I was recently called out to a 4 year old Collie cross called Dougal who could not be left alone at all or he would bark and destroy the house until the owners returned.
The owner had re-homed the dog from one of the rescue centres 4 months earlier. She knew the dog had not been ill treated but had been handed into the centre because his elderly owner had gone into a care home.
The owner lived on her own and was at the end of her tether when she called me for help.
She had tried going out and had come back to complete devastation The pillows on the chairs were no more ,a book left on the table top was ripped to pieces, ornaments had been knocked over and broken and the front door was severely clawed Dougal was bleeding from his paws and needed to see the vet.
The second time she left him in the kitchen and returned after a short time to the dustbin emptied over the floor and yet another door clawed.
This time a friendly neighbour told her her had barked almost constantly since she left.
I suspected Dougal had never been taught to separate from his elderly owner and had been given everything he wanted.
Dogs with Separation anxiety can be helped but it is not a quick fix and does require total commitment from the owner.
The first thing we did was tighten up on the owners leadership skills. Dougal was off the couch and into his bed on the floor. I showed the owner how Dougal had her so well trained he got a pet when he asked for it. He went to the back door and barked and was let out instantly.
He barked at the front door when anyone rang the bell and sat for hours watching out the front window so he could bark at any person or dog passing near the house. He also had the annoying habit of following the owner wherever she went – like a shadow.
We did lots of work teaching Dougal he did not need to bark at doors, windows etc. We stopped him guarding the front door and reduced the amount of following he was doing.
We then had to teach Dougal to separate from the owner when she was in the house. Every day he was put in a separate room for 20 minutes and was corrected for any barking. Slowly he began to settle on his own in different rooms. We put a dog guard on the kitchen door (he seemed to get more distressed when the door was closed) and started to leave him for short periods. He was always left with a bone or Kong toy filled with carrot or apple.
This is the tough bit as the owner had to regularly set up leaving situations and wait quietly outside for any barking. She would then have to go back and firmly correct Dougal when he started to bark. Dougal had to make a bad association with his barking (i.e when he starts he gets told off).
It took a good few weeks of hard work but gradually Dougal relaxed and learnt that his owner would come back. We also of course were teaching Dougal that the owner was in charge not him.
Dougal is still an anxious dog (he has a nervous temperament) but he can now relax and let his owner leave the house without him. His owner has also got her life back!
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