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.

The couple both work. Nobody checked on that when ‘vetting’ them and in their naivety they’d not anticipated separation problems. They very soon discovered that Max couldn’t be left alone. They came back to a wrecked sofa and carpet. To protect their house they now use a crate which he managed to get out of on one occasion.

BBC Channel 4 Dogs – Their Secret Lives documented how common separation problems are.

In Max’ case it may well not be separation from them in particular or even people in general. It may well simply be isolation. It’s very likely he always had the company of at least one other dog, so fear of being isolated is most likely the real issue.

Max’s panic when left alone for even a very short while has become a huge problem for them. They juggle dropping him off at the crack of dawn with parents a couple of days, with another parent driving miles to keep him company at home another day and with the lady’s work shifts. This still leaves days when he just has to be left.

With all the adjustment Max has had to make in such a short time, it’s understandable he has problems with being left alone.

Abandoned?

How can he know that they will ever come back? The systematic and gradual plan involves lots of short absences, so that it proves to him beyond all doubt that when they follow a certain procedure they always return. It will normalise departing.

Apart from the separation issues, Max is the model house dog. He lies about, he’s easy with people he doesn’t know and he’s also very easy to motivate as was demonstrated with teaching him Touch using a clicker. Clever boy.

The separation problems soon brought home to the couple just what a big thing they had taken on. Wondering how they would cope with a dog that can’t be left alone, they considered returning him to the rescue but they had quickly fallen in love with him. Max is unusually perfect in all other aspects.

Avoiding Max being left alone while work in progress

We have worked out a systematic plan which amongst other things involves shutting doors on him briefly, starting on doors he finds easy before moving to the outside door. Departures will be associated with food and returns boring. It needs to be done multiple times. Very gradually they will increase the time they are away or out of sight. They will use a camera with phone app to make sure they return each time before he becomes anxious.

It can be a long, slow job. Because of how fast Max has adjusted in other respects, I’m hoping it will eventually be the same with his being left alone for just a few hours. In all other respects he is so easygoing and placid.

We discussed other ways of meanwhile filling in the gaps where he still has to be left alone. There is a local person with two greyhounds they meet – perhaps she will help. It’s possible also that the man will sometimes be able to take the polite and friendly dog to work with him.

If the couple don’t have to leave him alone while the work progresses, they will get there a lot faster.

It is very early days and Max has adjusted amazingly to so many new things already.

They have a gem in Max.

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, you can do more harm than good. Not all separation issues have the same cause and so need different approaches. Click here for help

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?

With their constant attention and adoration, the don’t encourage divine little Piper to be independent. The opposite in fact. She craves attention and they love giving it to her.

It’s understandable how a dog becomes over-dependent upon company and interaction. If a puppy is acclimatised from the start to being left her to own devices more often, separation wouldn’t be such a difficult issue to treat. It possibly wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Their worlds revolve around their little dog.

She will learn to be more independentPiper is constantly with someone until they have to go out. The two young daughters dote on her.

In a way, being so central to their lives puts pressure on the little Border Terrier. Had she learnt to be independent and to amuse herself more, two years ago as a puppy, the disappearance of her humans wouldn’t be so devastating.

Human attention is both addictive and sometimes stressful for her. She repeatedly brings them a ball to throw her or deliberately loses it under something so that someone then has to get it out for her! If ignored she is very persistent.

Learning to be more independent comes first

Over time Piper will need to learn to stand better on her own four feet if our incremental and systematic separation work is to be successful.

Teaching her to be a little more independent needs to be done gradually. It will be hard for both the family and for Piper to get into different habits. For instance, now if someone leaves the room for just a couple of minutes (leaving Piper with company), they greet her when they return.

With so much focus on her, they are unintentionally making her vulnerable. In fact, I suspect it goes two ways. Over her two years, the humans also are dependent upon Piper – the focus, fun, cuddles and happiness she brings to their lives.

I suggest they spend our first couple of weeks in helping Piper to be just a little more independent of them. People can walk out and shut doors on her while there is still someone with her.

The root of the problem

Piper is over-reliant on interaction with her family and this is where her separation problems mainly stem from.

A useful exercise will be simply teach her to lie down and to stay, retreating a few paces only. Currently she never stays anywhere with someone backing away – she always follows. They can work slowly towards retreating further.

They will work on an incremental, systematic plan of gradually increasing the time they are out of sight. The family will associate all departures with something she loves.

Currently Piper is beside herself with ecstasy when they come home. Her family members are likewise with her. While their coming home is such a major event, she will surely wait in some sort of eager anticipation all the time they are out.

Returns should now be causual non-events. (People come. People go. Shrug).

Calming down

Piper is the sweetest-natured, gentlest little dog. She is funny and clever. They have socialised her wonderfully.

For her own sake she needs to be able to relax more. When her ‘stress bucket‘ (or maybe ‘arousal-bucket’ would be a better term) is full, she becomes more and more demanding.

Calming her down and teaching her to be independent will require less human attention and more natural dog-enrichment activities. Instead of throwing her ball, they will give her more sniffing, hunting, exploring and foraging. More of the things that a young dog would naturally do if happily left to her own devices. She got stuck into the yak chew I gave her.

Everything the family can do to lower her arousal levels will help in the end. There are lots of small things that individually will make little difference, but when added together should bring results.

Their first priority should be to begin disentangling themselves so she becomes less needy of them.

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, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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).

Fear of People. Separation Distress

Bentley has a fear of peopleBentley barks.

The little dog’s main fears and consequent barking is either directly, or indirectly, associated with his fear of people.

Bentley is an adorable and much-loved Coton de Tulear. In researching the breed, the first site I looked at said that they hate being on their own and that they like the sound of their own voices.

The first, distress at being alone, certainly applies but I don’t think Bentley barks and cries because he likes the sound of his own voice. 

The cause of his barking is his fear of people…

…and things associated with people.

This is whether someone just comes to the door, if someone comes into the house or when they see a person out on a walk. It’s the same with noises that people make, like slamming car doors and voices outside. (This dog that usually barks takes absolutely no notice at all of fireworks!).

His fear of people colours any trips to the vet or the groomer.

Changing his fear of people gets to the root of the barking problem and is the challenge. People should now be associated with things that Bentley likes and whenever possible on walks at a distance where he feels they are no threat to him. This threshold distance is important.

Here is a very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in on the subject (referring to encountering other dogs, but it’s the same principal). https://youtu.be/7HNv-vsnn6E

Most unusually, when I came to the house he barely barked at all, although he was still wary of me. This is because of how we set it up. They will now use the same technique with other callers.

How they actually respond to the barking will also help his fear of people and the sounds he can hear.

All alone, Bentley probably feels vulnerable.

This can only be guesswork, but he invariably toilets soon after he is left. He’s very attached to the lady and follows her everywhere. It’s most likely he feels safest when with her.

They will be getting a camera so they can watch what happens when he’s left. This will tell us more.

Separation problems are slow to work on, particularly if it can’t be done systematically due to people having to go out to work. However, the more Bentley associates their leaving with good things and their returning as no big deal, the better.

He currently has run of the house when left. I suggest keeping him away from the front door area. This is where scary people may come and go and where people have pushed items through a hole in the door.

The higher are Bentley’s general stress levels, the less he will be able to cope with his fear of people and being left. Lowering arousal/stress is key. This may sound a bit boring at times but over-exciting activities can be replaced with those that help him to be calmer and more confident.

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 Bentley because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much 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 is concerned. 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).

All Alone, he Howls Cries Shakes. Life Without Daisy.

 

Nine years ago Banjo came to live with their other Jack Russell, Daisy. She was four years old at the time and all his life Badger lived with her and relied upon her. Daisy was the in charge.

Daisy has died.

Badger never before had been left all alone.

His young couple have to go out to work and Badger howls and cries. The young lady sneaked up to the window and looked in when he was quiet. He was sitting on the rug, shaking. This was the rug where he had last seen Daisy when the vet came to put her to sleep a couple of weeks previously.

unhappy left all alone

His life has been torn apart in more ways than just being all alone when his humans go out. Daisy was the dominant dog of the pair. All Badger’s life he has been used to following her and now he’s alone. It has left a big void with both her humans and with Badger and I’m sure he feels insecure without her. The separation problem is part of the bigger picture.

Without Daisy beside him, the previously calm dog is now on alert when out on walks.

Without this strong influence, Badger is lost. He is, in his way, grieving.

All alone without Daisy

He is now on window guard-duty alone. He has to deal with the invasion of post through the letterbox alone. They will block his view, put up an outside mailbox and help him out when he becomes alarmed.

The lower his stress levels are in general (I keep banging on about stress levels don’t I), the better he will be able to cope with this huge change in his life.

You might think now that they take him out everywhere with them – something they couldn’t do with Daisy – it would compensate for life without her.

Banjo needs time.

Introducing him to activities that suit his brain should help to enrich his new life without his strong-willed companion to control him – things to do with sniffing, foraging. He doesn’t play.

Helping to get him used to being all alone is tricky when they both work. They have arranged cover for the next couple of weeks and after that will take him to doggy daycare twice a week. He can then be without Daisy but somewhere he’s never had her with him – he loves other dogs.

A controlled and systematic plan.

A slowly slowly plan involving desensitising him to the triggers that precede their going out is fundamental. They will repeatedly go through each thing individually, coats on, checking the house, lifting keys etc. and then the whole sequence without actually going out of the door to begin with. Then they will add going out of the door – for one minute only initially. They will use food.

They can watch him from through a camera and an app their phones. This will enable them to time their returns, to be back before he panics.

When they are gone they can leave Badger a stuffed Kong and a chew, though it’s likely in his state he won’t yet be interested in food when all alone. Departures should be associated with good things and returns fairly boring.

There are other things things they can try that may help to comfort him when left:

  • Thundershirt. It works brilliantly with some dogs and not at all with others. First associate wearing it with calm and happy times. so that it doesn’t become yet another trigger ‘oh heck, they are leaving me all alone now are they?’.
  • Pet Remedy plug-in Watch this video explaining it.
  • Dog Music – downloadable. Why does Through a Dogs Ear music work to relieve canine anxiety?
  • Song for Daisy and see this explanation.
  • Continual boring talking like a speaking book is said to keeps some dogs company and calm.

We can review the situation in a couple of weeks. We may need to get the vet involved. The fact Badger will still have to be left all alone for several hours some days will unfortunately slow things down, but it is what it 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 Badger and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 as not all separation issues are the same. 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)

 

Separation Problems. Leaving the Dogs Alone.

Yesterday I met Cockerpoo Marnie and Springerpoo (Springerdoodle Sproodle?) Luna. The are adorable friendly and polite little dogs – a real tribute to their owners.

They have just moved to a new house with much closer neighbours and have become aware that the dogs cry and bark when left alone. They hadn’t realised there were separation problems. Not wanting to upset anyone, the lady, who no longer works, now feels she can’t go out unless the man is home.

In addition to not wanting them annoying neighbours with barking or crying, they don’t don’t want their beloved dogs to be unhappy.

Breaking a habit takes time.

Separation problems when left alone

Luna and Marnie

They agree that it’s more than likely the dogs cried and stressed with separation problems in their old house. If that’s the case it will be a habit too. Something that they have always done.

Another aspect is that they may believe their crying gets their humans back home eventually – because it always has.

I was able to see a short video of the dogs having been left. It wasn’t like the kind of panic I have seen in some other videos. They showed their separation distress by whining, whimpering, looking at the door and occasional barking. They spent much of the time just standing still and quiet by the door. The real barking started only when they heard the man’s car draw up, in anticipation of his walking in.

With some questioning it soon became apparent that the dogs don’t have enough ‘happening’ in their lives. Everything revolves around their humans being with them in the house. They are seldom taken out. When the couple goes out and leaves them, their only enrichment and fun goes out too.

They lose their whole world.

With no humans at home, there is no activity, a vacuum. Luna is obsessed with the ball – so her ball-thrower has disappeared! The action and excitement begins again as soon as they come home.

I feel the dogs need much more enrichment of the right kind – things they can do by themselves like foraging, hunting and chewing. They need much more than repetitive ball play and cuddles. The obsessive dropping of the ball to be thrown should be stopped and other activities offered that will stimulate their brains instead. Here are 35 simple ways to keep your dog busy indoors.

Instead of associating their humans’ departure with losing everything that matters, they should feel more fulfilled in general. The absence of their humans should be filled with good things as well.

Changing how Luna and Marnie feel about the front door being shut on them will take slow and patient work.

Against a background of a more enriched life including outings if only to mooch about near to home, the couple will then work on the separation itself.

A systematic programme for their separation problems.

They will start by shutting doors on them in the house. Dropping food as they shut an inside door on the dogs, they will turn around and come straight back in again. They will do that multiple times, varying doors and then doing the same with the front door.

Gradually, a second at a time, they will extend the time they spend the other side of the door. Then they will walk a short way away. Always they will aim to come back in before the dogs begin to stress, and for this they have a camera and app on their mobile.

Never again should the dogs think making a fuss brings them back.

When they begin to leave the dogs for a bit longer, they will set up the environment for success with special music to help separation problems, a calming plug-in and stuffed Kongs.

Absent humans won’t leave a vacuum anymore. When they do come back, their return shouldn’t herald fun. They should be boring.

The special exercises worked out for Marnie and Luna will be done many times until the two dogs are convinced beyond any doubt that when their humans go out, they always come back. (I don’t go into too much detail of the whole procedure here, because one size doesn’t fit all).

Now Marnie and Luna should no longer feel that when the lady and gentleman both go out that their whole world has gone with them.

They will have other enriching and stimulating things in their lives also.

A couple of months later: Our two dogs are sooooo much calmer now.They could possibly tune into our unsettled feelings?Luna is no longer mad for a ball. I am able to leave them now for 2 to 3 hrs at a time.

 

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 Marnie and Luna and because neither the dogs nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, 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 separation problems are concerned. 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)