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Separation anxiety and the need for dog owners to reconsider their beliefs

One case came into my computer the other day, which is easy to solve yet because we are humans and see the world differently to the way our pets do it is so easy to get it wrong.

I had to return to England the other week and on the Thursday morning, I recived an email asking for help for a dog with a problem when it is left in the house on its own.

The 6-year-old bitch come from a shelter two weeks previously and had a lovely character in every way until it came to the owner leaving the house on her own. The dog slept in a basket in the owner’s bedroom but this would not normally be a problem with a dog uninterested in hierarchy.

The owner takes the dog for long walks before leaving it in the house but on her return found the dog had always urinated somewhere in the house. It had even started urinating on the owner’s bed. The owner was very concerned that was it being left in the same way to the previous owner may have left it making leaving the house still very traumatic.

You may remember when I looked after Ropi within one and a half days he would not let me out of his sight and wanted to go everywhere with me. He even demanded to sleep with me in my bedroom. I certainly could not leave the property and go anywhere.

I explained that if we are not careful we can make a dog so dependant on us they are unable to survive on their own.

We all believe that if we show lots of love and affection that our dog will respond in the same way. The problem is they do not see this in the same way as we do and why separation anxiety is so common.

If we train our dogs to depend on us, they cannot survive on their own and so why they are crying when left. As this is stressful, this is why they urinate. The reason for climbing on the bed is that dogs are trying to get close to the owners smell. Because of the stress, it will even wet the bed. It is not trying to penalize the owner for leaving it as many dog owners think.

The dog could no longer cope with life without the ever presents of the owner so never allowing her to leave without the dog.

I explained that it is easy to correct this problem but for us as humans it seems a hard and cruel method to have to use. What we have to do is to train the dog that it can survive without the owner and to know the owner will always return.

The problem that creates this problem is that humans do not think like dogs. Our normal human kindness is to smother the dog with attention but what happens gradually it will become too attached to the owner. A further problem is that the dog mirrors those concerned feelings of the owner.

For us as humans we think and we are naturally kind, caring and loving but many dogs consider this as a weakness. They will take advantage of this to strengthen their position becoming elevated to a leader above even that of the owners.

For many dogs, it will make no difference but some dogs are in need of mothering and in need of such kindness. This will make the dog become totally attached to the owner. They then become unable to function without the owners being there.

There are three types of separation anxiety and it is important to distinguish which is which because the retraining is different for each.

The first is where a dominant dog treats the owners as its wards as it has become higher in the pack than the owners have. It will not let the owners out of its sight and considers the owners incapable of functioning on their own so will not let them leave the house without it to guard them.

The other end of the spectrum is the dog suffering some traumatic history that it is so terrified to be on its own. Owners become more anxious and the dog mirrors this and so it escalates with more concern shown by the owners.

The third is the where owners take a dog into a new environment which is stressful and then shower it with affection because it may have had a poor history of abuse or just because it is cute but the result is the same.

Watch any bitch with her young pups and at a certain point she will chase them away from her. She is saying it is time for them to each explore and learn to survive in this new world. Pups must learn to function on their own without help.

Humans suppress this by providing everything free. Food simply appears so no competition and resources are all there on tap. There are no challenges for the dog. It becomes so dependent on the owners it cannot function on its own. Within a short space of time, you have one very anxious dog that becomes a ball and chain to the owner who are now unable to leave the house. Some even take the dog back to the shelter blaming the dog and complaining they cannot leave the dog in the house.

My reply was for the owner to follow the normal methods for curing this but I am acutely aware this means the owner having to accept a total opposite concept to human behaviour.

I asked the owner to ignore the dog for long periods even to turning her back on the dog when it comes seeking attention. When she goes out the door, she should then come back in again ignoring the dog for at least 10 minuets until the dog goes and lies down for a while. Allow a further 10 minuets then call the dog over for praise and attention then just finish walking away aloof.

I asked the owner to place the dog’s basket outside the bedroom door for her dog to use during the day and keep the bedroom door closed even when the owner goes to bed.

When the owner leaves the house the bedroom door still remains closed. On her return, she should enter the house without looking at the dog at all. If there are any urine puddles she should pretend not to notice them but walk outside with the dog following, then go back into the house closing the door and clean up the mess.

If the dog is making any noise to come in, she should ignore this until it is quiet. If this is not possible, she should open the door after cleaning up but again totally ignore the dog.

There should be no reward shown to the dog for each and every new meeting.

If she has two doors in the house let the dog follow her so she knows both doors are open. The owner then goes out the back door and closes it with the dog on the other side. It will of course go rushing round out of the other door only to find the owner coming through that one but ignoring the dog. After about six of these the dogs quickly learns the futility of this as there is no reward for the energy expended. I particularly love this one as it works so fast and is ideally suited to a dog’s way of thinking.

We as humans must realise that rejection that we would show to other humans is not as distressing as it is to dogs. The rejection by the wife by not looking or talking to the husband because he forgot her birthday, which we feel as real pain, does not register with dogs in the same way.

This is the language of dogs and particularly used by the leader dog to the subordinates. If we can accept this then this is most of the battle won. I know we feel cruel but we are then talking the dog’s language and they will respond to that.

I also suggested the owner purchase Jan Fennels “The Dog Listener as a help to read another person giving the same information. With all the right information, she can feel confident to teach her dog how to survive without her constant attention. Once her dog is cured, she could then treat it normally again. This is because it can now survive on its own and it has learned her owner will always return when she goes out the door.

I agreed that her using the trick I used on Ropi would work. I would give him a very long walk then on my return I just walked him into the garden then I just turned round, got in the car and drove away. In two days, he got the message.

I always ask people if they would write back to me and tell me how they are getting on, as I know it is hard to change personal attitudes. Many actually send me pictures of their dogs, as I have never seen them when I am using email or the telephone.

When I returned on the Saturday afternoon, I opened my email and found one titled “Is this the same little dog”. The owner had read everything and followed it exactly. Placing the basket outside of the bedroom being the hardest as the dog was sleeping fine but the owner in her caring manner could not sleep at all for feeling so mean.

Using the Ropi routine, she gave her dog a very long walk then left it for 3 hours. On her return, she found one happy dog greeting her and no need to have to wear Wellingtons. This result did encourage her to change her appreciation of the ways dogs think as being different to humans and to continue with the training programme.

She had dogs before but had never experienced this type of dog problem until now so never appreciated the dissimilarity of doggy language, as the other dogs did not have this problem. The owner had never noticed her previous dogs did not mind so she assumed she was talking to her dogs correctly. The reason here is the dogs were surviving and coping with the wrong language successfully.

So, what is the significance of this case? No, it is not to say how clever I am. You can read this standard method in any good dog correction book. The point here is the owner against all her established understanding of dogs totally changed her beliefs even though having feelings of being cruel followed these rules and in doing so produced a rapid change in her dog. Thursday to Saturday is quite an achievement and deserving recognition.

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