I couldn’t believe how calm and confident Sketch was when I arrived. She was interested without being pushy.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that the ten-month-old Wirehaired Pointer had arrived with my clients. Previous to that she had been turned out onto the streets with her siblings in Hungary, picked up by a rescue and fostered for a few months. Then transported by plane and car to her new UK home.
So far the only problem that has surfaced is her distress when left alone.
Fear of abandonment.
She and their other dog, a beautiful gentle Vizsla called Doodle, get on great. Sadly, Doodle’s company isn’t what Sketch needs. (Don’t you just love their names!).
Sketch needs the permanent presence of a human.
Two weeks ago she wouldn’t let the lady out of her sight at all. Now is fine left alone with the gentleman. Things are improving daily. The other day they had a pre-arranged appointment and a dog walker had her all day. She was walked with various other dogs; the walker treated her as she would her own dog for the day. Sketch was absolutely fine.
This is good news because while they work on the separation or abandonment issues, should the need arise they have cover. They won’t need to leave her alone before she’s ready. The lady works from home.
It is totally understandable that Sketch may be feeling insecure in a very different new world. Her distress at being left with no human about could more accurately be called abandonment anxiety.
She is now fine alone in the night, knowing that her humans are in the house.
Where only two weeks ago she had to have human company during the night, Sketch is now okay shut in the utility room with Doodle.
This is a big step forward. She is beginning to feel more secure now she is realising her humans remain in the house. Fear of abandonment isn’t an issue during the night anymore.
They are now at a stage where she can be left in the utility room for short periods during the day also so long as nobody goes out of the front door.
Their front door is very noisy due to a draft excluder that sticks. The sound of this, now, is Sketch’s main trigger for panic.
Where would it be best to work on leaving her when they both need to go out?
As she now seems okay in the utility room at night time, it seems sensible to build on her increasing acceptance of the utility room for when they go out of the house.
So, to start with, they will work on her being comfortable left for very short and gradually lengthening periods in the utility room during the day, probably with Doodle too.
At the same time, they need to work on any triggers that herald their leaving. At the moment it’s the sound of the front door.
Breaking things down.
To start with they will build on getting her comfortable with being separated briefly from them by now shutting doors on her as they go around the house.
They will build a good routine of the dogs being called happily into the utility room at random times for food. This won’t yet involve their going out of the house.
They will work on getting her to feel good about the main trigger for her panic – the noisy front door opening and closing. They will work on this trigger until it is no longer a problem to her – until they can walk out and back in.
When Sketch is happy with the front door opening and closing, they can pair the two things they have been working on. They can shut in the utility room and add the sound of the front door opening and closing.
Next they can add walking out of the front door, shutting it, opening it and walking straight back in again. Then letting her out of the utility room.
Gradually they will increase the time they are outside. With camera and phone app they can ensure they come back to her before she is agitated. They don’t want her stressing or crying to herald their return – they will come back in while she’s calm and happy.
We can then see what to do next. Maybe other triggers that predict their leaving will arise. Perhaps things will get worse before they get better.
Maybe as she gains a feeling of security in general the problem of abandoment will resolve faster than expected. This is possible. Her humans are very perceptive and sensitive to her needs.
They must be so proud when they are out with their two wonderful, well behaved and social dogs.
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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sketch and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)