Panic. Separation Anxiety. Left Alone

This is very sad. It all started off so well for the first few months of their Frenchie puppy’s life. They could happily leave her to go to work, coming home at lunch time.

Then they had to go away for a couple of weeks and Margot was left with friends. She seemed perfectly happy whilst there.

But, when she got home, everything changed. The couple went out to work the next day and they came home to toilet mess all over the floor. She had chewed the door they had departed from.

Poor Margot was in a state of complete panic.

Since then things have got worse. At my suggestion, they have just filmed her to find that she runs about in a panic from the moment the leave, defecating as she goes. She pees all over the place. She is constantly pacing, running back and forth and jumping at the door. It seems she does this the whole time that they are absent.

A nine-month-old pup should be sleeping at least seventeen hours a day. Instead, she’s spending most of it in major state of panic. Her humans are distraught. Coming home to such a mess each time as she paces and treads in her mess shows just how much of a panic she is in.

Margot is beautiful, friendly and polite. She is just so biddable and amenable. It’s heartbreaking for them to see how unhappy their precious little dog gets.

Chewing.

For much of the time while I was there, Margo was totally engaged in chewing at something – calming herself down. De-stressing.

Panic attack when left aloneWhat is particularly tricky in a case like this is that it’s impossible to take things gradually, one thing at a time, because their work necessitates continuing to leave her for four hours at a time, twice a day.

It seems that the distress comes most particularly at being separated from one person. He is the one who feeds her and is at home one day a week. He, however, works for the emergency services and when he’s on call his bleeper will suddenly go off. He has to drop everything and run.

This can’t help.

What can they do?

Firstly I have given them fairly mechanical exercises to build up Margot’s resilience to their comings and goings. This starts with doors shutting on her and opening immediately, many times, food dropped as the door shuts. Gradually there will be delay before the door opens. Over time, the time left alone will increase. It’s vital for these exercises that the door opens before Margot feels anxiety.

They will start on easy inside doors before going to the outside door that throws Margot into such a panic.

The next part of our programme is to work on each trigger, like picking up keys, the bleeper and putting on boots

They have to go out to work.

Then there is the big problem of going out for real when Margot simply won’t be ready. But it has to happen.

They will optimise the environment including frosting the glass door from which she can see them depart. Cutting down on the area will mean there is less floor to clean. They have tried a crate, but she was so frantic she bent the bars.

Amongst other things, they will leave a plug-in, special calming music and a large cuddly toy wearing the man’s T-shirt smelling of him.

Their routine when leaving will be overhauled.

Instead of their own panic when leaving as they try to get ready and to get out with an increasingly frantic dog trying to push through the door with them, they will do something else.

They can get ready to go. But, instead of leaving, they will then go back and sit down . They will spend five minutes just being with Margot, sitting very still and contemplating on calmness. This may sound very New Age but I’m sure it will help.

Then, slowly and calmly, they can get up and leave.

Unfortunately, because they have to go to work, each time Margot is left before she is sufficiently prepared is going to set her back again.

I just hope that the speed of progress outstrips the unavoidable backsliding and probable breakdown in trust each time they leave for too long.

Medication may be necessary.

If these protocols and exercises don’t result in any improvement in the next couple of weeks, I believe Margot will need the back-up of meds and we will be in touch with their vet. They may also need to look into daycare, if only to give themselves the few months probably necessary to work on the problem slowly, in tiny increments.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Margot. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Opening Window, Panic Attack

Border Collie Jasper panics and obsesses over windows opening, flies and shadows

Jasper

Suddenly a large fly was buzzing around the room and Jasper lost it! He barked, flew all over the place and jumped at us all.

When the lady goes to open the window to let a fly out he has a panic attack – after barking and leaping about, he jumps up onto the sofa, eyes darting, drooling.

It is the opening of windows that seems to be causing Jasper’s distress. It may be the noise, it may be reflections – perhaps both.

He is somewhat obsessive with shadows and flies, but knowing that a buzzing fly is usually followed by the window being opened to let it out is what really sets him off.

I demonstrated how to begin to desensitise him to the window opening, expecting it to be a slow and gradual process. However, this evening, a few hours later and to my great surprise, I received this: ‘We have already been able to open and close the windows in the living room and kitchen without a peep from Jasper!’

Border Collie Jasper is 18-months old and lives with a young lady and her mother. The young girl has worked really hard and done a wonderful job with him. He was well socialised right from the start and she has spent time, love and effort training him.

Jasper and Pixie

Recently they got 8-month-old Pixie, the most tiny Chihuahua Yorkie cross you have ever seen and who is quite a barker. This will be influencing Jasper. The two are kept apart much of the time for fear of the little one getting hurt, but for the few minutes I saw them together Jasper was wonderful. He lay down so Pixie could get to him – it’s Pixie who is the rough one!

Jasper just needs a bit more mental stimulation and a bit less stressful stimulation – it is a fine line. Too much ball throwing on walks is seldom a good thing – he needs to sniff, wander and explore.

I demonstrated how relaxed and settled he became after about fifteen minutes of using his wonderful brain and clicker. We worked on a strategy to divert him from obsessing on shadows.

Where Jasper is fine with other dogs when he is off lead, he’s not so good on lead – and he is a big puller.

The young lady will now be using wholly positive techniques to get her lovely dog to walk near her because he wants to and not because he has to. She also now knows how to work on his fears when, trapped on lead, he sees another dog.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jasper, 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).

Haunted Black Labrador

Black Labrador Molly looks like she is hauntedYou might almost believe that Molly has her own personal ghost. All of a sudden she can start to react in a scared, haunted sort of way, looking behind her, ears flat and tail between her legs, before sloping off, like she is being stalked by an invisible monster. Out on walks her fear is so severe that she will start to shake, and in the past she has run for home. There are no recognisable specific triggers.

One or two things have happened in her life that she found traumatic and might have seen the onset of her fearful behaviours – but only things that would have had little impression on a more confident dog.

Sometimes Molly will refuse to go for walks altogether, or she may go a little way and then refuse to go further. She may be happily running and doing what dogs do, to suddenly be overcome with a sort of panic attack. Whilst her problems manifest themselves mostly out on walks, there are clues at home. On the face of it she has the very best life any dog could hope for.

With a nervous dog like Molly, I believe being able to make all her own choices can lead to chronic insecurity. She sleeps where she likes at night, she has free run of the house during the day, she can’t decide in which room she wants to lie and moves about from one place to another, she eats when and where she likes, on walks she pulls like mad, she decides when they play with her and she decides what attention she wants.

I would call her a worried dog, burdened by responsibility.

When her owners have finally convinced Molly that they are her ‘rock’ and can be relied upon to make life’s fundamental decisions for her, I am sure she will become more confident. If she makes all her decisions at home, how can she trust them to make the important decisions when out? She probably feels exposed and unprotected. Children are secure and stable who have decisions made for them, so they can just get on with being kids. Liberal parents who either don’t believe in rules and boundaries or can’t be bothered, don’t necessarily have happy children. I believe it’s the same with dogs, and with them things are much more black and white.  The really important things to a dog are food, going out and keeping safe. Molly should not need to be in charge of these things herself. They are the job of the leader/parent/owner.

With a bit of insight into how dogs see things, I’m sure Molly’s humans will soon fill in gaps. If she were a less sensitive character, what they are doing already would be absolutely fine.

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