May issue

May issue
May issue

Monday, 28 February 2011

Anxious of separation

We have recently given a home to a lovely little Tibetan Terrier. She is seven years old and an ex-breeding bitch, who has spent her entire life on a puppy farm. The poor girlie was so traumatised and timid when she arrived, but now after just five weeks she has settled really well and loves all members of the family. She has a particular affection for me as I spend the most time with her and, unfortunately, she cries when I leave the house even if she has another family member with her. This has started to improve slowly and I have faith that, in time, she will accept whoever is with her. However, the real problem arises when she is left alone in the house at anytime, she becomes totally stressed, pacing back and forth. She howls and cries, scratches at the door and rips at the carpet. The damage is not a huge issue, but the fact that she is so stressed is my real worry; her little heart races; she shakes and pants. I am trying to build up by popping out for short spells and making a huge fuss when I come back (if she has been quiet, which she will do for very short spells sometimes). The maximum that I would ever leave her is two to three hours and only occasionally. Incidentally, I can leave her strapped in my car and she is very happy.

Therefore I need some ideas please as to how best to deal with leaving her alone in the house.

She also has a habit of chewing and licking her paws; I read that the breed can be fussy about dirty feet, so I wipe them off when we come indoors. But the biting at her paws does worry me as this may have been a way of stimulating herself when she was stuck in a pen all day. She has no idea how to play and is not interested in dog toys; she does, however, love chews, but only if she has company and is happy.

I would really appreciate any tips on how to make life better for this darling girl, she has made such great progress with housetraining and walking on her lead, so we know she is a clever girl.

Many thanks.

Caroline Harris, by email


  1. Hi Caroline
    You are right in going out for short spells but it’s a mistake to make a "huge fuss" of her when you get back.
    Don't make a fuss of her - at all. In fact, ignore her and walk past to do something that you need to do. Don't say anything even and don’t look at her. It sounds mean, but it's not. She will understand.
    Just keep popping in and out as much as you can, starting by just going to another room in the house or going into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Walk on out without paying her any attention at all then come back in without any fuss. Behave as though she were not there and carry on with your normal chores or activities.
    You might have to shut a few doors to stop her following you at this stage.
    You can gradually build it up in the house and then start going outside for a minute or so - say, by going out to check something with your car, or look at something in the garden.
    Then you can progress to walking down the road a little way, then to the nearest shop, and so on.
    You want her to see your comings and goings as perfectly normal human behaviour and to realise that in the end you always come back.
    If you make a fuss of her or comfort her, it will make her too dependent and needy. I don't know why it has this effect, but it does.
    But because she is older and has probably never been on her own you will probably have to do this in tiny stages.
    As well as not making a fuss of her when coming and going, you need also to be a bit hands off at home too, to make her more independent. It doesn’t mean you can’t cuddle her, just that she needs to know you have to do your own thing at times.
    For example, I am writing this at my computer upstairs, with my spaniel sleeping on a chair in the same room. Earlier on, she decided she’d have a snooze in the living room and left me. I’m always pleased when she does this because it means she is confident enough to be on her own.
    It will take a bit more time for you because of your dog's puppy farm background but it is well worth it.
    Obviously, you need to practise when no-one else is in the house.
    Julia Lewis

  2. Hi Caroline,
    well done for for rescuing this little doggy.
    Reading your story it looks like she is gradually building up a strong dependence on you which is not surprising given her history.
    Trying to sort out separation anxiety can be a long job but very rewarding when you see the little one gradually building up their independence.
    As Julia says, it can make you feel mean at times but you must remember you are doing it for your dogs own confidence and well being.
    Firstly, does she seek your attention all the time? If she does, although it sounds mean, you need to only give her attention when she is calm and relaxed, say lying calmly in her bed, and not when she wants it. If she sits on your lap alot or next to you on a sofa, you need to get her used to sitting in her own bed on the floor. This can be next to the sofa, but then gradually move the bed away in small steps so that she learns to feel confident when not right next to you. Again, when she is in her bed away from you and relaxed you can fuss her.
    You say she isn't happy when you leave the house but others are present. You can try to reduce this by sharing common tasks among all the family. Share who walks her and feeds her as this again will reduce her dependence on you.
    She is obviously terrified of being on her own which shows she lacks independence. When you are at home with her, give her the chews she likes or other food related toys (balls that slow release tit bits). Turn the radio, tv on too. She will now associate these things with being relaxed.
    Gradually get her to feel confident on her own by getting a baby gate. Put her on one side and you on the other, so she can still see you and introduce the food toys/chews to her side. You can gradually increase the time she is left behind the gate.
    Where does she sleep? If she sleeps on your bed this again will reinforce her dependence on you. If she does sleep on your bed, try and get her to sleep in her bed on the floor, firstly next to your bed but try gradually moving it short distances away, then just outside the room etc.
    Julia is right about not giving fuss when you return home. But also, on leaving, you should not make verbal or a physical fuss before you leave the house for at least half an hour. Dogs are quite clever and just know when you are going out because you pick up your car keys, put your coat on and often verbally say "be good" or "I won't be long". To desensitise her to you leaving, put on your coat and pick up your keys but go nowhere!! Keep doing it even though it sounds barmy, but she will then not associate these things with the stress of being left alone.
    Leave the radio/tv on when you leave. Leave a piece of clothing with your scent on and give her a chew. You could also try a DAP diffuser. These are all things she associates being calm in your presence. Vary the times she is left too and ignore her for half an hour on return (yep, VERY hard for us to do). Once she has calmed down on your return, reward her with your attention.
    I wish you all the best with your lovely little dog.
    Kate Price

  3. Thank you everyone, all very helpful and we are putting the advice in to practice. Although I find it really hard to ignore her when she looks up at me with those big brown eyes! But I am doing it as I know it will be better for her. She is making great progress and yes she was on our bed at first because she was so distressed, but she now happily sleeps on the landing.
    Thanks again Caroline.

  4. Well done for rescuing her Caroline. You've made a great start already. It's always nice when someone reports back to say they've taken advice & it's working.
    Good luck to you both.