Context is everything.
Beagle mix Maggie howls, paces and scratches the door when they leave her alone. They had been advised that Maggie was probably bored.
Experience really does count in something like this. We need to ask the right questions and do detective work.
Research is really only possible in the person’s home where you can see the layout, the interactions between people and dog and so on.
Five-year-old Maggie was okay initially when they first adopted her eight months ago. The separation problems developed until they could no longer leave her without coming home to a wrecked carpet and damaged door.
Following advice, Maggie did improve but has now gone downhill again. This is since they came back from a camping holiday when she had their company 24/7.
Now she’s as bad as ever when the leave her in the morning to go to work.
But only when they leave her in the mornings
I feel that although their previous advised strategies helped for a while, they didn’t actually get to the root of why Maggie is upset when left. They’re not addressing the real problem.
The suggested idea of tiring her out before they leave is to my mind, in this case, the very opposite of what is needed.
Maggie’s not bored (when the lady works from home the dog sleeps all day). She’s not anxious.
My conclusion is that Maggie is over-stimulated and restless.
Before they leave for work, the young couple take her for quite a long and energetic walk.
They then go to work and leave her in the morning for about four hours. The lady comes home at lunchtime for half an hour – just time for a quick walk round the block – and then goes back to work.
What actually happens
They have a camera.
For about fifteen minutes after the lady leaves in the morning (the young man goes earlier) Maggie searches for the food they have left for her. She has a Kong, a Snufflmat and other things to keep her occupied and exercise her brain. (They don’t feed her breakfast but reserve it for entertaining her while they are gone).
She finds and eats the food and then she becomes agitated.
She paces and howls for about half an hour before ultimately settling until the lady comes home at lunch time.
When the lady leaves her again after half an hour at home and a very short walk around the block, their camera shows a peaceful, settled dog in the afternoons.
They have been approaching the matter assuming that Maggie is bored and needs stimulation.
Boredom is one possibility. Anxiety at being left could be another.
There is a third possibility. Arousal, restlessness and agitation.
The morning walk
They take her for a walk in the morning before work. It’s around forty-five minutes long and is intended to stimulate and tire her. She will be uncomfortable with her lead attached to a collar. She may well be frustrated at her lack of freedom when on a tight lead, particularly when she sees another dog.
They add training to the walks along with some correction if she pulls on lead.
I think it’s very likely she comes home from her morning walk more aroused/stressed than before she left. She may well also be hungry, but has to wait to work for her food after the young lady has left.
The lunchtime walk
At lunch time the lady gives her a short, more casual walk around the block. When she leaves, she gives Maggie a couple of chews but no stimulation. Maggie will be calm and she won’t be hungry.
I am looking at the situation in the overall context that they are hyping Maggie up at the very time of day when they actually want her to be calm. That is when they need to leave her in the morning.
She is even getting the energy rush of her food at the time when they want her to be inactive.
Doing things a bit differently
They will now do things a bit differently in the morning. The walk will be a mooch on comfortable harness and a loose lead. Within reason she can choose where to go and when to stop for a sniff.
Instead of worrying about getting round the park, they will simply turn for home when the allotted time is up.
When they get back home they will give her half of her breakfast before they leave and in such away that it helps her to unwind. Hunting and foraging for food in the grass works well.
She can now leave Maggie with just the Kong and a Snufflemat with the rest of her breakfast, nothing too challenging.
Possibly the couple of chews she leaves Maggie when going back to work in the afternoon has a calming effect too – chewing does. As she departs she can drop a chew, just as she does before the calm afternoon.
Lucky Maggie has a third walk in the evening. They can save the stimulating stuff and training for then.
I hope this is the answer and Maggie will start to settle when they leave her in the morning as well as in the afternoon.