DEAR DIDI: My pug, Daisy, is seven months old. She is potty trained, listens most of the time, and I absolutely adore her. She has one big problem that could end up causing me to find a new home for her. I work nights and leave the apartment at 10 o’clock at night. This is when most of my neighbors are going to sleep. Daisy immediately goes into a screeching bark as soon as the front door closes. My neighbors are complaining and I don’t know what to do. Does she need a friend? Pug Lover in Modesto
DEAR PUG LOVER: Pugs are a companion breed. They were developed with an intense desire to be with their people. Separation anxiety is a fairly common behavior problem and is not unique to Pugs. Signs of this problem often become apparent when a dog owner’s schedule changes suddenly such as returning to work after a vacation, kids returning to school, or a new job with new hours. Symptoms of separation anxiety include crying, whining and/or barking, drooling, scratching at objects, lapses in house training, and chewing up things when people are not at home. It is important to understand that your dog does not do this to “get back at you” but, instead, because she is miserable and anxious about being alone.
There are different degrees of separation anxiety ranging from mild to severe. Daisy probably notices your routines and knows that certain actions mean you are leaving. Putting shoes on, picking up car keys, putting on a coat, turning off the lights, or putting Daisy in her crate can all easily signal the inevitable alone time that she dreads. Try making your arrivals and departures something to look forward to. If she gets an extra special treat only at those moments then she may be so distracted with the yummy treat that she doesn’t focus on you walking out the door. Try stuffing a Kong toy with peanut butter or cheese and then freeze it. Many dogs will spend two hours licking all the frozen peanut butter out of their toy. By then, you are long gone and they didn’t even notice. Humans frequently turn to food when we are anxious. Dogs, by contrast, do not eat when they are too stressed and over anxious. If you return home and the treat is untouched then Daisy’s separation anxiety is more severe than it appeared.
I would also highly recommend that you ignore Daisy for 20 minutes before you leave and 20 minutes after your return home. This eliminates or evens out that emotional roller coaster related to your arrivals and departures. Enroll in a good training class that employs marker training and positive reinforcement. This will improve Daisy’s confidence and build up to teaching her to sit-stay. She should learn to be okay with staying across the room from you for a period of time rather than being “Velcro” puppy. The next time you have some time off, be sure to leave her alone for a bit every day to remind her that you always come home to her.
Canines do not have a sense of time and its passing. They remember things but they don’t have a concept of one minute, one hour, one day, or one year. This explains why you may have only been gone for 10 minutes but they greet you as if you had been gone for a year. Never punish a dog with separation anxiety as it will never fix the problem and, in most cases, will increase her anxiety. If Daisy does not improve with these tips then her level of separation anxiety may be severe. This will require enlisting the help of an Animal Behaviorist who can help you implement a behavior modification plan. If possible, have a short talk with your neighbors and let them know that you are aware of the issue and are working on it. People will usually be more understanding if you let them know that you recognize the issue, there is a plan actively in place, and you are taking steps to improve the situation.
Immediate fixes depend on your budget. Doggy day care is an excellent solution. Look for a place that actually has a playground where Daisy will have supervised interaction with other dogs her size and with similar personalities. One day a week can truly help without breaking the bank. She will play, socialize, learn to be confident and independent while you sleep during the day. She will be so tired from a day of play that she will not have the energy to put into stressing over mom going to work that night. Getting a second dog will only increase your responsibilities and expenses. It will not solve Daisy’s issues and you might end up with two dogs with separation anxiety.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. Email your questions or inquire about dog behavior presentations at firstname.lastname@example.org.