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Dog Separation Anxiety

Question

We just adopted a German shorthaired pointer. He is a great dog in so many ways, but there is one major problem: he goes crazy every time we leave the house. He whines and cries and barks. The other day we came home to find our house a shambles. He had pulled down the drapes, chewed up our carpet, and one of the easy chairs in our living room!! We are really fond of Rudy, but we can’t afford to keep him if this continues. We now keep him in a little room in the basement whenever we are gone, but we hate doing this. How can we get him to relax when we are away?

Response

There are 2 issues here: separation anxiety and separation anxiety in a German shorthaired pointer!

These pointers need lots of energetic exercise. Without this exercise, they can become quite destructive. Think about all of that energy with no real outlet. This breed becomes easily bored, so when no one is around, and there is not much to do, it’s, “Gee, I think I’ll take down the drapes today. Hey, that chair sure looks like a challenge. Wonder how long it will take to chew it to bits?” So the first and a necessary step is to get your dog outside and running. We are talking can’t-move-a- muscle-when-he-is-done, frothing-at-the-mouth kind of exercise. 

Separation anxiety can be eased in a number of ways. Desensitizing your dog to your comings and goings is a good place to start, but will take a bit of time. Some behaviorists suggest ignoring your dog 15 to 20 minutes before leaving and upon returning. The idea is to neutralize the emotional triggers for your dog. Other triggers or cues are picking up your keys, putting on your coat, going to the door. As often as possible, you should engage in these activities, one at a time at first, then in sequence. So you would start by picking up your keys as if to leave, then quietly putting them down. Do this often over some days until your dog seems desensitized to that trigger. Then you can repeat this process with putting on your coat, then removing it. The final step would be picking up your keys, putting on your coat, and going to the door, then nonchalantly moving away from the door, removing your coat, putting the keys down, and going back about your business.

Now, you need to give your pointer something to do, besides rearranging your décor, whenever you are gone. Besides providing a wide variety of toys, one particularly effective way is to have him “forage” for his food. Go to the pet store and buy a variety of food cubes or toys. These allow you to stuff his kibble into them. Some allow for adjusting the level of difficulty or ease with which your dog can get the kibble out of the cube or toy. Hide these around the house. Make it easy at first for him to find the dispensers and to get the kibble from them. Then increase the level of difficulty. Be creative in hiding them. Remember, you will not feed him any of his meals in a bowl. He will be totally dependent on “foraging” for his food. This should keep him busy.

In the meantime, you might want to introduce him to a crate, if he is not already crated. Pointers usually take quite well to snuggling into their own little den. This will keep him out of trouble until you are able to trust him alone and loose in the house.


Question

My husband and I co-habit with a 3-year-old female standard poodle. Lexi usually sleeps in bed with us. Recently my husband and I took a short vacation, the first time in three years. Our college-age son dogsat while we were away. Unfortunately, he sometimes invites friends in and we once had a problem with thievery, so we lock our bedroom door whenever we are not at home. Our son phoned the first night we were away saying that our poodle whined and cried at the bedroom door all night. We care very much for our dog, but we believe that we deserve a vacation once in a while. Unfortunately we are afraid to go away again. Our poor Lexi was so distraught. Any suggestions?

Response

Spending time away from a pet is often a source of stress for the pet…and human. Therefore, it is important to begin early on to get a pet used to time away from its humans, starting out with brief periods and gradually increasing the time away.

As for your particular situation, an easy solution might be to take a blanket from your bed, with its reassuring smells and feel, and to place it where she lies during the day. This may be the security that she needs to get a good night’s sleep. For some dogs, a tape recording of its humans’ voices or a family videotape sometimes helps.