Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ask the Trainer - Anxiety

Question: I adopted a fantastic little dog from Cold Wet Noses (Terri highly recommends you!). I just adopted my new pup Sunday and she is transitioning exceptionally well.

One thing that I hope you can assist me with- I see she has some anxiety when I leave, which consists of her crying and some howling/barking. She does calm down. She is making small strides in reducing anxiety each day she is with me and I am celebrating her small successes. I would love for her to trust me, and her feel secure since she has been abandoned in the past.

I would really like to enlist your services. I see that you will be offering classes in July and would like to sign up for them if you think we would benefit. She likes to be around other dogs and I think she would really love the group environment. Which series of classes would be best for a small, young dog who has some anxiety when left alone? Also, she does not yet grasp the basic commands such as sit and stay. Or, would it be best for a one on one visit? Many thanks and look forward to meeting you!

Answer :I remember seeing Maddie on the TCWN website, she is a cutie !!!

So, separation anxiety and anxiety in general. Dogs are social creatures, just as we are, they don't like being left alone especially in a strange place. It sounds like you are doing great. Just keep doing what you are doing.

Because she has only been with you since Sunday, the pattern of departures and arrivals hasn't been set with her yet, so the normal "ritual" that I prescribe for separation anxiety most likely won't work. That said, there are many things you can do to make this process go a little faster.

1) Take her out for a good strong tiring walk before you leave the house.
2) Don't fuss about leaving, just leave.
3) Don't fuss when you come home, just walk in the door (if she's in a crate let her out), ignore Maddie completely for at least 5 minutes. Come in, put your purse down, listen to your messages, turn on your computer, whatever, but don't greet Maddie yet. When she looks like she is bored with your arrival, that's when you pay attention to her. Make this greeting of a calm dog really happy and exciting for her.
4) get her some mentalling challenging toys - a busy ball, a kong, treat puzzles and chew toys. Rotate her toys every day, don't let her get bored with them. Have enough toys that you can rotate every day for at least 4 days before repeating a toy.
5) Now take her for another walk or play fetch or tug or with a flirt pole (for her size you can use one of the cat toys which is a pole and string with a fuzzy thing tied on the end for her to chase and "kill").

Dogs love an ordered existence. If you do this every day, where she can count on things happening regularly, it will speed up the process.

Trust is built with a dog through play and shared outings - just like in the wild, they play and rest together and then go hunting. Tiny Tyrants (Thursday nights at 6) group class would be a great place for her to be. She would get the socialization she needs and learn some new things with you, the person who is going to be the center of her life. The class, even though it's for reactive dogs, will help any dog that has issues, no matter what they are. The class teaches three main important things 1) calm 2) that the answer to all questions is look at mommy and 3) how to communicate both with other dogs and the human world.

I don't actually teach obedience, but sit, down, stay, wait, leave it, give it, take it, drop it and other "tricks" are part of the curriculum as a step in learning a calming or coping exercise.

Response: Thank you SO very much for your fantastic advice! I am feeling so reassured by your email that I am on the right track with creating less anxiety for Maddie. I need to work on #3 big time and I am definitely not doing that just yet. Thank you so much, I learned quite a bit just from your response! I would love to continue to learn from you and sign up for a series of one of group classes. Any recommendations of which one would be best?

MANY thanks!!

NOTE: Maddie joined Tiny Tyrants and is doing wonderful !!

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