Insecure. Feels Vulnerable when Left alone and Encountering Dogs.

insecure when left aloneFeeling insecure is at the root of little Jasper’s problems.

Outside, he barks and lunges at other dogs, rearing up on his hind legs with all his tiny weight.

When left alone, he cries and barks. It has got so bad the lady, who lives in a flat, even wondered whether she could keep him.

She has had the dear little Yorkie for six months now. His first owner had died, he ended up in a pound and then he spent time in a rescue before coming to the lovely home he now has. It’s little wonder he feels insecure.

Continue reading…

Anxious Dog. Systematic Desensitisation. No More Flooding

Another anxious dog.

When I arrived he was very frightened though, unusually when someone new comes to his house, he didn’t bark at me. I had choreographed my entrance carefully.

These first two photos show his anxiety. One with the lifted leg. The other in the way he is lying, kind of hugging himself.

anxious dog

Feels unsafe

anxious dog

Looking at me anxiously

Little Jack Russell Jasper, age two, has been in his new home for six months. One half of the couple he lives with is off work just now but goes back in a month.

Being left alone terrifies Jasper. Continue reading…

Left Alone. Separation Distress. Rescue Greyhound Panics

It’s not really surprising that newly adopted young greyhound Max panics when left alone.

I’m sure he was a useless racer – good for him because it’s given him such a great reprieve! 

A huge change

Panics when left aloneThe two-year-old has spent all his life in kennels. Now he lives in a house with a young couple. It’s quite amazing how well they have done in just six weeks, integrating him into life living with people in a home. For the first weeks he paced and panted, showing anxiety in general as he became acclimatised. Now he has settled down beautifully….

…apart from one thing. Continue reading…

Independent. Learn to be Alone. Separation Anxiety. Panic

Why aren’t puppies, right from the start, taught to be independent – to be alone for short periods?

85% of dogs!

This seems a no-brainer considering the statistics. The TV series Dogs, Their Secret Lives on Channel 4 in 2013, discovered that a huge 85% of dogs show signs of not coping to some extent when left alone. In many cases their owners aren’t even aware of it.

Why isn’t independence given the same priority in preparing puppy for the world as socialisation and toilet training? Continue reading…

Early Habituation. Socialisation. Variety

Lack of early habituation to people and life in general has a lot to answer for in a great number of the cases I go to.

This is neither sufficiently early habituation and socialisation, nor sufficiently comprehensive habituation.

Early habituation or socialisation?

We tend to say ‘socialisation’ when we mean ‘habituation’. What is the difference? The puppy needs exposure from a few weeks old and lots of early handling. The puppy needs early habituation to all sorts of people and situations – all without scaring her.

she lacked early habituation to peopleSpringer Spaniel Luna is a naturally happy and enthusiastic dog, so it’s a great shame her life is blighted by her fear of people she doesn’t know. This is particularly the case if they try to touch her. The fifteen-month-old dog doesn’t like people moving fast either, whether it’s jogging, on a bike or a child on a scooter.

Luna came from a gun dog breeder just like my own working Cocker, Pickle. Until he was three months old, Pickle lived in a pen in a barn with lots of other working-type spaniels and Labradors grouped in pens.

Outings were into a field out the back with the other puppies and dogs. There was no early socialisation or variety. Pickle met very few people nor did he encounter everyday things like vacuum cleaners or traffic.

I’m pretty sure that at the root of Luna’s problems is not having left the gun dog breeder until she was twelve weeks old. There will have been no early habituation or socialisation. She won’t have been taken out anywhere to meet a variety of people nor introduced to the outside world while still young enough to take it in her stride. She’s fine with other dogs however.

Never left all alone

The other thing that overshadows Luna’s happiness is her distress when left alone, even though it’s never for more than three hours.

Until they picked her up, Luna, like my Pickle, will never have been left all by herself. There will always have been the other dogs. This is another fallout from lack of early habituation – to being all alone for short periods.

By twelve weeks of age the window is closing.

They will now work on Luna’s fear of people by associating both those she hears from the garden and those she meets when out with something really special – a treat she loves which won’t be used for anything else.

Protecting her from unwanted attention

They will be more assertive about keeping people from touching her – an I Need Space vest should help. Beautiful young dogs like Luna are like magnets to ‘dog lovers’!

If the person is running or on a bike, they will use a ball – which they will now save specifically for this. She is ball-obsessed. They now will put balls away and only bring one out when there is a moving person triggering fear. The moving person can now trigger the ball instead, redirecting to movement in the opposite direction – and fun.

Luna is unusual in that she is less scared when on lead than when running free. She may rush up to people and bark at them, which can be alarming. For this reason it’s essential, if she’s to be off lead and free, that they have spot-on recall. Meanwhile they should keep her on a long line.

Luna’s separation problems aren’t extreme and sometimes she may even finish her stuffed Kong. If she were frantic she wouldn’t want to eat. However, she often cries and howls. They will film her.

There are a few ideas they could try. If my guess is right about the company of other dogs being sufficient for her, Dog TV may fill the void. Luna is fascinated by dogs on TV.

Leaving her somewhere ‘safe’.

They shut Luna in the hallway where her bed is when they go out. I feel the hallway is a place she may feel vulnerable. She will hear people going past and have to cope with mail coming through the door. Getting her used to being shut in the back room would be better – initially just leaving the door open so she makes her own choice. If I were her I would choose the sofa!

Once Luna had warmed up to me it was hard to imagine her scared of things. She was cheeky and playful. Unfortunately, probably due to insufficiently early habituation, she is easily spooked. She is upset by quite a list of everyday things. They will deal with each thing that upsets her using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

The net result will be a more confident dog. They will be compensating for her lack of early habituation and socialisation. Luna will be more able to deal with the things that currently scare her.

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, particularly where fear issues are concerned. Click here for help

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

Distressed, Trembles, Whimpers at Bedtime.

Millie is a Beagle, a Lemon Beagle, ten years of age. She has lived with my lady client for eighteen months.

She is a sweet and gentle dog but she carries some baggage. Three things in particular make her very distressed. Her bedtime behaviour, her panic when left alone and continuous barking and crying when being driven in the car.

Distressed at bedtime

distressed at bedtimeBedtime is a puzzle. Last thing at night Millie is asleep on the sofa beside the lady and very comfortable. She has to be woken and goes out into the garden calmly.

The lady then fetches Millie’s bed and takes it into her bedroom, followed by Millie. She gets ready for bed then gives the dog a treat for getting into her own bed. She goes to bed herself.

Immediately everything changes. Millie jumps onto the lady’s bed.

She trembles. She whimpers, jumps on and off. Obviously very distressed, she drools.

This can go on for a couple of hours before she gives up. She has done it from the day the lady brought her home eighteen months ago.

Millie has sometimes asked to be let out and then does nothing but mooch around the garden. She doesn’t need to toilet. There is nothing in the bedroom that is different from daytime apart from the fact the lady is in bed. Leaving the light on makes no difference.

Meanwhile the lady is repeatedly saying, ‘Go to bed, Millie’. Understandably she is tired and will be getting a little cross and stressed, unable to do anything about her dog’s distress.

Eventually, after an hour or two, Millie settles on her own bed on the floor. 

The ‘why’.

The same ritual is followed every night and will now be a pattern of learned behaviour. Normally if we can deal with the ‘why’, the behaviour improves. We are doing a bit of detective work along with trial and error in an effort to get to the bottom of why she gets so distressed, so immediately and every night.

The night-time behaviour will most likely have its roots in her past history. (While I am writing this I wonder whether it could be something perfumed on the lady st bedtime that Millie can smell with her Beagle nose. Something she associates with a past terrifying experience).

One thing is certain, if the lady carries on doing exactly what she’s doing now, so will Millie.  Changing the ritual has to be a place to start.

I suggest the lady lets Millie out to toilet a bit earlier and then lets her go back to the sofa for another hour or two. She can ditch her whole bedtime ritual and just get herself ready for bed. Millie can choose for herself what she wants to do.

Shutting her out of the room isn’t an option. The second major problem the lady has with Millie is separation – another matter we will be working on. She can’t let the lady out of her sight.

It will be hard, but I suggest that the lady tries turning over and ignoring all Millie’s distressed pacing, whining and drooling. Her constant trying to tell her to settle doesn’t help at all. It’s just possible that her constant agitation and ‘Go to bed, Millie’ is in some strange way reinforcing.

Could pain be involved?

We also noticed that Millie looks a bit awkward when she sits and when she lies down. She was spayed recently and nothing picked up, but I wonder whether she has pain in her hips. Her distressed behaviour at night is certainly panic, but maybe it’s pain as well. Pain always affects behaviour

The separation problems will also be baggage she brought with her. The way forward is to deal with the emotions she is feeling – the panic – and gradually get her to feel differently about being left.

Getting into such a distressed state at night time and again about four times a week when she is left alone for a few hours, Millie’s stress levels must be constantly raised. Added to this is the car ordeal. This happens daily as they have to drive somewhere for her walks.

Although Millie looked calm and slept while I was there, there will be more going on inside.

All her problems are due to fear in one way or another. Each thing we can do to build up the lovely, gentle dog’s confidence and reduce her stress levels will have a knock-on effect.

A month has gone by and real progress made: ‘An update for you: the night time routine is going well (no more trembling, whimpering or distress). Even when I come home late and go back to the old routine she only stresses for a short time before she settles, so that is good…I am pleased to say that I have been out a few times recently and there hasn’t been any tiddles, I leave her as you said and with a kong….She is much better with other dogs now, if I think a dog is one she doesn’t like I go in a different direction and give her a treat! So things are definitely improving and hopefully her stress levels are beginning to go down.'[divider type=”white”]
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Fears need professional help. Click here for help.

Puppy Joyfulness Lost. Tail Between Legs. Acts Careful

Hettie is an adorable Cockerpoo puppy, now sixteen weeks old.

Why has she lost her puppy joyfulness?

For the first four weeks that Hettie was with them (eight to twelve weeks old), she was a typical confident, happy and energetic puppy. She would fly around in puppy joyfulness, grab things and cause the usual puppy chaos.

she used to be filled with puppy joyfulness

Before getting her, they had already booked their holiday. While they were away, they left her in what they believed was the best place possible. This was a well respected daycare and kennels.

From what I observed of Hettie’s new careful, tail-down behaviour, something must have happened while they were away. She had come back a different puppy. Not to be too dramatic, it’s like something had broken her spirit. She had lost her joyfulness.

Her tail goes between her legs even when the lady owner appears.

It could have been that this holiday care was totally the wrong environment for a young puppy. Too many dogs all at once and too much noise, perhaps.

It can only be guesswork.

Hettie’s not scared of dogs, however. It’s people she’s wary of now; she’s generally reserved and what I can only call careful.

Sensitive period for socialisation

The damage done resulting in her fear of humans won’t have been anything deliberate.

To quote Dr. Sophia Yin: ‘From about 3 weeks to about 3 months of age, puppies are primed for bonding to other animals and individuals, for learning that objects, people, and environments are safe, and for learning what the body cues and signals of others mean. It is their sensitive period for socialization and it is the most important socialization period in a dog’s life. …….but what types of interactions should puppies actually have? ……it’s important to actually make sure that the puppy is having a positive experience and learning something good.’

For the first four weeks the family did all the right things, exposing Hettie gradually to the outside world of traffic, noise, people and other dogs.

During her stay away there could have been one or two single incidents that were negative and scary to Hettie. It could be that the whole thing – the number of big dogs and the barking may have just been too much for her.

Could this explain why Hettie has lost her puppy joyfulness?

Building up her confidence with people

The priority now is to build her confidence in every way possible. They will always use encouragement and avoid scolding. They will put no pressure on her. When the lady approaches she will throw food to the puppy; I’m sure her tail won’t be between her legs for long.

Most importantly, they must train all visitors. Knowing what to expect, I had avoided walking towards her. When I did move, it wasn’t directly. I avoided eye contact and spoke quietly. As I moved about, I leaked food from my hand onto the floor.

Hettie was very soon quite literally eating out of my hand.

What we would love to see is a return of the enthusiastic, excited puppy she had been before they went away. A return of a her puppy joyfulness.

PS: From an email that evening: ‘Hettie has been much more ‘naughty’ this evening and stolen lots of items from the sitting room plus made a break for upstairs – quite a relief after such a withdrawn persona earlier on’.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Click here for help.

Left All Alone. Panics. Tries to Escape.

The Beagle can’t be left all alone.

When they adopted Libby a couple of weeks ago, they had no clue they wouldn’t be able to go out to work and happily leave her.

She had previously been fostered out by the rescue – to a home with several dogs. Her history was sketchy; she was from Ireland and had had at least one litter of puppies.

There was no hint of the problems to come.

Left all alone makes her panicThe couple had gone out to work, leaving Libby in the kitchen. They came home to a wrecked bed and chewing around the front door. She had jumped the gate.

It was the same the next day so they had to put her in the crate and set up a camera. Libby again went frantic.

They came home to bent bars where she had tried to get out and only through luck she hadn’t damaged her teeth.

They have since left her with someone else and Libby is fine. It seems she’s not in a panic about losing her new owners so soon after finding them. Her behaviour at the foster home suggests other dogs are sufficient company.

Left all alone. Panic.

In all other respects Libby seems a calm and peaceful dog – perhaps a little ‘careful’. It’s early days. She greeted me with polite interest and lay in her bed much of the time as we chatted.

Being left all alone, in a new place, has set off big panic.

I use an analogy of one of us stuck alone in a broken lift, believing nobody knows we are there nor how long we will be left before being rescued – if ever. We would frantically try to get out, to break the door.

Shut in her crate, all alone, she might be feeling something like this.

Once she’s had the panic attack she will be very alert to the same thing happening again.

They are now making temporary arrangements to avoid Libby being left all alone. She will be going to dog daycare on certain days and will get temporary help from a neighbour.

They face two challenges at present. Firstly Libby now won’t easily trust them not to desert her again. Secondly, they have to go to work.

A systematic approach.

They will work on the crate and on leaving her as two separate things, but concurrently. Then they can integrate the two. Keeping a chart is useful.

Libby doesn’t seem worried by the crate itself so probably has been crated before. She will even choose to go in there at times.

Some things need to be constant each time they leave her sight. Other things need to deliberately be varied.

Constants include ritual when they leave her sight and return into her presence. They will drop food on leaving but be boring when returning.

Variables include randomising the times they put her in her crate, how long she stays for, whether they shut the door or leave it open, whether one of them walks out of the room or house, whether they go upstairs…… and so on.

Our ‘left all alone’ programme.

The aim is to come back before she begins to stress.  Otherwise she could learn that her frantic behaviour, noise etc. actually can get them to come back.

They have a camera and can watch her from their phones.

In the house they will regularly shut doors and the gate on her so she gets out of the habit of following them about. Initially they will do this with someone still in view.

As someone walks out of sight they will drop food (fortunately she loves her food). When they come back in sight they will ignore her.

Gradually they will add to this one person actually going out of the back door and after a short while returning (with someone still in the house). Next with nobody in the house for a few seconds.

They will gradually increase duration left all alone.

Now they do the same with the front door – the door they went out from when going to work.  And so on.

Adding the crate to the process.

Putting her into her crate will continue to be random so it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to be left all alone.

When absences get to ten minutes or more they will leave her increasingly good things to do.

I am hoping that, with sufficient time and patience, Libby will be sufficiently happy being left all alone for three or four hours she won’t need the crate at all.

One novel idea is DogTV.  From America, it’s available online and for dogs that are left all alone. If they can get it onto their TV screen it could just be that dogs running about and doing stuff could feel like company.

As the next few weeks go by, other things will very likely develop so we will be ready as so happens with an adopted rescue. She probably hasn’t yet blossomed into her full potential yet – whatever that is.

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 Libby. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog as it can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly. There are various causes and types of separation problems so we need to get it right. 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).