It is largely due to the diligence and love of the young couple that Miniature Daschunds Levi and Lilly are so biddable and loving. From the start they have done their very best to get everything right.
Levi on the left is three years old. I read little signs of stress on and off through the afternoon and Lilly, 18 months, lacks confidence.
It is very likely that the many hours the little dogs spend out in the garden alone while their humans are at work is fuelling this anxiety. Lilly in particular barks at things she hears – neighbours talking, birds and especially a cat that walks along the fence. After their evening walk Levi seems exhausted, understandable if he’s spent all day ‘on watch’.
The couple seldom go out apart from work unless they take their dogs with them. They are extremely dedicated dog owners.
Where should dogs be left when at home alone? Because it’s a long day the two little dogs are left outside with a nice kennel to go into should they wish to. They are left with plenty to do, Kongs and so on. Many people believe their dogs are happiest left outside with the freedom of the garden. I see it differently. Dogs left outside can’t escape from storms, noises and invading birds. They are vulnerable. There was a time when a neighbour’s children would torment them over the fence. There was a complaint about barking. There are many terrible stories nowadays of dogs stolen from gardens and high fencing is no deterrent.
A day of intermittent alert and barking must contribute to their stress levels big time. If they are already stressed they will be unable to cope so well with other things life throws at them.
A while ago something shocked me badly. My heart was pumping like mad for days. In this condition I found it hard to cope with small everyday problems. Nobody would see how I felt from just looking at me – it was all going on inside. This experience gave me fresh insight into how dogs must feel when in a constant state of arousal.
The couple will now leave their little dogs indoors when they go to work, in the area of the house where they are occasionally already left in the evening. For the first week or so the lady will take time off work to come home at lunchtime to check on them and let them out. After that they will try to find someone else who can do that for them.
Amongst other things that can relieve stress is to cut back on ‘commands’. Training is essential to a point, but we humans give out these words like Sit and Wait long after we have already taught the dog. If we have taught him to sit before food goes down, for instance, must we always keep prompting? If we wait, he will do it for himself. Training games that can teach dogs to think for themselves and games that make use of their hunting instinct are great for de-stressing them.
Over time both dogs should become more settled and be better able to deal with other things in life – Levi with car travel and Lilly with meeting other dogs.
A month later I received this email: ‘Thank you so much for all you have done for us and our dogs. Every one of the exercises you gave us is showing improvement on our relationship with each other (all 4 of us). But most of all I want to thank you for the encouragement you gave us when our confidence was rock bottom, and helping us realise the things we already did that were good…as it helped us get our balance right between loving our dogs and allowing ourselves to have a social life:) They are now happy left indoors during the day with classic fm and never once messed in the house…sometimes you even see Levi coming out with puffy eyes from all the sleep he was getting! We are now seeing progress rather than frustration…and feel less anxiety of trying to listen to everyone trying to give us advice about what we should do about our dogs (most of whom didn’t ever own dogs themselves).’
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lily and Levi, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).