Adjusting to New Environment. Different Routines. Time Alone.

It seems Kirie is finding adjusting to her new life a bit hard. They moved house two months ago.

Adjusting to her new environmentThe seven-year-old Springer Labrador is the sweetest, most gentle dog. It distresses them to see her worried.

One change she finds it hard adjusting to is no longer being able to follow the young couple and their toddler freely around the house. Previously they had lived on one floor. Now they don’t want her upstairs and have gated the stairs.

At the same time as they moved house a couple of months ago, the young lady went back to work. Now they leave Kirie alone for a few hours a couple of days a week.

Things not always what they seem

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Barks and Howls in the Night

Cockerpoo lying down with his toyAs a puppy Cockerpoo Monty would settle well in his crate at night. Gradually he has become more and more unsettled until now, at three years old, his owners have every night interrupted three or four times by Monty who initially gives a bark as though to say ‘did anyone hear me?’. Then he starts to howl.

If left, he may stop after a few minutes before starting again a short while later, and so it continues. They worry about their son upstairs who is studying for exams and about disturbing their closest neighbour.

So, they go down to him.

Monty did have one night in the teenage daughter’s bedroom but he was no quieter than when left downstairs in the small room. For the last couple of nights the lady has slept downstairs on the sofa with him. This hasn’t been enough though. He still barks and howls!

Wherever he is now, he howls in the night.

Possibly he wants the mum and dad to both be with him together. A clue could be out on family runs when they run off in different directions, Monty charges around in a frantic panic trying to catch up with one and then the other .

On looking at all aspects of Monty’s life, the roots of this behaviour seem to be in various places. The most obvious reason, in addition to pining when away from them, is that he does it because it works. If he does it for long enough, even when they think they have just ‘left him’ to cry, eventually someone does come to him.

I believe another reason for his unsettled nights is that in their quest to tire him out they are actually over-stimulating him. They run him for several miles some days. There is a saying ‘a tired dog is a good dog’, but that means healthily tired – not exhausted and highly aroused.

Highly aroused dogs are stressed. Stress causes physical changes in the body which releases certain stress hormones into the bloodstream. These stress hormones don’t just instantly dissipate. They hang around and build up.

We have discussed punctuating Monty’s usually sleepy evenings with very short bouts of gentle owner-induced activity – things like hunting, quiet training games, going outside for a few minutes on a ‘sniff’ walk and foraging for food to name a few, so he can go to bed ‘healthy tired’.

Undoubtedly the barking and howling has now become learned behaviour. At night-time he goes happily into the small room and it’s the same routine. One person says good night and shuts the door. A little later the other opens the door, says good night and shuts the door again. They go up to bed. Then, no sooner than they lie down than they hear the first bark.

To break the habit aspect I suggest that they change the routine and that Monty now sleeps in a totally different place – somewhere less easily heard from the bedrooms or by the neighbour. He used to love his crate and still has one in the car, so they are going to get a crate back and put it the kitchen. The rule has now to be that nobody ever comes down to him again in that location unless he’s quiet.

The other alternative of course, but which like many people they understandably don’t want, is to have Monty sleeping in their bedroom.

Monty has some general separation issues and these will need working on. He barks or howls if a door is shut on him even when he still has someone in the room with him. We looked at all the other things in his day that could be wiring him up for a restless night, including boisterous play, the long walks and runs, a late meal and the barking at noises etc. that could be dealt with in a better way. They will double-check for any physical discomfort.

In their efforts to control him better they have tried everything they can think of, most recently withdrawing a lot of their attention. No longer does he get his cuddles on the sofa which makes everyone unhappy. I say bring back cuddles on the sofa!

There are several other pieces of the jigsaw that I feel will help Monty but basically the learned behaviour aspect has to be overcome, the separation aspect needs working and he needs more suitable fulfillment and less over-stimulation.

If you have a dog that howls in the night, the solutions I planned for Monty may well not be appropriate or relevant to your own situation, which is why having an experienced professional to assess and help you and your own dog is essential.

Monty is a beautiful dog with a wonderful home. Given time, consistency and perseverance all will be well in the end, I’m sure.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Monty, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the methods to be used. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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 tailored to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Beautiful Labrador Who Can’t Be Left

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.