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).

Dog Stares, Transfixed by the Cat

When Johnny sees the cat he is transfixed – they call it trance-like.When Johnny sees the cat he is transfixed

Although the ultimate aim is for dog and cat to live happily together – the cat is confident and placid fortunately – there is a lot of groundwork to do first. The matter can’t simply be approached head-on because he has other issues which I’m sure are associated.

Johnny is a German Shepherd crossed with something – and from his behaviour I would say there is Border Collie in there. He is ten years old. About three years ago his owner moved in with a lady and her cat, and despite numerous efforts and trying different things, the two animals have to be kept apart.

Johnny likes to keep everyone together, rounded up so to speak. If someone goes out of the room he stresses and barks. When I arrived it was strange. He barked at me, but when the lady went out to the kitchen he turned and barked at her instead, like he was upset that she had disappeared. When she came back and we were all together, he went back to barking at me. He howls and yelps when a guest leaves. He does the same thing when one of the couple goes out – but, strangely, is much more accepting when they both go out together and he’s all alone.

I am sure his attitude towards the cat has something to do with his needing everyone to be together, under his eye. A cat is simply too independent. If she moves he will chase. He is transfixed by the cat.

Before they can make any headway with the cat problem they need to do some groundwork on Johnny relaxing his herding, lowering his stress levels in every way they can and on teaching him to give them his full attention.

Actual work on Johnny when the cat is about will start very slowly with the cat safely contained. Johnny’s owner already has been very successful with desensitising him to fireworks using food (they live in an area where bangs go off at all sorts of times) and now whenever he hears a bang he looks to her for food. He loves bangs! Once everything else is in place, the same sort of positive approach, along with patience, will bring success with the cat also.

I am sure that they will be able to teach their old dog new tricks and the two animals will ultimately be occupying the same room in harmony.

This is the situation six weeks later. they are taking their time and have now sowed all the right seeds for the final step – dog and cat being freely together: ‘We are delighted that he demonstrated ‘stay’ with me running around him in both our parents’ gardens. This is quite significant for us because his behaviour sometimes seems linked to location. Needless to say, they were very impressed! We have also had several comments on how much calmer he is now.
We have also been able to start using ‘come away’ as a means to get his attention when out and about. He picked this up in the house very quickly but another rule seemed to apply outside. We practise it every time he sees a cat outside whilst on walks and reward as soon as he looks away.
In a strange turn of events, our cat seems to have gained confidence and seems more interested in him. She has been sleeping on his bed when he is upstairs and she is downstairs (she would previously walk around it), will now go into the bedroom he has been in and have a good look around, and has a new interest in sniffing anything belonging to him, such as his raincoat. Could it be she is picking up on less stress in the household and has a new confidence because of it? We now feel ready to start working on re-introducing them but are heartened by the changes in both their behaviours.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Johnny, 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

West Highland Terrier and the Cat

WestieWestie Daisy, at ten months old, is not much more than a puppy.

She is friendly without being demanding, surprisingly relaxed for a little terrier, and very good on walks – not pulling on lead and coming back when she is called.

EXCEPT when she is on ‘Cat Alert’!

Her family has a cat and somehow when they brought Daisy home at about twelve weeks old they got off on the wrong foot. They were understandalby concerned that if she chased the cat, the cat might leave home, so there was a lot of anxiety focussed onto Daisy around the cat. The cat never had an opportunity to ‘bop’ her while she was tiny.

Now Daisy is obsessed. At the start of walks, she is ready to pull out of the front door because the cat could be lurking somewhere – and she will even run out down the street and into other gardens after it.

At the back door she is ready to tear out into the garden, barking at first hint of the cat, then she barks and agitates at a corner where it goes through the fence which is causing trouble with a neighbour.

Indoors the cat is upstairs and Daisy is downstairs until Daisy goes into her crate at night. All the time she has to know where the cat is, and during the day her favourite spot is on the bottom stair by the gate, on cat watch.

It would be nice for them to live in harmony together, and Daisy is obviously very stressed by the cat.  When she does get near to it, she shakes. Because I didn’t actually see this as the cat was nowhere to be seen, I can’t decide whether this is fear or arousal or a mix of both, but either way the strategies to use are the same.

We have a plan! Daisy must get no more opportunities to practise the emotion of fixating and chasing the cat out the front – by being kept well away from the door unless controlled on lead. At the start of walks they may need to go in and out of the house many times, turning around and removing her from the situation each time she starts panting, barking or pulling. They need to take control of the situation for her. Up till now the cat has been associated with negative things – anxiety, scolding, ‘no’ and the neck discomfort of being pulled back on lead. Now, I have shown them how, in tiny stages, to get Daisy to associate the cat with pleasant things, starting with rewarding her for giving her attention to them when asked and away from the cat, together with rewarding calm behaviour whilst looking at the cat. While the stairs are gated, this can be done in a controlled fashion with the cat on the stairs, and Daisy downstairs.

Soon they should be able to have them in the sitting room together, Daisy controlled on lead. The minute she shows any stress, she will be removed from the situation. No force will be used – just patience. they will get there all in good time.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.