Philobiblon: Canine separation anxiety ...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Canine separation anxiety ...

Anyone got a magic cure? After four weeks of apparently being perfectly happy to be left, Champ has suddenly developed severe separation anxiety. Not only is he clawing the door to shreds; he's whining, and howling, for at least 40 minutes after being left. (I've left a tape running a couple of times, so I would know what was going on.)

The radio is left on for him for company; I kept him fairly hungry today and left him with a stuffed Kong (with peanut butter) and a pig's ear (neither of which were touched); I just don't know what to do - I can't just drop everything, although I am going to have to cancel tomorrow morning's squash game. But equally I can't inflict that on the neighbours.

I'm going to try to find a dog sitter - someone retired ideally who is always at home, but it is not going to be easy.

Valium ....? (At least for me.)


Anonymous david ware said...

Re Canine anxiety, the occasional dog-sitter can help, as can the veterinary version of Prozac (a couple of my canine acquaintances here in remarkably relaxed Arkansas benefit from this therapy). Other things that can help include not making a big deal when you leave--that is, if Champ knows that you're sending heightened emotional signals when you leave for the day, then he'll be anxious, possibly destructive, and certainly distressed. A canine behaviourist here (yes, we have 'em!) tells me that a good approach is to on one hand vary the dog's daily routine, while soft-pedalling the Big Emotional Moments. Also, going through a round or two of basic obedience training has seemed to help our erratic Airedale; she's reassured that we care enough about her to always come back for her. It's early days with Champ, so don't be downhearted: dog-proof your flat, put your best shoes in cupboard or closet, and carve out more time for canine roadwork.

2/02/2006 03:08:00 am  
Blogger WifeALC said...

We have a dog who is very, shall we say, attached to us and displays the same kind of behavior when we leave her alone in a room. The best, best thing we did was get her a doggie kennel where she stays when we aren't around. I put her Kong in it, so she likes going there, and although she used to make a little fuss (the tape recorder is a good idea--I used to stand outside the window!), now she just goes to sleep after she finishes whatever treat we have for her in there. There are many websites about kennelling/crating, which show you how humane it is as well as giving tips; I highly, highly recommend it.

2/02/2006 04:30:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks very much folks. I've always been careful not to make a big production about going out (although since I'm usually going out with a bicycle it is not easy to "sneak" out), and I do it at irregular times. I also don't make a fuss immediately when I come home, even though he's always got excited.

That's what makes this frustrating - I feel like I've done most things right; but of course with a rescue dog you don't know what other owners have done in the past ...

2/02/2006 08:51:00 am  
Anonymous Jo said...

We had one dog who did something similar so after a million attempts at other stuff, we put hot spicy sauce on the edges of the doors to send the message that doors taste nasty. which would have worked apart from the fact she thought it was delicious! That's the thing about dogs - just as soon as you've got them figured out, they change what they're doing to keep you on your toes!

In the end, what worked best were dog training classes and putting her outside in the kennel. She was able to distinguish between being in the kennel (her on her own) and being in the house (her with her humans) and that made things a lot calmer.

2/02/2006 02:50:00 pm  
Blogger Sandy said...

One other solutions (which you may not like as much, or just may not be feasible) include providing company for your dog - a cat, or another dog. Two dogs are not a whole lot more work than one.

2/02/2006 03:49:00 pm  
Blogger Bardiac said...

I was my dog's fourth person, and he used to get pretty anxious when I left, especially when I first got him, and then later as his eyesight began to fail.

As others have suggested, doing some basic obedience seems to be useful. It worked for us, I think because we developed a pack relationship and he gained confidence in me as the leader.

As his eyesight failed, I found that leaving lights on as it got dark helped.

I hope you can work things out well and soon.

2/03/2006 02:08:00 am  
Blogger Susoz said...

My sympathy. Harry has done that (chewed doorframes) when we've been staying in holiday houses and it's not fun. However, at home he's perfectly okay being left - but he is with another dog.
He has generalised seperation anxiety too (also a rescue - you do wonder at their pasts)and we got a dog behaviourist in to help with that (we had someone from The Dog Whisperer school of thought). The main thing is that you should establish yourself as leader in all areas. Then the dog will accept your right to come and go without reference to him, which is what canine pack leaders do.
I'd say don't leave food with him - you should be in control of food, not him. Don't say goodbye to him or say hello to him when you come home. If he comes to greet you, don't look him in the eye - just walk past him to put your things down and then you choose when to greet him. Everything has to be at your choosing, so that he gets the clear idea that you're the leader. Does he have a bed and can you command him to go to his bed? that seems to be a basic precept which firmly establishes who's who - and that's where we went wrong with Harry.
If you have an outdoor space you can put him in (while you're home), experiment with putting him out there and ignoring him. If he whines or barks, give a sharp rap of your knuckles on wood or glass accompanied by a stern "Uh uh". This is what we did with Harry and he went from a dog who would immediately start barking and biting the back door to get in to a dog who will sit quietly outside until we let him in.
Good luck. We haven't solved H's anxiety issues by any means (and don't try to now, with his illness)but I do think that dog anxiety stems from them feeling that they are supposed to be in control - or thinking that they *are* in control - so dominating them is the main thrust of the solution (which sounds nasty, but once you have the leadership slot filled, then they can relax).

2/03/2006 04:02:00 am  

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