Separation Problems and Fresh Ideas

Louis‘The Samoyed is gentle and dependable in heart and mind — robust and spirited in body’. I would say this sums up on-year-old Louis perfectly. He is little more than a puppy with abundant energy.

He was initially stirred up because, over-excited when people visit anyway, he is usually made to stay on his bed until the person goes over to him, and because I didn’t want him ‘controlled’ – wanting to see what he was really like – the break in routine may have unsettled him. Now, fully fired up, he was jumping about and chasing the cat. The cat teases him.

During the evening we worked on coming away from the cat using clicker and also worked on teaching him to self-calm, again using the clicker. Only when we put the clicker away did he start again to walk about panting, yawning and stressing. Eventually a time-out break in the kitchen did the trick.

Ever since they had him as a puppy they have had to work on both separation and toileting issues. They are extremely switched-on, having done a lot of online research. The downside of this is that there is so much conflicting advice and it’s not tailored to their own situation.

They both go out to work, so Louis has to be left alone. Someone comes home for half an hour at lunch time but then he’s alone again until the man comes home from work.

His barking when alone used to be so bad that the neighbour complained. As he’s got older things are a lot better but the toileting indoors still continues – but now only when they are out. The crying and barking continues, but strangely doesn’t start until late afternoon – and this is a regular pattern.

They have already tried all the obvious usual things. They video Louis each day when they are out to see if there is any trend.

I would say that Louis is a dog of routine. In the morning he is only settled if the lady goes to work first and the man follows about twenty minutes later. She is usually in a rush but the man takes it calmly which could have something to do with it. After that he is quiet and settled all morning. If they break this routine as they will at the weekend when they leave together, he starts barking almost immediately.

In the afternoon he may toilet as soon as he is left. Then, either through boredom or maybe some sound (I wondered whether it may even be the neighbour’s central heating coming on as dogs have fantastic hearing), he starts to bark at around 4pm. He then will bark until someone gets home. He has doubtless learnt that it’s his barking which has brought them back.

It may well be the same with the toileting. Since he was a puppy toileting has brought his humans to him – to clear it up.

So, a couple of my suggestions were that they don’t go straight to him when they come home in the evening, but wait for him to quieten down first. I also suggested they don’t clear up any mess until the dog is somewhere else. Give him no feedback for either barking or for mess. I suggested that when they want to go out at the weekend they copy their weekday leaving rituals. With further strategies they can slowly and gradually change these rituals until they are able to leave together – but it will take time.

With a bit of lateral thinking we thought of a few more ideas to try that may help them through the toileting and separation problems, including sprinkling food around the area he’s left in when they are out in the hope that he won’t want to soil where he eats.

They have worked extremely hard with Louis and he can do all sorts of training tricks. I now feel he needs to learn to de-stress, to be better equipped to handle exciting or stressful situations like the arrival of people to his house. Sometimes commands can amount to pressure, so helping him to work things out for himself will be great exercise for his brain and have a calming effect. Clicker training is perfect for this.

I would say to anyone reading this that it’s not a question of just picking up a clicker and then having a magic tool. It’s not the clicker itself – it’s the technique and ideally people need help with this from someone who themselves has been trained in its use.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Louis, which is why I don’t go into 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Neighbours’ Complaints About Barking

Freda barks all day when left


Access to the garden all day makes the Jack Russell's barking worse


People often feel, if they are out all day, that their dogs need a lot of space along with access to the garden.

I frequently go to dogs that spend a lot of the long day barking, and often this results in complaints about barking from neighbours as is the case with the two little dogs I went to yesterday. Even though it’s probably only in fits and starts, it can seem continuous if you live next door.

Parsons Jack Russell Freda on the left is now eight years old, and Jack Russell Chester two. Although Chester is the more nervous of the two, Freda is the bigger barker, and suffers more when left.

When left all alone it is most likely that the two dogs eventually settle, but they will be vulnerable to all the sounds from outside which will keep starting them off again. Whenever they hear the neighbours feet crunch on her gravel path or a car slowing down outside, the dogs bark. They go quite frantic when someone comes up the path to put something through the letterbox and they can see out through a front window.

Giving the dogs access to the garden will be making things a lot worse in my opinion.  It’s no wonder they feel insecure, left all alone all day with run of the house and garden, having to deal with such a lot of guard duty. Instead of settling the will be alert to every sound, charging in and out of the dog flap barking and getting themselves into a state, with no owners about to reassure them that all is well.

Shutting the dogs comfortably in the large kitchen should be a lot easier on them, although to start with they may be frustrated – barking to get outside through the dog flap because this is what they have been accustomed to. The people can rig up a camera and have a word with the neighbour.

When family members come home it is to give the dogs a huge fuss. I’m sure if they tone down their greetings to make their coming and goings less of a major event, and if the lady can pop home at lunch time for half an hour, these little dogs will soon quieten down when left alone.

The second issue is about both dogs, Freda in particular, ignoring their humans when called out on walks. There are five family members and the dogs get everything they want upon demand by way of attention. While this is the case and while food isn’t used for rewards but given for doing nothing, the humans don’t have much leverage! They need to be more relevant in terms of getting and holding their dogs’ attention and work on this at home before expecting the dogs to give them attention out on walks – particularly ‘coming when called’ when there is something far more exciting to do like chasing a rabbit!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freda and Chester, 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 dog (see my Get Help page).


He Can’t Be Left Alone

Long-haired Daschund can't be left alone for one minute Rescue Daschund can only relax when the lady is there and is over-attached to her alreadyLittle Long-Haired Daschund Rodney goes into a state of panic when he’s left alone even for a couple of minutes.

Many people have seen the excellent Channel 4 programme proving just how many more dogs suffer when left alone than we realise. Here is the link if you missed it.

Separation distress can be a dreadful thing for a dog, and rehabilitation is usually a very slow, gradual process.

Rodney has been in his new home now for a month. He had lived previously with an elderly lady who died, and one can image that he spent most of the time on her lap or bed. There was another dog also, so he would never have been absolutely alone.

Rodney is now becoming very attached to his new owners, so much so that if he’s dog-sat by neighbours or family he may still cry intermittently.

The more he is cuddled and carried about, the longer they never shut doors on him even briefly, the more attached I fear he will get. You can see from his photo that he is totally irresistible!

His two main issues are the separation distress and fear of going out on walks – possibly because he’s also wary of other dogs. He runs away when the lead comes out. At present they are more or less forcing him to go and to walk, but now we have a plan in place for them to do the very opposite.

We also have a detailed plan in place for working gradually on his panic when left. The gentleman had an excellent idea – he is going to set up a spreadsheet and tick off each tiny increment as it is achieved.

As time goes by I would expect Rodney to relax and become more carefree and even playful – just as two-year-old dog living with wonderful people should be.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rodney, 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 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 specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

Barking Upsetting the Neighbours

LucyLurcherLucy barks when they go out and leave her. Now they have had a letter of complaint from their neighbour.

You would not believe that Lucy Lurcher, a cross between Lurcher and German Shepherd, is now nearly sixteen years old which in itself merits two photos!”

Lucy is absolutely no trouble at all, spending a lot of her time sleeping – that is until she is left. A change in circumstances a couple of years ago meant she was left alone all day, something she wasn’t used to; she barked all day.

The man now drops her off at his mum’s on the way to work, but the barking problem occurs when he and his wife want to go out in the evening or weekends.

Not only does it annoy the neighbours, it’s not at all good for Lucy herself.LucyLurcher1

Many questions didn’t quite give us the complete answer as to why she’s doing this. There are several possibilities.

It could be loneliness – when any company would do. It could be specific separation from a person – and this would be the gentleman not his wife because Lucy follows him everywhere and cries if she can see him talking to a neighbour through the window, even if his wife is in the room with her. She says Lucy is quiet in her company when the man has disappeared out of sight.

Separation problems can be caused by boredom which won’t be so in Lucy’s case.

The other thing they hadn’t considered and I feel is a strong element, is that she or hears sees something outside and that starts her off, and that there could be a mix of causes.  Her food bowl is left just outside the window and a visiting cat and birds regularly come to eat unfinished food which causes her to bark. There is no curtain.

They will be setting up a video camera which should give a few answers. They will also put static window frosting over the garden window so she can’t see out and they will be feeding her indoors now. Finally they will be working hard at desensitising her to the triggers that herald their departure along with other ‘separation’ strategies.

This beautiful old girl deserves to live out the rest of her life to be devoid of this distress and panic.

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

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 – 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:

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.


Doberman Not Coping With Life. Puppy Left Alone

He had been a puppy left alone for too longDoberman Rocky is just 9 months old, and he was rehomed by a young couple just two weeks ago.

Puppy left alone for too long

Although he wasn’t physically neglected, he had spent some very formative months of his young life without proper ‘parenting’. Consequently he’s somewhat ‘emotionally damaged’ just as a child might be that had been left alone for too long.

Rocky had spent much of the time as a puppy left alone, outside in a small yard, an environment the lonely puppy will have found scary. Unsurprisingly he barked constantly with probably a mix of fear and loneliness; nobody will have helped him out and it would be a safe guess that he would have been shouted at for barking.

Having lived like this for crucial months in his development, it is unsurprising that barking at everything is his default now. Tail chasing has become his default way of dealing with stress. Rocky can’t cope at all with being left alone, even for a minute, and when the lady comes back into the room he will madly tail-chase. As is so often the case, it goes on in a sort of sequence. He chases round and round with his tail in his mouth. He then freezes and just sucks the tail, maybe making whimpering sounds. It is virtually impossible to distract him.

He doesn’t feel safe

The bottom line is that for much of the time Rocky simply doesn’t feel safe – though things are certainly looking up for him now he has a lovely home. Any sounds outside sends him into a barking frenzy. I caught him, on the right, just as he thought he may have heard something.

Walking, too, is difficult. He walked beautifullly on a loose lead indoors, but was hyper-alert once outside the door. Getting him to feel safe and protected, desensitising and habituating him to normal sounds – kids out the front, dogs barking, bikes and so on – will take time and patience. They have made considerable progress in these two weeks however.  The lady takes him to work so he meets people. He is very friendly and polite for an adolescent pup, and only scared of people if they approach too directly, stare or loom over him.

The panic barking, the hyper-vigilance when out in particular, the panic at being left alone and the tail-chasing are going to take weeks or months of counter-conditioning and confidence-building, the bottom line being to reduce the stress caused by his hyper-vigilance and to make him feel safe. I believe then that everything else will gradually fall into place.

You won’t have a quiet dog if he’s on high alert, and you won’t have a dog that is happy to be left alone that is on high alert either. Walking calmly on a loose lead won’t happen whilst he is on high alert.

Tail-chasing is simply the way, over the months, he has learnt to cope.

Things are now changing for the beautiful Rocky! The future is bright and he should end up a happy, carefree dog.

Barking, Fear of Dogs and Can’t be Left

Coco can't be left alone


Two absolutely adorable little dogs!

Shih Tzu Coco on the left, now seventeen months, has been with the lady from five months old, and Titch, a Yorkie cross she has had for four weeks. He is two years old.

They are friendly little dogs, very good with all people. Titch is very reactive to noise and barks a lot and Coco is reactive and scared of other dogs. The dogs are infecting one another.

The lady lives in a flat so is very worried about the barking. While I was there and showing her how to deal with it, the amount of barking from Titch was minimal and perfectly reasonable. He is on his third home now having been given up twice previously due to the barking.

Friendly little dogs, very good with people

Coco and Titch

With no garden, the dogs need to be walked several times a day to toilet, and each walk brings with it the hazard of meeting another dog, which sets Coco off rearing, lunging and barking furiously at it (GO AWAY!). Titch who was previously friendly with all dogs is now becoming a little fearful also.

Can’t be left alone

The third problem is that Coco can’t be left. He is never, ever left alone. On the one occasion the lady tried it she left a tape recorder, and his crying upset her so much she never did it again. She has weekly hospital appointments and puts the dogs into a nice kennel where Coco has the company of the owner. She has to do her food shopping online.

Because Coco can’t be left, the lady is unable to walk the dogs one at a time which makes working with Coco’s fears a little more difficult.

With time and patience, beginning by not letting the dogs follow her everywhere around the house all the time, then going out very briefly when someone else is in the house and then for half a minute or so when she is alone, gradually increasing the time along with some other strategies – over a period of weeks or months these little dogs should be happily left at home together for reasonable lengths of time, confident in the knowledge that she always comes back.

Seriously, I could have dognapped Titch! He has had no training at all apparently, but within a few minutes he was doing Sit, Down, Rollover and Stand – all with luring and treating. Clever little dog.

Molly Panics When Left Alone

Little is known about German Shepherd Cross Molly’s past. She has been in the rescue centre for some months and kennelled with the company of another dog; it is evident she has had puppies.

She is a young dog.

Panics when man is out of sight

panics when left alone

Molly is finding it hard to settle into her new home and panics when her new gentleman owner disappears from her sight. She goes frantic.

In the four days they have had her, the man has been unable to leave her alone at night. Molly panics. She tries to break the door down to get to him. He doesn’t want her upstairs in the bedroom so he is sleeping downstairs in with her.

The lady is not well, and her anxiety is affecting Molly, I feel. It’s quite a clear example of how a dog picks up on the emotions of her humans. The man is calm. The lady is anxious.

Over the past few days things have been getting worse instead of better. The man even leaving the room but especially the house causes Molly great distress, she panics. The lady’s comfort and concern just doesn’t help.

In my photo Molly is still panting and stressed from the man having walked out of the front door for a minute to show me what happens.

Prisoner in his house.

The poor man is a prisoner in the house! To start with I have suggested that he doesn’t let Molly follow him around the house – starting with short absences only.

During the day lots of comings and goings are needed – not only from the room but also out of the front or back door. Absences of a few seconds to a minute only. Molly needs to realise that he man always comes back. The lady will be in the room so Molly won’t be all alone yet.

The lady can help more if she does things differently. At present she so anxious for Molly that she comforts and fusses her in her distress. This is compounding the matter. I have suggested she turns on TV or to reads a book, that she makes nothing of the man’s absence. Act like it’s normal.

It is hard for her because she is a very kind lady and she’s unwell. She adores the dog already and so badly wants to bond with her and help her.

Molly is not accustomed to being the centre of so much attention and love. From her body language I could sense that it’s a bit too much pressure on her. It’s like there are too many expectations of her. Possibly her attachment to the man is because he is more confident and doesn’t put demands upon her so she feels safe with him.

Who knows what baggage she has brought with her?

I’m not sure that dog and this couple are a good match. They are doing their very best.

Ten days later: Unfortunately this story doesn’t have a happy ending. The poor gentleman can’t cope with looking after the house and his sick wife, as well as a dog that needs a lot of time and effort spent on her. The emotionally-charged atmosphere around the lady was just too much for Molly, and due to her weakness she couldn’t physically cope when necessary. My contract with an owner is to help them in any way I can for as long as they need me. Sadly in this case it meant accompanying the man and Molly back to the re-homing kennels, giving them both moral support and helping ease his pain by reassuring him that he was doing the right thing for Molly. On the plus side, Molly seemed pleased to be back! For her it was like she had spent a fortnight away – boarding kennels in reverse! As I held her lead she was quite eager to go through gate to the kennel area with the barking dogs where she had spent so much time.
At least she now has some credentials other than having been found as a starving stray wandering the streets. They now know that she is house trained and well-mannered indoors and that she is friendly with visitors. She needs confident humans who won’t make too much fuss of her while they give her time to settle in. They also know that she needs company – possibly that of another dog. She is very re-homeable and will make a brilliant family pet.
It was sad watching the poor man handing over his beautiful black dog who was still wearing the new red collar he’d bought for her, along with her possessions including a large Stagbar. They had loved her but were just not the right home for her; nor was she the right dog for them. It happens.

Cockerpoo Cries When Left Alone

Cockerpoo Buddy is a fifteen month old ball of fluffLittle Buddy is a fifteen-month-old ball of fluff – it’s hard to find his face when he’s lying asleep! He is a mischevous little chap and likes especially to run rings around his gentleman owner who is something of a soft touch.

Buddy is also a happy little dog – so long as he’s not left alone. His greatest attachment is to his lady owner and he likes to know where she is at all times. It is so bad that when they shut the dog gate at the kitchen door before going out, he is attacking their ankles quite ferociously, doing all he can to stop them going. He barks and cries constantly when they are out, and this has resulted in complaints from the neighbour.

The lady feels tied to the house; she can’t even go out for coffee with a friend. She works part time so they have had an au pair for the daughter (and dog!), but this will soon end.

My own dogs are not involved with my comings and goings. They will be pleased to see me when I get home, but not beside themselves with relief. They are secure and confident that I will come back eventually and that it’s no big deal when I leave. They do have each other, of course. Buddy however is with someone 24/7,  and he sleeps in their bedroom.

The first step is to get him used to staying alone behind the gate in the large kitchen so that the only time he’s shut in the kitchen isn’t when they go out. He will then be used to losing sight of the lady whilst knowing she is still in the house. To help to get him secure in his own company, in this circumstance I feel they should slowly wean him away from their bedroom at night, out onto the landing, and eventually leave him in the kitchen. If he can happily stay all night away from them in the kitchen, that would be great progress towards staying happily for a couple of hours during the day in the kitchen when they are all out.

They need to plant a lot of ‘red herrings’! Picking up keys and going nowhere. Putting shoes on and going nowhere. Walking around with handbag and going nowhere. Going out one door and coming in another, gradually increasing time spent outside the house. When they go out for real they should be ready in advance – then just go!

Little Buddy has control of a lot of things in his life – when he eats his food, where he sleeps, when he gets attention, when he plays, when he goes outside and when he agrees to come back in! But he hasn’t got control of comings and goings.  As trusted ‘leaders/dog parents’, his humans should be able to come and go as they like – they are not accountable to Buddy.

They will need to take things very slowly, but ultimately this should be a big relief to Buddy.

Constantly On the Go, Panics When Left

Milo looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth Milo can be both naughty and extremely anxiousWhat – constantly on the go and gets up to mischief if ignored? You wouldn’t believe it would you! Eighteen-month old Milo is divine. He’s a cross between a Jack Russell and a Cocker Spaniel.

He can be both very naughty and extremely anxious. You can see on the right the lifted paw – this shows he is worried and he does this a lot of the time. He constantly craves attention – and he has always had a lot of it. His lady owner is at home all day and he is very dependent upon her indeed (as perhaps she is on him).

His really naughty time of day is when the gentleman comes home from work! Milo tries him to the limit and is expert at winding him up. If he doesn’t get his own way he steals something or he chews something – his bed or the carpet for instance. If told to stop he may go wild and tear up the garden with the remote in his mouth. The lady has much better control in that he may come for her, but he runs the man a merry dance of chase around the garden, scaring himself in the process, when all the man wants is to put his feet up after a busy day.

The worst impact that Milo has on their lives is that he can’t be left alone at all. They can never go out together without taking Milo too. He cries and he howls, and they find it very distressing. He is with the lady all the time, all day and in their bed at night. Little by little he needs to be taught some independence. The lady is well aware of this and has made a start already, leaving for a few minutes and recording what is happening in her absence.

Milo is getting some sort satisfaction from his ‘naughty’ behaviour else he wouldn’t be doing it. Part of it may be that it helps him to relieve the stress which has built up inside him. He is a little dog very easily frightened by big things like vehicles and by different or sudden things.

Bless him. They have tried a trainer who advocated alpha rolling him and shaking stones in his face, and they have sent him somewhere for a weekend when they had to go away – and this establishment returned him saying he would now ‘behave’. He came back much more nervous than before and scared of even beng approached with the lead.

Now they have a regime that rests easy with them – kind solutions and positive alternatives to his unwanted behaviours that given time and patience will actually work, and certain rules and boundaries that should help him grow in confidence.

Just ten days later: ‘Things are going really well here Milo is like a different dog he is so calm and seems so happy and content. In turn we are so much more relaxed, our evenings have massively improved to the point where we say to each other where is the dog and he has took himself off somewhere and is fast asleep quite happy, something he would never have done before, he used to demand attention if we were watching tv or doing anything else and would never leave our sides. Over the weekend we were in the garden pottering about, R was cutting the grass and i was in and out the house usually Milo would be by my side or in the garden near R but he was sound asleep on the top of the stairs on his own, to me this was a massive improvement as that is something he would never have done in the past. I cant thank you enough for helping us back on to the right track, Milo is so relaxed and seems so happy and in turn we are so relaxed and happy. I know we still have a very long way to go with the separation issues but I can really see the light at the end of the tunnel now and know if we keep on with the routines and instructions that it will all be ok’.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.