Abandonment Anxiety. Separation Anxiety.

I couldn’t believe how calm and confident Sketch was when I arrived. She was interested without being pushy.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the ten-month-old Wirehaired Pointer had arrived with my clients. Previous to that she had been turned out onto the streets with her siblings in Hungary, picked up by a rescue and fostered for a few months. Then transported by plane and car to her new UK home.

So far the only problem that has surfaced is her distress when left alone.

Fear of abandonment.

She and their other dog, a beautiful gentle Vizsla called Doodle, get on great. Sadly, Doodle’s company isn’t what Sketch needs. (Don’t you just love their names!).

Abandonment anxiety when leftSketch needs the permanent presence of a human.

Two weeks ago she wouldn’t let the lady out of her sight at all. Now is fine left alone with the gentleman. Things are improving daily. The other day they had a pre-arranged appointment and a dog walker had her all day. She was walked with various other dogs; the walker treated her as she would her own dog for the day. Sketch was absolutely fine.

This is good news because while they work on the separation or abandonment issues, should the need arise they have cover. They won’t need to leave her alone before she’s ready. The lady works from home.

It is totally understandable that Sketch may be feeling insecure in a very different new world. Her distress at being left with no human about could more accurately be called abandonment anxiety.

She is now fine alone in the night, knowing that her humans are in the house.

Where only two weeks ago she had to have human company during the night, Sketch is now okay shut in the utility room with Doodle.

This is a big step forward. She is beginning to feel more secure now she is realising her humans remain in the house. Fear of abandonment isn’t an issue during the night anymore.

They are now at a stage where she can be left in the utility room for short periods during the day also so long as nobody goes out of the front door.

Their front door is very noisy due to a draft excluder that sticks. The sound of this, now, is Sketch’s main trigger for panic.

Where would it be best to work on leaving her when they both need to go out?

As she now seems okay in the utility room at night time, it seems sensible to build on her increasing acceptance of the utility room for when they go out of the house.

So, to start with, they will work on her being comfortable left for very short and gradually lengthening periods in the utility room during the day, probably with Doodle too.

At the same time, they need to work on any triggers that herald their leaving. At the moment it’s the sound of the front door.

Breaking things down.

To start with they will build on getting her comfortable with being separated briefly from them by now shutting doors on her as they go around the house.

They will build a good routine of the dogs being called happily into the utility room at random times for food. This won’t yet involve their going out of the house.

They will work on getting her to feel good about the main trigger for her panic – the noisy front door opening and closing. They will work on this trigger until it is no longer a problem to her – until they can walk out and back in.

When Sketch is happy with the front door opening and closing, they can pair the two things they have been working on. They can shut in the utility room and add the sound of the front door opening and closing.

Next they can add walking out of the front door, shutting it, opening it and walking straight back in again. Then letting her out of the utility room.

Gradually they will increase the time they are outside. With camera and phone app they can ensure they come back to her before she is agitated. They don’t want her stressing or crying to herald their return – they will come back in while she’s calm and happy.

We can then see what to do next. Maybe other triggers that predict their leaving will arise. Perhaps things will get worse before they get better.

Maybe as she gains a feeling of security in general the problem of abandoment will resolve faster than expected. This is possible. Her humans are very perceptive and sensitive to her needs.


They must be so proud when they are out with their two wonderful, well behaved and social dogs.


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

To Trust Their Dog Around Other Dogs

Viszla lying on his bedIt’s sad when a dog that has been so conscientiously reared from a puppy, well-trained and socialised, starts to develop antagonistic behaviour towards other dogs. What could have gone wrong? I feel really sorry for the young couple with beautiful Hungarian Vizsla Mac.

They took him to classes and training for nine months. They have invested time and money into not only training him but researching the very best food for him – he’s fed raw. They have mixed him with people and other dogs and he was extremely well socialised. The first hint of trouble was about six months ago – when he was around one year old.

Over time they have relaxed and he has gradually been allowed more and more leeway to do his own thing when off-lead. As the situation with other dogs has crept up on them the young lady’s confidence when out with him has been dropping.

He was always a ‘pushy’ player and this, unfortunately, went unchecked. It’s hard for people to know what’s appropriate play and where to draw the line. Not all dogs like being jumped on and he was told off by a couple of dogs. Soon, he was reacting badly when other dogs, behaving just as he himself does, rushed into his own space. It was still just noise and snapping. Now humping other dogs is added to his repertoire but he gets cross if they go round behind him to sniff him.

What I’m sure is happening is a build up of stress, excitement – call it what you will. Each dog he meets pushes him a little nearer the edge. This was well illustrated the other day when a dog, on a flexilead, coming to ‘say hello’ while Mac was sitting outside a pub with the couple – and this time Mac actually went for him. What backs up the build-up of stress theory is that this was at the end of a walk, outside the pub he already had some boisterous play with a spaniel and probably being approached by the last dog was the final straw. He went for it – and was fortunately dragged off before any harm was done. The spaniel then returned and he went for him also.

Mac is a determined young dog and they have taken their eye off the ball. There has been no damage done so far, but it’s going in the wrong direction. Once things start to go downhill, without intervention they usually gradually get worse as it becomes a learned behaviour. Mac now needs to learn instead to clock in with his owners every time he sees a dog, even if it’s one of his friends. They will be working on techniques to achieve this. It’s then up to them to decide what happens next, not Mac, and whether or not he meets up with the other dog. They need to police the level of any play.

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

‘Happened Out of the Blue’?



Poppy attacked a Whippet for ‘no reason’. Out of the blue.

It usually takes a crisis of some sort to make us face up to a gradually worsening problem.



Monty the Viszla is four, and Poppy on the right is two years old.

Over the past few months Poppy has become increasingly touchy with other dogs when out. The owners admit that this is a vicious circle as they themselves become more tense. It’s a hard cycle to break without outside objective help.

What has brought it to a head is that out on a walk a few days ago Poppy went for the Whippet, seemingly for no reason at all.  The on-lead dog was approaching with a lady and gentleman. Poppy was called and put on lead and she took no notice of them as they passed. However, when let off lead of short while later, she simply doubled back and bit the poor dog on the back leg.

There was screaming from the dog and distress from the owners.

Poppy’s owners were gutted.

In Poppy’s case we could think of several factors, and we would be able to find more if we could get inside Poppy’s head. The lady owner who normally walks her was away, she’s scared of going through the back gate, she may have been excited by their children, possibly she had previously been barking at the gate at home, grandfather had arrived which may have excited her, one child was hanging back playing with Monty and a large stick when the Whippet passed which may have made her anxious.

She really is a dream at home as is Monty apart, that is, from when callers suddenly appear through the gate or let themselves in the house. She has become paranoid about the noise of the gate latch to the extent that she is reluctant to go through it at the start of a walk. She has nipped caller’s legs several times now. This too is getting worse. PoppyMonty

The initial adjustments to be made are to do with non-family members being unable to simply walk in. No door or gate should be left unlocked and the dogs should be somewhere else for now when people first enter. She’s happy and friendly once they are in. She needs to be on a long line for now when out, so that she still has a certain amount of freedom.

The visitors also need some instructions – and that can be hard!

The lady has already done some clicker training with Poppy and she’s a bright little dog. The two children participate in feeding, play and training.

So I believe the whippet incident was really just the culmination of several things. There are several other issues that need addressing including walking on a loose lead. When added together, things will gradually fall into place.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Poppy and Monty, 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, most particularly where anything to do with aggression is concerned. 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).

Fantastic Progress with Viszla Puppy

ViszlaLola1A couple of months ago I visited Viszla puppy Lola, then age just 5 months.  A series of circumstances had quickly transformed a confident and friendly puppy into a nervous wreck. This is her story.

They have worked so hard at building her confidence back and I have just received this message:

“Lola really is a different dog to the one you saw a couple of months ago. She is back to the best of what she was before she got stressed but better still in many ways. It’s hard to describe how different she is but we can all see it.

She’s so much more relaxed and settled, much more affectionate (like she used to be), seemingly not bothered about cars at all now – and we are getting there with buses and vans; just a really happy girl.

I’m sure there will be things that come up as she matures (and I’ll be in touch for advice when they do!) but we feel we have the tools to work with her and keep her happy and confident now and it’s amazing to think back to how she was before you came to visit and how far we have come.

She hasn’t growled at any other dogs since our last email exchange a few weeks ago.

By the way, I’m sitting here now as Lola scoffs down her food as if she’s never eaten before in her life (we changed her diet also) – so different from the situation we had before! It was gone before I even finished typing that sentence!”

Viszla Puppy. Fearful Puppy

Lola happy walking in a riverFrom the start, Lola’s lovely people have been soaking up information on the positive way to bring up a puppy. They knew how important it was that she should be introduced to all sorts of people, dogs, traffic, machinery and places in the first few weeks they had her – before the fear period kicked in. They really couldn’t have done more.

They are taking their role of ‘dog parents’ very seriously. The lady has taught her a lot of things – all through reward-based methods and encouragement.

Fearful puppy

So I find it really sad now because, due to a build up of circumstances and unforeseen happenings at just the wrong time in her development, she is becoming a fearful puppy.

About four weeks ago she went to a different doggy daycare for a week. It is possible (this is guesswork) that she may have been intimidated in an over-stimulating environment with uncontrolled play, because this is when the change in her began. The next week the couple took her away for a week in a hotel by the sea and she was growling at people as they came into the room – very unlike the seemingly confident and friendly puppy they had had only a week or so previously.

Then, back home, a bus pulled up right beside them, air brakes hissing. Lola was terrified.

The last straw was the other day. She was quietly asleep in the back room when family with children arrived. One child ran straight through and rattled the crate while she slept. Lola barked frantically. All the time these visitors were there little Lola was pacing, anxious, and appealing for reassurance.

Early experiences are so important. Bad things can have a much more lasting impact than good things. Now, before walks when the lead comes out Lola backs away or rolls onto her back. When out, she is terrifed of any fast or large traffic.

She has also started barking at people who enter her house – especially it they appear suddenly. She is a sensitive pup and needs to feel secure in her own people to look after her and to associate people walking into her home with calm and with good things.

It is fortunate that they live down a quiet road – but with a very busy road at the end. They can work on getting her happy to go out and desensiting her to traffic and buses from a distance where she feels safe. It needs working on before the problem gets any worse.

It seems unfair. We all know dogs where the owners have put in very little effort and somehow everything goes fine.

Re-Visit to Hungarian Viszla Puppy

ViszlaZoliZoli, the Hungarian Viszla puppy I first went to when he was ten weeks old, is now seven months! What a handsome boy! This is him at ten weeks old: http://www.dogidog.co.uk/?p=9375

His people have followed a lot of my advice and he is becoming a well-mannered dog with great progress in most respects. It is so much easier if you start off correctly, and he was certainly a handful at ten weeks!

There are two areas where he’s not doing so well. One is jumping up – but that is due to lack of consistency on behalf of the family. If it gets him a result just one time in ten, it’s worth doing! That’s why people play slot machines after all.

The other area is one where they have unfortunately abandoned my advice – walking. He is on a short lead and collar, very excited and pulling down the road, constantly being corrected or held beside them through their strength. All this teaches Zoli that pulling works – because he gets there in the end.

By now, if they had stuck to the plan and used the right equipment, he should be walking on a loose lead like there is no lead at all. People get confused between ‘heel’ walking and ‘loose lead’ walking. Apart from in the show ring and maybe busy streets, I myself can’t see any benefit at all in walking strictly to heel. The dog should walk near to the person because he wants to, not because he’s being forced to. It is all part of the bond of trust and respect that should be growing between them.

I demonstrated the method in the kitchen – admittedly there were none of the distractions of the outside world. He walked around with me like a lamb.

Walks need to start off right – calmly – with walking around house and garden and shouldn’t progress until the lead is loose. It really is a case of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. They will need to abandon their current ideas about walks for a few days or even weeks, but the work is so well worth it in the end – a dog that doesn’t mug people or refuse to come back unless he feels like it. As adolescence takes hold – it won’t be going in the right direction unless his people take control of his freedom – and it’s granted in a controlled way rather encouraging him to freelance.

Hungarian Viszla – Another Puppy Off to a Good Start

Viszla2 Viszla puppy taking a breakFrom my iPhone photo you really get no sense of the silky smoothness of Zoli’s coat and the loose skin waiting to be grown into! He is a ten-week-old Hungarian Viszla who now lives with people who’ve not had a dog before.

This is the message I received last week: ‘I really just want to start off on the right foot with him. He is biting, which I know puppies do but I would like to know an effective way to stop this. There are so many things and I think I am getting anxious and possibly making him the same? I would really appreciate some sensible help and advice’.

This is perfect. It is so much easier to teach a puppy from the start not to jump up, not to fly all over chairs, not to mouth and nip and to walk nicely on lead, than it is to convince an adolescent dog who has become out of control. They need to know things like just what to do when they have people for dinner, as they did last week, and Zoli flies all over them, nipping and getting out of control excited, and then creates a noisy fuss when put out of the way into his pen!

Rescue centres are full of misunderstood six to nine-month-old dogs. Humans, being human, think that being ‘firm’ and saying ‘no’ and ‘scolding’ is effective training and discipline, but that’s simply not the case. Imposing control rarely works and invites defiance later on and even sometimes aggression. A dog with self-control is happy and trustworthy.

It is important not to over-burden him with commands, play and especially exercise. A puppy needs plenty of rest and walks should be very short to allow his soft bones and joints to strengthen and grow healthily.

I shall now be here for them with help and practical advice for Zola until adulthood and beyond.

About three weeks later – things going well. “Thanks for the great advice so far it really does work but as you say it’s consistency. We had a lovely weekend with him. We had a trip up to the woods, just around the corner from here and he loved that…..He has ‘naughty’ days but he is only a baby and as I say on the whole he is very good. We love him to bits and want the best for him without him taking over. I think we are getting there definitely, thanks to you”.
Nearly two months after my visit – now 5 months old: “Yes things are going really well.  I have met a group of people out on our walks and all the dogs get along great so I let Zoli off his lead around them and practice recall, which he is doing so well with, in fact I have had positive comments from other owners. He is still young and easily distracted obviously but considering this he is doing brilliantly.  I am careful still around dogs he doesn’t know, keeping him on lead but he seems to be getting less over-excited with the whole thing.  I take him out and try and expose him to all sorts of experiences just to de-sensitise him to the world in general…..”
 I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.

‘Unpredictable’ Viszla

Viszla Toffee is a nervous dogToffee is a beautiful fifteen month old Viszla – quite petite for the breed. She is a nervous dog – and has been since she was a puppy. She is an obsessive shadow chaser and (very unusually) already doing this at eight weeks old when they brought her home. He mother apparently also chased shadows as did one of her brothers, and I wonder whether it’s a case of ‘puppy see – puppy do’.

Toffee is anxious and reactive to many things: she stresses when people disappear from sight, she is scared of the sound of her food bowl on the floor, she doesn’t like people invading her space unless on her own terms, she warns off even family members getting too near her mistress and she barks frantically at even her owners carrying something she doesn’t recognise. She is likely to ‘upredictably’ go for certain dogs when on walks, particularly if they are either too near her lady owner or if there is food involved. It looks as though she’s unpredictable, sometimes going for other dogs or nipping people who go into her space, and sometimes not, but a lot of this behaviour will depend upon how much stress has already built up inside her.

In addition to her temperament being on the nervous side, Toffee has been given the additional burden of decision making.  It’s only when people see the whole picture through the eyes of an objective outsider that many owners realise just how much homage they have bestowed on their dog in the name of love – and just how much their dog calls the tune, which can put enormous pressure on her.

We will never change Toffee’s basic nature, nor would we want to, but a good dose of proper ‘parenting’ will do wonders for her stress levels, resulting in calmer walks, a more confident Toffee and less ‘unpredictability’.