Helping Charlie Get Over His Separation Anxiety

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 12, 2013

charlie

Charlie is a six-year-old female Brittany.

Their owner contacted me regarding Charlie’s separation anxiety. Evidently Charlie had destroyed several kennels and injured herself with some minor cuts and scrapes doing so. Additionally, the dog has gone through a number of plastic blinds and assorted nicknacks in the home when left unattended.

When I arrived, Charlie seemed mildly interested in me but didnt do any barking. In fact, the only bad behavior was she did jump up on me which is a dog’s way of claiming the guests as theirs.

After observing Charlie while I discuss the situation with her owners, it was clear that she was a very well trained dog and unlike most cases of separation anxiety, had a nice calm demeanor to her.

I suggested a few minor tips that will help; asking Charlie to sit and stay across the room from them as opposed always being underfoot, asking Charlie to remain a minimum of 5 feet away from them when her human pack members are eating, etc.

Charlie’s owners had purchased a new wire kennel specifically for our session as I had assured them that my technique will remove the dog’s fear of being placed in the kennel.

Usually when a dog dislikes being left in the kennel it’s because of the way they were introduced to it initially. If we try to force the dog into the kennel or pick the dog up and put in the kennel then slam the door shut, the dog sees the kennel as a jail cell, or something that is keeping them away from their pack members.

This is even worse if the kennel is placed outside of the normal living areas such as in a basement or garage, etc. To the dog, it appears that the humans have excluded it intentionally away from their presence and this can cause a lot of frustration and anxiety.

I had them place the kennel in the living room and tossed a few tasty treats into the kennel to entice Charlie to walk into it on her own. Charlie circled the kennel several times but refused to go into the open door. I tossed a few more treats into the kennel as well as a few right in front of the doorway to it a la breadcrumbs. After sniffing the treats and then sampling the ones outside of the kennel Charlie tentatively and very cautiously walked into the kennel to get the treats. As soon as she got them she immediately exited the kennel.

I repeated this three or four times until Charlie walked into the kennel without any hesitation or displaying any apprehension in her body language.

Once it was clear that the initial fear of the kennel has been overcome, I tossed a few more treats into the kennel and then this time walked up softly in front of the doorway to the kennel blocking her from exiting. I stepped away from the kennel backwards so that I kept facing her and moved one step at a time. As soon as I got across the room, Charlie lay down in the kennel, at which time I immediately called her out of the kennel and rewarded her.

After I repeated the process a second time successfully, I coached both of her owners through the exercise. Each time Charlie laid down in the kennel faster and only tried to come out once.

Because the door was not closed, Charlie had to restrain herself from exiting the kennel as opposed to the kennel restraining her. Since it was her owners that were communicating to her that they wanted her to stay in the kennel, this changed the dogs perception of staying in the kennel into a positive. Because she was staying inside of the kennel as owners have requested her to do so, Charlie sees remaining inside as doing something to make her owners happy.

I suggested that they introduce tasty treats as well as chew toys and other fun items into Charlie’s kennel when she was not in the room. By leaving the door open we are able to encourage Charlie to walk in to the kennel on her own and to realize that nothing bad happens inside the kennel. In fact it’s the opposite, the kennel consistently provides her tasty treats and toys to play with.

I instructed her owners to gradually increase the period of time that they required her to stay in the kennel before giving her the command to come out. Dogs are very much creatures of habit. If we are able to get them to experience an activity without any fear or negative consequences and then repeat the process over and over always maintaining a positive aspect to it, the dog quickly learns that the activity is nothing to be feared.

Once the dog stays in the kennel with the door open for a long enough period of time to fall asleep in the kennel, then wake up and remain in the kennel, she would be in the home stretch of overcoming her separation anxiety

Usually within one or two days of starting this exercise, dogs start walking into the kennel on their own and relaxing inside it.

Now for this situation, when the Charlie walks in the kennel of her own accord, she is able to enter and exit whatever she wants. It’s only when her pack leaders tell her to stay in the kennel that she cannot exit without their permission.

After Charlie’s become desensitized and comfortable with being inside the kennel, I told her owners that’s the time to start closing the kennel door while they remained home and in her line of sight. This is the next step of the process.

Just as the repetitions teaches the dog to accept being in the kennel with the door open, she will need to practice remaining in the kennel in a calm state of mind with the door closed. That’s why it’s important that the owners start this exercise while they are still in the home and in the dog’s line of sight.

After the dog becomes comfortable and relaxed in the kennel with the door closed, I advise them to move the kennel slightly around the corner so that they were out of the dog’s direct line of sight. Dogs have outstanding hearing and noses so Charlie will know that her owners are still inside the house even though she cant see them.

Just as before, they will need to increase the amount of time that the dog stays in the kennel with the door closed while out of sight but remaining inside the home themselves. Once the dog learns to fall sleep with the door closed and out of sight, the separation anxiety issues will be over.

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