I hope you can help me. I have an eighteen month old Border Terrier called Lucy. She has been housetrained and was doing fine. But recently she seems to have regressed into a state where she suffers from separation anxiety quite severely.
I’ve tried training her again to show her that whining and crying won’t have any effect and I’ve also tried giving her a treat before I go out and when I get back, but she appears to be in the same state of distress when I get back as she was in as I left. I can’t think of anything that could have triggered this.
Do you know of a possible cause and a recommended course of action?
Christine Duncan, Fife.
Reply from Christine Emerson
You were right to try and eliminate attention-seeking as the cause but as your efforts made no difference we need to look at other causes. Separation Anxiety is an overused expression. I see many dogs that are agitated when left alone but they are not anxious, just frustrated, bored or have simply never learnt to be patient.
If Lucy copes well at night apart from you it is unlikely to be anxiety caused by separation. Crying and whining resulting from Separation Anxiety is predominantly seen within the first 30 minutes of leaving, rather than continuing for many hours as you described.
A Behaviourist recommended by your vet should be invited to give an accurate diagnosis and you can often claim on your pet insurance for Behaviour Counselling.
Let’s assume it is Separation Anxiety. You mentioned that you give a treat before leaving and when coming home and I wonder if you leaving and coming home has become an eagerly awaited event.
It is so important to leave and return with the minimum of fuss, it only highlights how lonely she was and this way she will learn that being alone is ‘no big deal’. Teach her something new.
As she has regressed, something must have happened to have resulted in her anxiety when alone. This could have been you feeling more sad or stressed than normal and her feeling insecure and scared as a result – when dogs see a weakness in us they can often appear clingy in their efforts to seek reassurance.
Alternatively, when alone one time, something has scared her such as a bird hitting the window or an old fridge making unfamiliar noises. You may never find the cause but there are plenty of solutions.
Obviously feed her good quality food without sugars, colourings and so on. (James Wellbeloved is good) and then help her relax with valerian compound from Dorwest Herbs.
Change the environment by either moving her to another room or moving and adding furniture so it appears to be another room – a quick way to break any habit. Close internal doors between you and her regularly for just a few seconds at first – get her used to not following you around.
Be sure she does not learn, when you are around, that whining works and you should have the problem licked and a happier Lucy.