I was welcomed by two beautiful, friendly dogs, Border Collie Jack who is seven years old and Izzy, an eight-month-old Tibetan Terrier.
Jack has become increasingly anxious since last March when the lady’s other Border Collie, Charlie died. She is worried about his separation anxiety. He cries and leaves a puddle of drool by the door when she goes out and leaves him. Because losing his companion was a major change in his life everyone has understandably assumed this to be the reason for his subsequent separation anxiety.
But is it?
Are we jumping to conclusions?
At around the time when the old dog died Jack had a frightening encounter with a Rottweiler a few houses down. There are, in all, eight dogs in this property that bark ferociously and jump at the gate whenever anyone passes their house. Sometimes the gate isn’t properly shut as was the case when the Rottweiler got out.
Where he used to be okay, Jack is now constantly intimidated by these dogs. He is walked past them nearly every morning. He is constantly reminded of them, hearing them from his garden and even from inside his house. I watched his reaction each time we heard barking.
How will this be for him when he’s all alone?
I strongly suspect that Jack feels constantly a little unsafe and possibly it’s worse for him now without the backup of the older dog, Charlie. This anxiety isn’t simply separation anxiety. It’s as though these neighbouring dogs are increasingly ‘contaminating’ his area and to a certain extent the rest of Jack’s life as well.
Every walker wanting to go on the nice walk has to run the gauntlet of these dogs and this is affecting other dogs as well.
I have found a similar thing here at home. There are a couple of Boxers lunging at a gate an then fighting one another that walkers have to pass. My own dog Pip ignored them the first few times and gradually became more reactive while I had to work harder, until he was anticipating them well before reaching the gate, whether they were out or not.
Many passing dogs, having become aroused or scared by them, are already more aroused and reactive when it comes to meeting other dogs on walks which is spoiling things for a lot of people. (Before this could spill over into his attitude to other dogs he might meet I have stopped taking Pip that way altogether).
There were no problems when Charlie was alive and with questioning, it seems it may actually be Izzy he misses and not the lady – but why, we can’t say.
Is she missing Izzy?
When the lady goes out alone leaving Izzy behind, Jack seems to have been fine. She shows Izzy and goes to classes with her so has to leave Jack behind. Whether or not it’s Izzy in particular she misses or just the company of another dog in general can only be guessed at, but when the lady goes out and leaves her at home with Jack, he has no separation anxiety. When she takes Izzy with her he stresses.
It’s therefore safe to assume there is a connection with Jack’s separation anxiety, being without Izzy and his feeling unsafe.
I am certain having watched Jack in the house that the separation anxiety, which he’d never previously, could well be influenced by the frequent sound of those dogs barking and his not feeling safe when alone – and Izzy’s company seems to to help him.
I am hoping the lady will be able to video him when she is out, both with Izzy and without her, just to make sure.
So if separation anxiety isn’t the real problem, what is?
Maybe it’s those dogs down the road that are the real problem.
As it’s not missing the lady alone that makes Jack drool and cry when left alone but when she removes Izzy, it makes working on the problem a lot easier because we can be more specific.
We will work directly on desensitising and counter-conditioning him to those other dogs. We start by getting him to associate the sound of their barking from the house and garden with food that is so nice that he evntually gets to look for the food when he hears them instead of being scared.
Slowly slowly the lady will work outside her house, always keeping at a distance from those dogs where Jack feels safe, slowly slowly getting him to relax when he hears the dogs. Inch by inch getting nearer over a period of weeks or maybe months. This involves a loose lead, reading his body language and allowing him full choice as to whether he carries on or not. Each afternoon the lady always pops both dogs in the car and takes them for a run somewhere nice, so missing exercise won’t be a problem.
As she walks the dogs separately each morning, he is parted from Izzy daily for about fifteen minutes and will get plenty of practice. We will work on getting him to actually enjoy Izzy’s short departures whilst also working on his not feeling intimidate by those other dogs. Even if my theory happens to be wrong, our plan of action should transform Jack’s life anyway.
The lady really ‘got it’ and could see how the methods of desensitising and counter-conditioning can be transferred to other things that Jack is uneasy about. The principal is well explained in this video.
Izzy, fortunately, is incredibly laid back and just takes life as it comes.