Separation Distress. Insecurity. Panic When Away from the Lady

Darcy watches the lady all the time.

When she’s out of sight he pants and he paces. Even when left at home with the gentleman, he whines and stresses. Separation specifically and only from the lady freaks him out.

Strangely, he shows no sign of being possessive of her nor does he seem jealous. The daughter can hug her and she can hold the baby without Darcy doing more than continue to watch her.

Suffers separation distress when away form the ladyDarcy is nine-year-old of mixed breed, probably Patterdale and Labrador. After a bad first year which he came out of extremely fearful, he has lived the past eight years in a very loving home with a retired couple.

From the start he has had to cope with separation from the lady. More recently she had an operation and had to leave him for five days. Perhaps that made his separation distress worse.

Two things happened towards the end of my visit that brought Darcy’s behaviour into focus.

The first was when he jumped and started to run for cover when the man moved. The chair had made a sudden noise, that’s all.

Licking his lips and nose.

The second was observing Darcy watching the lady when she saw me off. He was quietly behind her, licking his lips and nose continuously. Very worried and anxious, fearing the possible brief separation if she went out of the door. They hadn’t realised what this licking meant. See this: What your dog is desperately trying to tell you!

Darcy is quickly reactive in an instinctive survival way to sudden sounds. His reactions, being automatic, can’t be controlled beyond helping his stress levels so he feels as calm and settled as possible.

In a permanent state of worry and stress, he will naturally be a lot more reactive, just as we ourselves would be.

Daily Darcy constantly worries and watches over the lady. Daily he goes into a meltdown when the postman walks up the path and pushes mail through the door.

He seems more indifferent to the gentleman although he walks and feeds him. He seems to feel more secure with him and for some reason his fear of separation from the lady is causing acute insecurity which he doesn’t feel with the man. He will run to the man for protection when alarmed.

I don’t believe this is a matter of Darcy being ‘the lady’s dog’ as they say, or of his loving her more than the man. It’s more that the lady is ‘Darcy’s human’! He watches and worries over her constantly like she’s his responsibility.

I came to see them because he had bitten the same child in the face, twice. He had bitten adult family members a couple of times also, most likely around a sudden action and possibly involving food.

Lightening his burden

Lightening some of his burden and reducing his stress levels in every way possible should brighten Darcy up a bit. This will include installing an outside letterbox to spare him that daily panic. In a calmer and more confident state of mind he will be much less reactive.

Biting the little girl will have caused considerable fallout for Darcy as well as the child. No doubt the easily scared dog will have been scolded and banished. There will have been a general panic that will have freaked him out. This could well have resulted in his being wary of children – or little girls in particular – leading to the second bite.

It is very probable that the child had put her face in his while he was keeping his usual wary eye on the lady. Constantly fearing separation, his state of mind would make him react instinctively. If he had really wanted to damage her it would have been multiple bites.

In a more secure state of mind however, the previous instances of his snapping or biting may not have happened.

In a calmer and generally more confident state of mind he should now also be able to cope better with the very gradual, systematic and brief separations the lady will be working on. Whenever a door is shut on him, she will drop food. Fortunately he’s very food motivated – perhaps the Labrador in him!

We can’t ever ‘cure’ the biting but we can make it a lot less likely. 

Protecting baby and Darcy from himself

If someone isn’t constantly watching for Darcy displaying signs of unease, young children and Darcy should be physically kept apart, either with a lead or baby gate. Just being in the same room isn’t sufficient. They have a one-year-old grandson who is now crawling. Why just supervising dogs and children doesn’t work.

Poor Darcy. The gentleman takes him for a nice walk each morning and he doesn’t want to go. Even though he must know after all these years that he will come back home to her, he doesn’t want the separation from the lady. If popped in the car and taken further afield he feels better, so that’s what will happen now for a while.

One thing they aren’t making use of is food. The gentleman frequently shares his own food but the dog never earns it. This will now change. He will have some fun hunting for and working for his food.

Food will be used to make him feel better about things when he’s worried. The man can use food on walks to motivate him. Food puts a positive association to events and makes the brain produce endorphins – happy hormones.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Not all separation problems are the same. Click here for help

Scared Dog Indoors

Poor Boris looked uneasy all the time.

His family, unable to read his subtle signals just hadn’t realised how his uneasiness went a lot further than the problem I was there for – his fear of going near particular pieces of furniture and on certain routes through the house.

When they first adopted him a month ago he was very reluctant to enter the house at all.

He may be a very scared dog indoors, but outside Boris is a different dog. He loves to be outside in the garden.

The three-year-old Labrador Boxer mix has now landed on his feet with a couple, their two young daughters and a lovely home.

As soon as I arrived, the young girls cuddled and fussed him, probably for my benefit. Neither they nor mum could see that with his looking away, lip licking and even freezing he wasn’t enjoying it at all. He was wagging his tail, but taken in context this was more in appeasement than joy. Then Dad arrived home and welcomed him with rather vigorous stroking and again he looked away and licked his lips. I would say he was simply enduring the fuss.

Boris sleeps and eats in a utility room at the back of the house, but won’t go through the kitchen and down a short passage to get in there. He will only walk around the outside of the house and in the back door.

We sat in the kitchen – another room where he’s not happy – and because we were all there he did venture in. As he crept through the door, warily, he wouldn’t turn around but would then back out again. Reading him, he seemed to want the company without the fussing. He eventually quietly sat between the gentleman and the lady, away from me, but his eyes were constantly darting.

Each doorway or corner to another area seems to hold terror for Boris.

His behaviour looks to me very much like that of a dog that has been punished by someone unpredictable, not knowing when something might happen and why, which may tie in with what is known of his past. His body language and the backing away is symptomatic of the use of a remote-controlled electric shock collar – a beep comes out of the blue to the dog followed by a zap if he doesn’t comply. Possibly as a puppy he had been shocked to stop him chewing furniture or zapped for going into forbidden areas.

I usually avoid conjecture but want to explain what it looks like. One can only guess and the past is the past, but his behaviour is typical of fallout from the use of excessive or unpredictable punishment of some sort. Whatever it was will only ever have happened has caused  indoors which would explain why he’s so much more comfortable outside.

His new family’s kindness and wish to make him happy has resulted in rather a lot of added pressure on him. The enticing in an excited voice to encourage him out of his room and through the passageway is making things worse as is too much fussing in general. We listed the things where he may be feeling pressure, and they need working on.

When nobody is about he has, on a couple of occasions, ventured out of his room and they have found him at the front door when they arrived home. He has never, though, gone back into his room from indoors.

That route from hall to his back room needs ‘exorcising’. I have suggested they lace the area, starting near the door where he’s least wary, with his favourite food chopped up small. They should scatter it there with him out of the way and then leave him to discover it, always with an escape route back into the hall. This way it is the room and the floor that is offering him the food, not his humans using bribery. (See more about Sprinkles TM here).

Eventually, if taken gradually enough, they should be able to lay a trail down that passage so long as they themselves keep out of the way.

If this psychological approach is very slow, then we have another tack using clicker training – a way in which he won’t suspect that he’s being lured into ‘danger’.

Boris’ body language must be respected and I have sent a couple of excellent videos for the children to watch – mum and dad too, helping them to read dogs. As little pressure as possible should be put on him while he builds up trust in humans and in the safety of his environment. This will take time because things that may have happened to him at a young age will be fairly well implanted in him now. There may be a genetic element to this, but I’m am pretty sure that humans have not always been nice to him. It’s a big tribute to his lovely nature that it’s not resulted in aggression.

Feeling unsafe overwhelms everything else. It’s a survival thing. An animal that feels unsafe won’t even eat. Changing this is a priority. Over time he should be getting his trust back in humans.

In some areas they have already made some great progress in the month he’s been with them.