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Dog Behaviour Problems: Your dog's behaviour

Being left alone, Separation anxiety:

Question: We have had our rescue bichon frise, Mickey for about a year now. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, Mickey now spends the majority of the day on his own. We want him to be happy and wonder if we should get a dog walker to take him out during the day, or even another dog for company. Or, are we being selfish by keeping Mickey and should we take him back to the rescue centre?

Answer: There are not always enough good homes to go round for rescue dogs and not many people are home all day, so if you care about him as you obviously do, and have time for him when you are at home, my advice would be to keep him.

You can make his life better by making sure he has plenty to do when you are with him so that he learns to rest while you are out and be active when you are home. Keep him physically active by giving him plenty of walks and games with toys, and teach him tricks and other things that will exercise his mind.

Try to get up early and spend an hour with him before work so that he is tired when you leave him. Days can be long if there is nothing to do and no company so if you can arrange for someone to come in at lunch time to let him out to the toilet and give him some games with toys - this will break his day up nicely.

Leave him plenty of things to do – be inventive and hide tasty snacks in different places, stuff strong toys with cheese and peanut butter so he has to work to get it out, put dry treats into old cardboard boxes so he has to work to find them, suspend treats in an old sock so he has to reach up to get them. If you do all this, his life should be quite fulfilled and he will get used to the routine.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Question: My 18-month old male bichon cries when I leave him in the house, even for five minutes. What can I do about this?

Answer: It depends why he is crying. He could be anxious about being left, be over-attached to you, or frightened of something that he thinks will get him while you are not there to protect him. Often, dogs that do this are not used to being left and if this is the case, you will need to teach him to accept it.

Start with short breaks in a different room while you are somewhere in the house.

Start with 5 minute sessions (less if he gets worried) and do these as often as possible throughout the day.

Gradually build these up, never going faster than he can cope with.

Once you can leave him for one hour easily, begin to leave him alone in the house, but go back to just 5 minutes sessions again, building up very slowly.

A leaflet called ‘Alone at Home’ available from The Blue Cross, Shilton Road, Burford, Oxon OX18 4PF may help (please send a small donation and a s.a.e.). Alternatively, you may need further help from a pet behaviour counsellor, contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Question: I recently purchased Ollie, a 2-year-old Bichon frise cross as a companion for my mother. He has various behavioural problems which I am gradually dealing with, but the biggest is his terrible separation anxiety. He is very attached to me and follows me around the house. I am trying to keep him in isolation for periods of time when I am in the house and he is coping with this, however, if I leave the house he barks and whines uncontrollably. Would it be a good idea to put his bed in my mother's room at night? Any suggestions you have would be most welcome.

Answer: Dogs are intensely social and they need to be trained to tolerate isolation. Some dogs are fearful of things that might get them when they are left alone. And some dogs are over-attached to their owners and cannot cope with being parted from them even for short periods of time.

It sounds as though your mother’s dog may have not learned to be alone and may also have some fear-based problems. I would continue with your planned programme of separation, leaving him for short periods that cause him no distress and gradually building these up.

Once he can be alone without worrying for 1 hour, begin to leave the house, but do so at first for just 5 minutes before returning.

Gradually build this up until he can cope. Leaving him in your mother’s room at night is probably not helpful, unless he panics at night alone, as, given his nature, he may become dependant on her company.

A useful leaflet on separation problems, called Alone at Home is available from The Blue Cross, Shilton Road, Burford, Oxon OX18 4PF (please send a small donation and s.a.e.)

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Question: Are behavioural problems (specifically separation anxiety) caused by changes in the diet of my dog?

Answer: There is no adequate research which proves a relationship between diet and behaviour (assuming, of course, that the dog is fully nourished by the diet given).

Anecdotally, however, there are plenty of claims about certain diets affecting behaviour, but a lot of the differences depend on the dog in question and what he or she can tolerate. All commercial food is quite heavily processed and many brands have plenty of preservatives and artificial colouring which can affect some dogs.

Some people prefer to feed a more natural diet. Given how different a good wholesome diet makes us feel compared with how we feel after lots of junk food, I would say that feeding processed food to our dogs could make them feel and behave differently than if they were fed more naturally.

If you are changing your dog’s diet, remember do so gradually by slowly adding more of the new food and less of the old food over a period of days.

Otherwise, diarrhoea or adjustments to the new food could make your dog want to go to the toilet at different times (this could cause anxieties when left as there is no one to let them outside).

Question: My German shepherd, Casey is now 11 months old. She was rescued through the NCDL at four months and has been with us ever since. I am at home all day and have a close relationship with Casey. I only leave her for short periods of time to go out shopping and for other essential trips.

The problem is that when we leave Casey on her own in the house, she rips up the vinyl tiles on the floor and chews the wooden doorframe and steps. She also barks and whines. We have been told that this might be separation anxiety and are keen to sort it out before it gets any worse.

We have already cut the protein in her diet on our vet's advice and she is well exercised. When I leave her, she is confined to the hall for her own safety and has her bed and plenty of toys to play with. Please help ñ we feel as though we cannot leave the house as it upsets her so much. Is this something she will grow out of or is there something we can do?

Answer: If it is fear that is causing the problem, she will not grow out of it.

The symptoms you describe point towards fear being the cause and there may be a number of reasons for this. She may be frightened of something in the house (e.g. heating turning on/off), or something outside the house she thinks may be coming in to get her while you are not there, or, more likely, she may just be afraid of being alone.

The solution lies in either desensitising her to her fears, thereby reducing her anxiety, or teaching her to be left alone by doing it slowly and gradually, firstly when you are there in the house with her, and then by going out and leaving her.

NCDL have their own in-house behaviourist who can help you, so please contact the centre where you got her.

Also, a leaflet called ‘Alone at Home’ is available from The Blue Cross. Please send a s.a.e. (and a donation) to: The Blue Cross, Shilton Road, Burford, Oxon OX18 4PF

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Question: Until 2 weeks ago I had 2 westies, but Jock died aged 15 and has left me with Robbie. I understand how he misses Jock, they had been together for 14 years. Robbie has started chewing the door frame when I leave him to go to work. I have tried leaving the radio on and giving him a toy but he continues. Could you give me any advice? I don't want Robbie to be unhappy.

Answer: I’m sorry that you have lost Jock after all those years with him. It’s not surprising that Robbie is unhappy since he has probably never had to learn to cope with being left totally alone.

Dogs are very social creatures and, ideally, need to learn to deal with isolation when they are very young. At 14 years, it is probably a bit much to expect him to learn now and you may have to accept that it is too difficult for him at his age.

If you are at home most of the time, you could begin leaving him on his own for short periods (about 5 mins at first) and gradually build these up until he can cope with longer absences. If you go out to work for long periods of time, you will not be able to do this and I suggest you find someone who would be able to look after him.

Unfortunately, getting another dog is probably not a good option. Although it may be company for Robbie, it would not be the same as having Jock with him and you may find that he passes on his distress at being left to the new dog so that you have double the trouble.

If you need further help with this problem, please contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors

Question: Tia is an 8 month old Mongrel, adopted yesterday from a dogs' home. She has a lovely temperament, and has been trained a little in basic obedience and housetraining. At the moment we live in a small flat, but in a few weeks will be moving into a large house.

Tia is going to have to be left alone in the flat during the day whilst we are at work, although we'll be home at lunchtime to let her out. We tried to get her to stay in the kitchen to sleep last night, but she whined and howled until eventually we let her sleep on the sofa.

I'm worried that she will do this whilst left alone during the day. There is no one to stay with her until we move house, and I don't want to have to give her back because she can't be left alone. Are there any training methods to calm her when she is alone, or anything similar? Her notes said that she was destructive, but we have yet to see just what that means! She is also very attention-seeking, and follows us everywhere.

Answer: It is usual for dogs that have been rehomed to be difficult about being left for the first 2 months. During this time they seem to need reassurance that they haven’t been abandoned, and can be noisy, destructive or dirty.

If you have to leave her and do not want complaining neighbours or problems in the house, you will need to leave her in kennels during the day or get someone to look after her. She can be gradually taught to accept being alone, but this takes time.

When you move into your new home and have someone to be with her, gradually teach her that is okay to be left by starting with just a few minutes with her shut in a room by herself. Build this up over several sessions until she can tolerate half an hour comfortably. Then repeat, but go out of the house and leave her properly.

If you need help with this, please contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Question: My 12 month-old boxer has started barking, jumping up and clawing in a bid for attention which is understandable as both my partner and I work during the day. I have read your advice that the dog should be ignored in a bid for him to learn that we will play with him/show him attention only when he is quiet.

The only problem with this is that he will bark incessantly, which I can't believe is welcomed by our neighbours! Is there another method rather than just turning our backs on him or ignoring him that would prevent this continued behaviour?

Answer: Totally ignoring an unwanted behaviour does, eventually, result in the behaviour diminishing. However, ….! Some dogs have lots of energy and lots of persistence and it sounds as your dog may have both of these in abundance. It is important to greet your dog as soon as you come home and not try to wait until he has settled down.

If he has had a lonely day at home, your return will be very exciting and your attention will be very important to him. So make some time to greet him well, crouching down and keeping your hand in his collar so he cannot jump up.

Rather than let him then channel his excess energy and excitement into barking, encourage him to play with a toy or carry something in his mouth instead. Leave these near to the front door so they are ready. I would also strongly advise you to give him more exercise and stimulation when you are with him. Try to keep him active and entertained all evening and make sure you have given him at least an hour’s exercise in the morning before leaving him – otherwise, leaving him all day is not fair.

Try also to arrange for someone to come in during lunchtime to break up the day. Leave him with plenty of different things to chew and play with every day so that he is less bored. During weekends, when he is likely to be better stimulated, teach him a more appropriate greeting by going out and back into the house many times, rewarding what you like and ignoring what you don’t.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & correcting this behaviour.

Question: We got our 4-year-old German wirehaired pointer from a rescue centre four years ago. Generally, he has settled in really well however, lately when we have gone out at night and left him on his own (for about 3-4 hours), he has been crying and howling constantly. We know this because our neighbours have told us!

We leave him during the day while we are at work, but come home at lunchtime for an hour and he never cries at all. Do you think this is because he is used to the daily routine but finds it difficult if we break this routine by going out at night? We've tried leaving the radio on for him but it doesn't seem to work. Can you please help? He would be the perfect dog if we could sort this problem out.

Answer: Yes, he is probably used to being left during the day but has not learned to cope with it during the evening. You are leaving a young, energetic dog for a long time each day. One of the reasons for the problem is that he is just coping with the isolation during the day, but, by leaving him for longer, it becomes just too much.

Dogs have needs that have to be met if they are to be content and a young dog from a working breed has a lot of energy to use up. In addition, they need to feel part of a pack and to have enough social contact each day. If you leave him all day while you are at work, even if you go home at lunchtime, it will be difficult for you to meet all his needs in the time you have left (especially as you will be tired too).

Going out in the evening as well makes it very difficult to give him all he needs and I think he is finding it difficult to cope. So to improve the situation, try to structure your socialising so that you do not leave him for two evenings in a row. Make sure you give him plenty of love and attention when you are at home and play games with him as often as possible.

Exercise him well for several hours a day and leave him chews and strong toys to play with when you are not there. Then teach him to cope alone during the evenings by gradually leaving him shut in another room for increasing periods of time. When he is happy with this, go out for short times and gradually increase. Remember to give him plenty of attention and exercise while you work on this so that you are meeting all his needs.

Alternatively, you could try to find him someone who will be happy to baby-sit him while you go out for the evening.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Question: I work five days a week and my husband works three night shifts per week. When his night shift falls during the week, our 3-month-old basset hound puppy has to be left alone from 8am to 1pm while he sleeps. She is fine for the first couple of hours, but then howls and cries continually. This behaviour continues even when he brings her into the bedroom with him. Is there anything that may be triggering this crying or is just something that she will grow out of?

Answer: 3 month old puppy needs to feel that they have someone looking after them which is why she is likely to howl or cry when you are out. Even though there is someone with her, they are asleep and are not providing the attention she needs at that time.

She will grow out of it in time, but it may become a bad habit that is difficult to break.

To help make her feel more comfortable, try giving her plenty of attention when you are at home, but on your terms only. Have periods of half an hour when she gets no attention at all, followed by ten minutes of undivided attention and play. This will help her become a bit more independent.

In addition, play with her often during the preceding evening and as much as you can before you go to work.

Buy 10 chews and strong toys and leave just 3 of these down to keep her occupied while you are not there. Pick these up when you come home and leave another 3 on the next day. In this way, they will stay new and interesting for her and will, hopefully, keep her happy until you come home.

Question: Our dogue de Bordeaux, Arnold, is 10 months old and urinates all over the house. He cocks his leg on all of our furniture, curtains, beds, clothes etc. He only seems to do it when we are either out or in bed. He does not have an infection, but the house is now starting to smell because of him. We have to wash the curtains and scrub the couch regularly ñ he is even making our wooden floor lift.

We have put up with it until now but, with a new baby on the way, it will be very unhygienic. Our vet has suggested an indoor kennel, but I don' t think I could find one big enough ñ he already weighs 9 stone. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

Answer: If he is doing it only when he is left alone, it could be that he is feeling insecure and worried without his protective pack leaders. Marking his territory with urine would make him feel better. If this is the cause, it is likely that he will mark strategic points at the entrances to rooms and around the doorways. Usually, only a small amount of urine is used to mark, but it will be enough to cause a smell over time.

If large amounts of urine are left, it could be a housetraining problem. An indoor kennel may cause more problems than it solves.

If it is a fear-based problem your dog may panic and cause himself damage, or force him to get used to laying in his own mess if it is a housetraining problem. The first thing to do is clean the areas thoroughly with biological washing powder solution to remove the bacteria that cause the smell.

Shut him into one room to reduce the areas soiled and get help to solve the problem by contacting The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors

Question: What is the best way to stop the dog chewing the door when we are out?

Answer: There are many reasons why dogs chew doors when they are left alone at home. It could be that your dog is lonely, worried about being alone, bored, frightened of something in the house, or wanting to get to something outside of the house, such as the dog next-door.

If you want to stop them doing it, first you have to find out why. Then the answer becomes fairly obvious.

Give bored dogs more to do, teach a dog that is worried about being alone how to tolerate it (with short, gradually-increasing absences over a period of time), desensitise a frightened dog to whatever it is he/she is scared of, etc.

If you are unable to work out the cause or the solution to your problem, contact a pet behaviour counsellor who will help you to help your dog feel more settled when left alone.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & correcting chewing inappropriately.

Question: We have just adopted a 7-month-old lurcher pup called Sam. He has had four previous homes but none of them have been able to cope with his separation anxiety. When left, he makes a lot of noise, empties cupboards and bites and tears things up. I work from home but do have to go out sometimes for meetings and need to be able to leave him on his own when I go to the supermarket.

Over the two weeks we have had him, I have never given him the opportunity to repeat his destructive behaviour. I tried building up periods of absence but never got beyond one minute before he yelped, barked and threw himself at the door. So we have bought a cage and a kong toy and have had him neutered. The cage approach so far seems promising. We have left him in it for a couple of hours and, although he yelped when we left, he was calm and asleep upon our return.

What is your opinion of Sam's problem and are we doing the right things? We are determined to make this work, so any suggestions or advice you have would be most welcome.

Answer: Thank goodness someone has taken on his problem and not just given him up again.

You are doing very well so far, but remember that two weeks is barely enough time for him to settle, especially as he has had so many homes before, and he has been through an operation which will unsettle him further. Be careful about leaving him alone in the house in the cage with the door shut.

If he gets panicky (e.g. if someone knocks on the door), he could shred his feet and mouth in attempts to get out. I have seen dogs after an event like this and it is very distressing. You are doing the right thing in trying to leave him for short periods of time and gradually building them up.

If he cannot cope with a closed door (this may have become the signal that triggers his anxiety), begin by tying him in another room so that he can just see you where you are sitting, but has to stand up to do so. When he lays down, you will be out of sight.

Given a choice in this way, dogs usually settle down quickly and go to sleep. Then, after several sessions, you can shut the door up a bit more each time until he can cope with being on the other side without worrying.

Continue until he can cope with 30 mins isolation before you being again from scratch while you leave the house.

You will need to be prepared for it to take some months rather than weeks.

He has, unfortunately, has a bad start and he will need to learn to feel secure gradually.

Find out what he fears (people? cars? being outside? etc) and help him to learn that these things are good news instead. This will help him to think of the world as a safe place where he can cope alone instead of a hostile place where he needs protection. Good luck.

If you are not making steady progress (don’t expect it to be quick), please make an appointment to see a member of The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

The Blue Cross publishes a helpful leaflet called ‘Alone at Home’ – send a donation + s.a.e. to The Blue Cross, Shilton Road, Burford, Oxon OX18 4PF

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting this behaviour.

Please also see Gwen Bailey's article on Indoor Kennels (Wire Cages & Crates)

Question: My brother and I have recently moved house and now live in a block of six flats. We have two dogs and both are absolutely fine when we are in the flat with them. However, today we both went back to work, leaving them alone in the flat for the first time. Upon returning, one of our neighbours commented that they had not stopped barking for most of the day.

At our previous home, the dogs were fine when left alone (we have been in our new flat for over a week now). How can we prevent them from barking and disrupting our neighbours? Unfortunately neither of us can take any more time off work to be able to leave them for short amounts of time alone and gradually building that up to longer periods. Please help - we don't want to start off on the wrong foot with our new neighbours!

Answer: This is a difficult problem as you are not there enough help them learn to cope. The flat you now live in probably seems very different to them to where they used to live and they are unsettled and finding it difficult to cope alone.

They may also be hearing unfamiliar noises that also set them off barking. Or it may be that they had got used to having you with them all the time for a week and are now finding it difficult to be without you.

If you are not able to take time off work to help them settle, your only solution may be to find a friend or relative who is willing to have them during the day until they have calmed down.

Or perhaps one of your new neighbours could help or you could find a kennels that will take them on a daily basis. If you are able to do this, spend the evenings and weekends getting them used to gradually being left alone as you describe, leaving them for increasingly longer periods until they can cope with up to an hour without you.

Make them as comfortable as possible before you leave, leaving things for them to chew and play with, and make sure they have plenty of exercise and play beforehand.

Question: My Labrador puppy is 9 weeks old. He barks and yelps throughout the night and whenever he is left alone - even for 10 minutes. It's driving us crazy! He stops as soon as we enter the room. We've tried ignoring it but it Doesn’t seem to be working. Please help.

Answer: Puppies should get used to being isolated for short periods when in the litter, but few breeders do this. So when a puppy goes to a new home and it left all alone on the first night, it is no surprising that they complain!

It is important now that you teach him gradually how to cope with being alone.

Wait until he is tired and has just been outside to the toilet.

Feed him a small meal and make sure he has a warm bed to sleep in, then shut him in a room and leave him until he gives up and goes to sleep.

When he is asleep, leave the door open so that he can come and find you later. Once he has started to accept this, gradually build up the time that he is left for until he can cope with being left for 30 mins without getting distressed.

Once he can cope with this, he is ready to be left at night.

Until then, take him up to the bedroom with you, but leave him in a high-sided box or a cage that he cannot get out of. If he whimpers, reassure him, but don’t make too much fuss of him. If he cries in the night, take him down to the toilet and this will help with the housetraining process too.

You may like to read The Perfect Puppy which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Please also see Gwen Bailey's article on Indoor Kennels (Wire Cages & Crates) and Ingredients for the Perfect Puppy

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: My parents are going to Florida for about 35 days and are leaving their 2 year-old dog with me. However, I will be at work for about eight hours a day and am worried about separation anxiety. Is there anything I can do to relieve this?

Answer: Eight hours is a long time, particularly if the dog is not used to it. Is there anyone who can come in at lunch time to give the dog a break from the solitude, allow it to relieve itself and use up some energy?

If the dog is not prone to having problems when left at the moment, there is no reason why it should have them when it comes to live with you.

I expect the dog know you well already (family members often have a similar scent and so are readily accepted as pack members). If not, try to spend as much time with it as possible during the next 35 days. When it is time for you to take it on, try to take it home at the beginning of the weekend and leave it alone for short periods of time during Saturday, gradually increasing the absences until the dog can be left for about 2 hours on Sunday afternoon.

Leave it with something that you have recently been wearing place around its bed and leave its bed in the place where it lays most when you go out (use the flat of your hand to find the warm patch when you come in).

Since it is a young dog, leave it with plenty of things to do in the form of toys and chews when you go to work. If you have a variety of these, you can give several different things every day so that they stay new and interesting.

Question: Our Lhasa Apso Jess had the whole house to live in but she tended to wet on the carpet she is five and a half in the front room we have just had a new carpet laid so at night she is in her basket in the kitchen she now barks and scratches at the door most of the night is it just a passing phase or is there any thing else I can do thanks for your help

Answer: She is probably lonely at night and may be feeling insecure since she is now made to sleep somewhere unfamiliar. She may get used to it and you could leave her there for a while to see.

Alternatively, you could let her sleep just outside your bedroom but confine her to her bed so that she cannot get out of it to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.

The most convenient way to do this is to use an indoor kennel. You will need to get her used to being in the cage during the day at first so she doesn’t panic when she finds she cannot get out.

Put her bed in it, put the cage in her usual resting place and praise her whenever she goes in.

Then you can begin to use it at night. If she wakes up in the middle of the night and causes a disturbance, take her outside as she may need to go.

Don’t make a fuss of her or give her attention. Since it is now inconvenient for her to go in the middle of the night, this regime should, eventually, break the habit.

Please also see Gwen Bailey's article on Indoor Kennels (Wire Cages & Crates)

Back to Dog Behaviour Problems

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Training for Life - Puppy/Dog Training Classes in a box!
The Rescue Dog/ Adopt the Perfect Dog by Gwen Bailey
The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey
What is my dog thinking? by Gwen Bailey
What is my cat thinking? by Gwen Bailey
Good Dog Behaviour/The Well Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey
The Puppy Handbook/ The Ideal Puppy by Gwen Bailey