Rehabilitating a Barking Beagle with Separation Anxiety

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 4, 2015

Ozzy SM 1

Ozzy is a five-year-old Beagle in Santa Monica who has separation anxiety; barking when left alone, gets excited easily and doesn’t always respond to his guardian’s commands and corrections.

The main problem was that Ozzy’s guardian couldn’t leave the dog alone without barking and living in an apartment, that was a real problem. But after observing Ozzy for a few moments, I started to see the fundamental issue. This dog clearly though he ran the show. I don’t know if I have ever seen a tail held so high and rigid in a long time. I swear the dog’s tail was up even when Ozzy was sitting down.

Before I could tackle the barking when left alone issue, I know I needed to change the leader follower dynamic. Ozzy was only adopted within the the last year so we really don’t know what happened to him the past, but he did show a number of behaviors that were consistent with a dog attempting to assume a dominant position.

I started out with a leadership exercise I developed to help dog see its humans as leaders and itself in a follower position. I placed a high value item on the floor (a meat treat with a strong scent) in the middle of the room then stood over it to claim it as a dog would.

Ozzy rushed through the first time and snatched the treat off the floor before I could stop him and, bit down on my foot when I tried to block him the second time. I adjusted the exercise a bit by setting a four foot boundary around the treat and disagreeing with Ozzy before he started moving on the third attempt. By recognizing his tells (a frozen stance, locked in stare and holding of his breath) I was able to advance through the exercise a few times. Knowing these tells would prove highly valuable later.

After I was sure Ozzy understood the exercise, I walked his guardian through it alone. While the dog didn’t continue to try to rush in to get the treat, he was stubborn about giving up on his claim to the treat. Instead he sat down across the room and stared at the treat as his guardian stood on the other side of the room in an authoritative stance. This was a real showdown.

Ozzy SM 2

After sitting and staring defiantly for close to seven minutes, Ozzy finally gave in and laid down on the floor to say that he gave up. At that point his guardian immediately gave him permission to get the treat lying on the floor between them. This was a big step; a turning point in the relationship between man and dog.

After going over how his guardian should continue practicing the exercise and how to make it more challenging, I turned my attention to the dog’s insecurity of being alone. His guardian had left me alone with the dog earlier and Ozzy did not bark. But about an hour into the session, right when we started working on his being alone, a friend of Ozzy’s guardian arrived. This woman watched Ozzy when his guardian left to keep him from barking. Because the dog associated her presence with his guardian leaving, Ozzy started barking as soon as his guardian stepped out the front door.

Because Ozzy barked to disagree with his guardian’s leaving, I needed to break down his leaving of the apartment into several manageable steps. We started out with a basic sit, stay, recall exercise. I had his guardian place the dog into a sit on the far side of the room, give him a stop sign and command, then step one step back. He paused a second then took another step backwards after giving the stop sign and signal again. After waiting about 5 seconds, his guardian gave the dog a recall command.

We repeated this exercise many times over the course of the next hour. Each time his guardian backed one or two steps further away until he was standing next to the front door to the home. We repeated the exercise for each individual step of opening the door as well; reaching over toward the door, then stopping and recalling he dog over. The next time, he reached over and joggled the deadbolt before calling he dog over. You can watch part of this process in the video below.

By only pushing slightly farther ahead each repetition, we were able to get Ozzy to sit and stay for longer and longer periods of time. Going slow and being patient is the key ingredient for this exercise. It took us about 40 minutes to get the dog to stay sitting and not barking while his guardian walked all the way to the door.

Now that the dog was used to the movement of his guardian walking to the door, we needed to make it more real. I had the dog’s guardian start picking up the tell tale objects we take with us when we head out; car keys, cell phone, sunglasses, etc. We kept relating the exercise with his guardian adding one more step each time until he was able to walk to the door, pick everything up, open the door and step outside while keeping the dog in a  stay across the room

Getting a dog with separation anxiety to sit and stay while its guardian leaves and goes outside its line of sight is a big step. You could see Ozzy panting and struggling as we practiced, but with each additional step, we helped the dog develop the ability to stay calm even when its guardian moved beyond it sight.

Its going to take time, patience and practice; gradually increasing the time the guardian stays gone. At first only a few seconds, but eventually minutes, then hours. Ozzy’s guardian told me he was impressed with the progress we made as he couldn’t ever leave the house without the dog barking before. Just like any other skill, practice will make perfect. And Ozzy’s guardian assuming the leader role in the dogs eyes will be a big part of any successful outcome. But now that his guardian has a roadmap to success, it should only be a matter of time before Ozzy learns to stay calm and quiet when left alone.

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