So just took the next big step and now my girlfriend and I are “moved in together.” Unfortunately (in some sense) she has a dog. Nugget the 1.5 year old Bichon-Pekingeese has some serious separation anxiety. Whenever we leave the apartment with him inside he starts just crying, and making the loudest worst noise I have ever heard. It must sound to the neighbors like we are running a cheese grater over his nose or something.
Now I like being a good neighbor, but even more importantly I don’t want this poor dog working himself into hysterics every day while we are at work. Currently she is at home all day because she hasn’t found a new job yet, but this is not a permanent solution.
My girlfriend is currently taking this time to try and crate train the little guy, but she is having trouble with the whole willpower and the pitiful crying thing, and is convinced that she is not getting anywhere.
Now I know exactly nothing about dog psycology, but it seems to me like locking the thing in the crate which she has already taught him to like (when he knows we are still nearby) and letting him get over it is the way to go. But then again it might just traumatize him and make him cry worse.
If anyone has any recommendations, I think she has half an idea what to do, but I feel pretty useless in this endeavor.
Get a Kong and put treats in it to give him whenever he’s in the crate. It will give him a project to take his mind off his anxiety and also help him associate the crate with good things. Some people use peanut butter, but that’s pretty fattening and sugary for use on a regular basis.
Funny story: When we first adopted Jake, the three-legged Cairn terrier, we weren’t sure what to do with him while we were at work, so we tried shutting him in the kitchen. He got through the folding doors with relatively little trouble. When we got home, we saw that he had climbed up into a chair and onto one of those rolling laptop tables to tear a few keys off my partner’s laptop. From there he proceeded to tear down and destroy three sets of blinds.
Like Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, he wasn’t going to let a missing limb keep him from causing destruction and generally making an ass of himself - he’s handi-capable!
After that we started putting him in a crate. Either he was already crate-trained or just one of those dogs that feels safer being cooped up, but it worked like a charm.
His crate is like his home. He’s going to cry for a while. Athryn should be here shortly with more advice:) She works in a vet office and knows a lot about this type of stuff. I have crate trained three dogs now and it’s been awesome. My dogs love their crate.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is not to give in. If the dog is whining and then you let it out, it will teach the dog that whining will get it what it wants.
What I do with my dog is I have some special treats that he only gets when he is in the crate. You can start with your own dog by taking some and toss them in when the dog is outside, and of course the dog will follow the treats into the crate. Praise him for being a good dog, and then you can work it into giving it treats after you close the door, etc.
If it sits in the crate and whine, let him whine himself out, and then reward it for being quiet with treats.
One thing that’s important is placement of the crate. If it’s off in some corner of the house, the dog is going to feel more isolated and unhappy. If you put the crate somewhere that they can see the goings on of things, that will help them adjust better. Remember, dogs are pack animals and like being near their people.
The other thing is also not to make a big deal of leaving. If you make a big fuss, the dog will pick up on that and get more anxious.
The problem is less the crate, and more our absence. With the crate in the same room you can put him in there and lock the door and he is happy. It is when we get up to leave that he just cries and cries and cries.
My immediate theory on how to deal with it is to just let him cry himself out while I play Etrian Odessey in the hallway outside the front door and just wait until he hasn’t been whining for half an hour, go inside give him a treat and let him out. Then the next day make him be quiet for an hour before letting him out.
But I have never had to take care of a dog before, and I don’t really know much about it, so I figured I would ask yall.
Another thing to do is build up the amount of time you part with the dog.
At first, start out with super short times, like 2 mins (basically go out the front door and come right back), and then slowly build it up to longer and more realistic times.
Edit: Though on further thought, that’s more for when you’re just starting to leave your dog by itself, to prevent anxiety in the first place. At this point you may just have to be tough and let it whine itself out.
A last ditch thing is an anti-bark shock collar. One of my wife’s friends used it successfully, though it kind of feels wrong to me.
I do this but with one caveat; if you have a dog with a short nose like a Pug, Shih-Tzu or Boston Terrier, be sure to leave one short side open. They have issues with breathing and need more air available than some other dogs.
Crate training is never a bad idea, as it teaches the dog how to be comfortable in the crate. I think the anti-bark collar is likely to be a mistake. It doesn’t really address the anxiety itself, which is what you want to deal with.
Separation anxiety is tough to deal with, and you can take a multi-faceted approach.
First, make sure the dog is getting enough exercise. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog. My dog is a Border Collie mixed with some other herding dog. Not only does he think a mile is totally inadequate, but because he’s an intelligent dog, he gets bored if I take him on the same route twice in a row. Your dog won’t need that kind of exercise, but a 20 minute walk twice a day should do wonders.
Second, pretend to leave and return. Walk out the house. Wait a minute. Come back in. Do this several times a day. Your girlfriend may want to practice this, since she’s home more often. Try doing it maybe 10 times in one day. Do it several times in a row. Then wait a while, and then repeat for a bit. Wait. Rinse and repeat. After a couple of days, work up to longer intervals.
When leaving or coming in, it’s important not to make a big deal of the action. My dog, who’s a shelter rescue dog, was quite the velcro dog when we got him. He’d panic if I went into the shower. Leaving for work was hell, and often took 10 minutes just to get out the door. This behavior disappeared after a week visiting my family, as there were many people coming and going, so he got used to it. Even so, now after nearly a year of having the dog, if I look him in the eye before I leave, he attaches himself to me and tries to bolt out the door to accompany me.
Likewise, don’t make a big deal when you come home. It’s really important not to fuss over the dog, who’s likely jumping up and barking as soon as you come through the door. Don’t look at the dog. Rather, completely ignore the dog until the dog has stopped barking and jumping. At this point, start to fuss over the dog. Better yet, get in the habit of carrying treats in your pocket (I use the dog’s kibble, and measure out the rations for the daily feed), and when the dog stops barking/jumping, tell the dog he’s a good dog and give him a treat. Wow!
To make the treat even more special, you can use marker training. Look around for a good trainer (see if someone uses “positive training,” operant conditioning, or marker/clicker training) and take a few lessons so you learn what marker training is and how to time the rewards. You don’t need a clicker. We use “yes” as the marker.
So, you’ve exercised the dog, practiced going and coming, and teaching the dog that barking/jumping isn’t going to give it the same kind of value as behaving appropriately. You should also have some kind of interactive food toy to help keep the dog amused while you’re gone. A Kong works well. Keep up the work over the space of a month.
If the problem is starting to lessen, well done! Just keep it up! If it’s not, then you really do need the help of a behaviorist. Again, look for a reputable trainer. While I believe there’s room for what’s termed “positive punishment” (i.e. you apply a correction the dog will wish to avoid v. “negative punishment,” which refers to the withholding of a reward), I think you’ll get more training value going with someone who uses operant conditioning.
Be aware that this can take a while, but it is completely worth it.