Separation panic. Isolation distress. Separation anxiety

Noah suffers from separation panic whenever he’s left without human company.  He’s most distressed when his young lady owner’s mother leaves him.

The whole family suffer too. Their two happy Standard Poodles are no substitute for human company.

Frenchie suffers separation panic when leftNoah howls.

Not only does it distress the family, it upsets the neighbour. 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

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).

Barks in Panic When She Leaves Him

Barks in panic when left

Murphy

There has been a big change in young Cockerpoo Murphy’s life recently. They moved into a new house two weeks ago.

The lady was able to go out without any problems before. Now he barks in panic as she walks out of the door.

She comes home to a panting and distressed little dog.

She put Murphy, along with her other Cockerpoo, Missy, in kennels for a week – to save them from the upheaval of the move itself. Could this have something to do with his fear of being left now?

To better understand the different kinds of separation distress, imagine a bitch and her puppy. If we separate them, the mother will suffer from separation anxiety, unable to see, and therefore protect, her puppy. The puppy suffers from abandonment anxiety because he is missing his point of reference and safety. 

Murphy barks in panic, “Don’t leave me!”

I believe it’s abandonment Murphy’s feeling. He barks in panic at the door even as she leaves, “don’t leave me!”. It’s not like he’s alone for a little while and then begins to get uneasy. It’s immediate.

Missy

This case is a good example of the importance of asking questions and not jumping to conclusions. I was about to go when something occurred to me. The lady works at home and would go out a couple of times a week, for two or three hours.

I asked her, what time of day do you go out? She said it always used to be in the morning. What time of day have you been going out over the past couple of weeks? Afternoon.

What time of day do you usually walk the dogs? Afternoon.

Hmmm. I wonder whether Murphy barks in panic, due to abandonment, because he expects to go out with her as he always would in the afternoon? It’s possible. Wasn’t that his old routine after all?

Murphy’s separation plan divides into two separate areas for the lady to work on at the same time. Departures, and the triggers that signal her departure.

Departures and triggers.

Working on departures will be in steps, beginning with just closing the dog gate on him and walking away for a moment, building up to being able to walk out of the back door.

She may need to break the stages we worked out into even smaller increments, keeping on each step until Murphy is relaxed and happy before going onto the next.

She should do these exercises many times until Murphy is convinced beyond any doubt that when she departs she always comes back.

Working on the triggers will include putting outdoor shoes on and off regularly, leaving her bag about, walking around with her keys, taking the keys out of the back door and so on.

Every time the lady walks out on Murphy, however briefly, she will drop food. The idea is that her departures are associated with good stuff (food) and her returns are fairly boring.

She can add calming music. Noise from TV or radio may actually be too varied and stimulating. Through a Dogs Ear music can relieve anxiety.

When she starts actually going out of the house she will do so in the morning.

I suggest she has a camera so that she can see Murphy from her phone. She should always come back in before he starts to show signs of distress.

Murphy may well still associate the afternoons with walks, regardless of whether he’s already been walked in the morning. Returning to her old routine may well speed things up.

 

Panic. Separation Anxiety. Left Alone

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

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

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

Poor Margot was in a state of complete panic.

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

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

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

Chewing.

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

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

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

This can’t help.

What can they do?

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

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

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

They have to go out to work.

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

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

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

Their routine when leaving will be overhauled.

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

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

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

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

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

Medication may be necessary.

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

 

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

Yorkie Pup’s Separation Barking

Yorkie pup who suffers separation

Gizmo could fit in my bag

The tiny six-month Yorkie is so beautiful I could not resist three photos.

Gizmo cries when left alone.

The key to relieving him and his young humans from all the anxiety and stress around separation is to find out just why he is unhappy when left.

Separation Anxiety is a blanket term that covers a lot of possibilities.

In many separation cases the dog won’t let a particular person out of his sight. Gizmo is fairly independent and is perfectly happy to go into the garden alone. He’s a confident little fellow and he has a lovely life, being trained and treated as a ‘proper dog’ despite his minute size.

He may cry at the gate, however, if the lady goes upstairs for more than a minute or so. I’m sure he believes that his noise is what brings her back down (because it always does).

From looking at the whole picture of his life, like any puppy he generally doesn’t want to miss anything that could be action or fun, and he’s learnt barking is a way to get it.

Gizmo wearing a hat?

In the early hours of the morning he barks, which results in someone coming downstairs and letting him out, then taking him up to bed with them. For the past week they have tried having him in their bedroom all night, but he’s still barking at the same early hour.

When Gizmo stays with the young lady’s mother for a night or two he doesn’t bark at all and he will sleep in until much later.

These two things rule out the barking at night being due merely to loneliness, and it’s not that he can’t last through without being let out to toilet.

Everything points to the fact that unintentionally they have taught him to call them. Gizmo wants action and company and usually gets it when he barks!

They have very helpfully taken a video of his first ten minutes alone.

The little dog seems unconcerned about being left initially. He starts by working on the Kong he has been left. Gradually he gets tired of that and starts looking around for company. This develops into some wandering around and pacing like he’s looking for them, some crying for them. He gets a bit more agitated, probably because he’s getting no response. Then he eats the food he’s been left.  A really distressed or scared animal would not want to eat. Food finished, he’s barking and wandering almost like he’s looking for something else to do and for some company. He only briefly goes to the back door the lady had walked out of.

Certainly he’s distressed, but not in a real panic.

When the lady does get back after two or three hours, never longer, Gizmo is getting out of his bed.

This pattern seems to be much the same at night when, if left to carry on crying, after about half an hour he gives up and settles.

Gizmo’s humans will work on him being happy to be by himself for longer while they are in the house. We have worked out a few carefully controlled and graded exercises with them leaving him to go upstairs, leaving him behind the gate in the kitchen and leaving him to go out of the house.

Added to this, more fun things should be available when they’re not there and not always when they are there.

Sleeping Yorkie pup

Gizmo asleep

People have more control over the situation than they realise. Gizmo’s humans can influence what happens before and what happens afterwards.

They can prepare Gizmo for people departing. The exercises will help this. They can put in place much more imaginative things to occupy him when he’s left. There are several things they can work on to help him associate being left alone with good stuff and with relaxing.

They can pre-empt the barking for attention in the evenings by initiating more fun themselves instead of responding to his barking, in order to teach him that barking is not the way to get what he wants. They can rehearse over and over tactics for getting him used to being left for short periods and they can change their rituals immediately before leaving for work. Being left will be associated with all sorts of good stuff.

And what happens afterwards? They have control over that too and how they respond. If reuniting is too big an event, it gives the dog yet another thing to bark for. Barking generally ends up in attention and fun, after all.

With separation issues, whatever the reasons, the dog is not happy. This makes his humans unhappy too.

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 Gizmo. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. One size does not fit all and there are various causes for separation issues 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 Get Helppage)

Marking or Separation Anxiety?

Black greyhound lying downWhether marking or anxiety through being left, the root cause will be Herbie’s feeling of insecurity.

Greyhounds have hidden depth. It’s easy to assume that because five-year old Herbie lies around quite a lot and appears peaceful and a bit lazy, that he’s calm inside. I noticed a lot of jaw-chattering that is usually associated with stress of some sort, along with yawning and lip-licking. In Herbie’s case, it seems that it’s not ‘stress’ necessarily in an anxiety sense, more slight arousal.

He loves a cuddle – seeking the affection himself – but his jaw may still chatter. He’s a very friendly boy and gave me a happy but polite greeting, very curious to smell my own dogs on me.

The signs that there is more going on inside him than most people might immediately notice, however, is one big clue as to why, over the past few months, Herbie has taken to peeing in the house.

He is a retired racing dog they have had for eighteen months. At the time the couple were both out all day at work and they had a tight routine. There was no marking or peeing indoors at the time.

Then came a lot of upheaval. The lady took maternity leave which meant Herbie had company much of the time but her comings and goings were unpredictable. They had extensive building work done opening up the house which at times upset him so much he had to be shut in a bedroom. This is when the trouble started.

Then six months ago the baby arrived. The toileting indoors is now becoming a real problem because the baby will soon be on the move.

Initially the ‘marking’ could be anywhere in the house and not necessarily when the couple were out and seems to stem from all the change making him unsettled. Initially I felt this might have been marking ‘his’ territory, scent marking anything new that was erected or appearing in his house.

Black greyhound lying downMore recently, though, the weeing has only happened when he has been left, and nearly always it is in the same place – by the window from which he watches them disappear down the garden path.

The next question is whether it’s because he doesn’t like being left all alone per se, whether any company is sufficient, or whether is he pining for the lady in particular and to whom he’s closest.

Possibly he actually feels that it’s the lady who needs him, and that he should be keeping an eye on the baby? The only time he has shown any aggression has been when a large dog rushed up to the buggy.

Another questions is, does he pee immediately as he watches them go or some time later?

Answers to these things can affect how we approach the solution.

They will video him. During the week the lady may go out a couple of times a day with the baby, and nearly every time she comes home to a puddle in the same place, on the rug by the French windows. At the weekend the couple will go out together.  I suggested they tried the man staying behind with Herbie while the lady takes baby down the garden path, then five minutes later he joins her. If this improves things, we know the lady must then work on the dog’s separation specifically from herself and possibly the baby.

The dog disturbs them in the night also, going upstairs and whining – probably waking when he hears them get up to the baby, and this is disturbing their nights even more. They eventually take him back down again and nearly always find a puddle in the morning.

It’s only since the building work that he has gone upstairs at all. They want him to come up in the morning only now.

My feeling is that they need to be consistent and start to set up some solid boundaries and routines again – as they had when he first came to live with them. They can once more stop him going upstairs. The house wasn’t open plan before and Herbie was more contained.

I suggest they gate the front part of the house from where the stairs lead during the day. They can first do this for a couple of days so he gets used to more restriction before shutting the gate at night. This then gives the lady lots of opportunity to depart from Herbie, taking baby with her. He won’t be able to follow her everywhere – good preparation for leaving him when she goes out. If she drops a couple of bits of his kibble over the gate each time she leaves him behind, over time he should be associating the sight of her walking away from him with something good.

What’s more, these short indoor departures will reinforce to Herbie that she always comes back.

Separation issues can take time and patience to conquer. In Herbie’s case there could well be a bit more to it. With insecurity being the real problem, it’s his feelings of insecurity that need to be addressed.

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 Herbie. 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Golden Retriever is happy

To Stop Barking When Left Alone

The lady called me because she wanted her beautiful eight-year-old Golden Retriever, Harvey, to ‘stop barking’ when she goes out. One friend suggested she tried an ultrasonic sound device (he ignores it) and another a muzzle to keep his mouth shut.

It’s not gaLoving look from Goldiedgets that are needed, but time and patience. Harvey’s barking needs to be looked at in a completely different way. Stop barking? The distress that is causing the barking needs to be addressed. The actual barking itself isn’t the problem (though it may be so for the neighbours).

Harvey is the most friendly, stable and well-adjusted dog you could want to meet in every respect apart from his fear of being parted from the lady. As a young dog he had been more or less abandoned, underfed and neglected, so it’s a big tribute to her care and love for him. He really is the perfect companion for her. On the right he is looking adoringly up at her (and she was eating a biscuit too!).

It seems that it’s not so much a fear of being left alone itself as a fear of losing the lady. Although he was very friendly with me, he became anxious within a few seconds when she walked out of the room and shut the door, as you can see on the left. It’s very possible that he feels he should be lookAnxious aloneing after her as she has a medical condition that he will pick up on.

He will certainly sense her emotions when she has to leave him, never for more than two or three hours, and that will merely add to his distress because he can’t possibly realise the reason she herself feels anxious – and guilty.

In addition to desensitising Harvey to being away from her and counter-conditioning him to feel her departures are nothing to worry about, the lady herself can change a few other things that will help. If she can behave in some respects a little more like ‘guardian’ in terms of who protects whom in particular. She can then come and go as she pleases without being accountable to Harvey. Departures should be breezy, happy and good news. Coming back home should be boring and no big deal. At the moment it’s the opposite.

The desensitising requires a huge number of comings and goings, starting with duration and places that are very easy for Harvey and gradually ramping it up, over a period of probably many weeks. The counter-conditioning, at the same time, should gradually have him feeling happy when left rather than distressed.

The lady is prepared to ‘give it a go’. She will ‘try’. I have found that the people who succeed are those who stick at it until they do succeed for however long it takes – and don’t give up after giving it a try if things don’t show much improvement after just two or three weeks, as proved by another lady and her dog who I went to quite recently – read here.

Four weeks have gone by and the slow approach is working.  ‘I feel we are getting on slowly but well. Harvey can be left happily for about ten minutes now and went to my immediate neighbours for an hour with no fuss apart from barking at the front door briefly as I left and he was quite happy. Next week we will be gradually extending the time. Fingers crossed!!!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Harvey, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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 dog (see my Get Help page).