-bound. He had been a show dog and spent a lot of his time in a crate, but, living with three other dogs, was never entirely alone. Life is very different for him now and it’s understandable that he is insecure.

The lady has filmed Oscar when she left him for a short while. The crying starts after a couple of minutes and develops into barking and howling. When she arrives home the floor is soaking wet – probably with drool but possibly pee also. He is beside himself with distress.

Because of the neighbour’s complaint she got a citronella anti-bark collar but she has promised never to use that again as it would make her absence even more scary. To a dog whose most acute sense is that of smell, this would be like someone shining such a bright light into our eyes that we were temporarily blinded.

The only real way to solve the problem is to work on the cause – Oscars feelings; supression is guaranteed to make him feel a lot worse.

Fortunately the young lady is at home just now and she has a determined nature and will be taking it one step at a time, starting by shutting him behind the gate at the sitting room door, turning around, walking a couple steps away and then going back in again. Every time she goes out through the gate she will say ‘Back Soon’ and give the dog a treat. Every time she comes back in she will make it very boring by ignoring him. With baby steps she will eventually go out of sight, and then out of the front door briefly.

We want him to associate her departures with good stuff (not the torture of citronella) and to learn that however long she is away she always returns.

Possibly he is missing the crate – we are going to try that too because a crate can be a sort of safe den to dogs that are crate-trained from puppies. There are some other day to day things the young lady can do to increase Oscar’s confidence in her and to help him over his fears when he is on lead.

In a recent programme on Channel 4, The Secret Lives of Dogs, they proved by filming a number of dogs that about 80% of dogs suffer separation issues. They are left alone all day and their owners aren’t even aware of their suffering because many are silent and don’t do any damage. They may spend all day pacing and quietly crying, and nobody knows. Here is a short summary of the programme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NUFyMNK8oE

We bred dogs to work for us or to be our companions, and now in modern life we go out to work and leave them alone – ill-prepared.