I was sitting with a friend the other day.
“Emma has separation anxiety. It starts slow, about 5 minutes after I leave for work in the morning”, she said. “My neighbors first hear a quiet whimper. Then a whine. Emma works herself slowly up to a full howl in about 10 minutes. They say that this lasts for about an hour. The neighbors are very nice, and they understand that this is something that Emma is going through. But they say they can set their watch by her morning symphony. I can’t depend on their good will forever. What should I do?”
Dogs can engage in howl-fests when they are left alone. The hound breeds are more susceptible to this but any dog can get it into his head that this is a good idea.
It’s always amazing to me how easy it is to teach a puppy a bad habit! In "teaching" a dog to cry or howl, all it takes is responding to the puppy when she cries and whines a couple of times.
I told my friend that it's not too late; there are several things that can be done. The first is:
1. Never respond to your dog when she cries, whines or howls. Tell her she can get whatever he wants (for example, to come out of her crate or get a goodie) when she STOPS barking or crying. When she stops, even for a bit, reward her. You have to be vigilant about this in the beginning, because if you wait too long she very well may decide to start up again. Then, try any one or more of the following:
2. Anxiety wraps can sometimes help, though they aren't recommended if you aren't home. (If your dog is anxious about thunderstorms see what to do at Scared of Thunderstorms.)
3. Tape yourself reading a book (preferably a boring one). Make sure your voice is steady and calm. Play the tape when you leave.
4. Call home every once in a while and leave a message on your answering machine, if you have one. One mini schnauzer stopped chewing things when his owner called every hour and talked to him.
5. Leave an animal show on TV. (This helped Emma. Turned out, she loves Animal Planet. Who knew?)
6. Talk radio is fine too, though I would steer clear of Rush Limbaugh – he gets too excited!
7. Some dogs do well loose in the house when you are gone, some are more secure in a crate. Some will scratch out a door when left in a confined space. Figure out the best solution for you and your buddy.
8. If she cries to come out of her crate when you are home, make sure first and foremost that the crate is covered, especially the crate door. Covering it lets your buddy know that she is off duty. Also some dogs do better in fully enclosed crates rather than wire ones. Full instructions on how to crate train your dog can be found at Preparing for a New Puppy.
9. Don't yell at her. Screaming at your dog only tells her that you are "barking" too. Spraying her with a thin stream from a spray bottle will often surprise her into silence.
10. There is a fad out there these days to prescribe anti-anxiety meds for dogs. This part of our current trend of “when in doubt, pop a pill”. It just covers up the problem, and the meds may not even be safe.
You may find that one of these ideas works better than the other. But with a little work and some trial and error, you and your dog (and your neighbors) will be much happier.
So the symphony is over at my friend's house. Emma's happy, my friend is happy -- and her neighbors are thrilled.
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