Q:I adopted a 1-1/2 year-old small female pit bull mix from a couple who were neglecting her. She is very sweet but has a habit of whining whenever I leave her sight. I thought it might get better after I’d had her for a while but it’s been weeks now and no change. I take her with me as many places as I can (even to work) to give her a sense of security but her behavior stays the same. Is there anything I can do?
A: Thank you for providing a much needed safe and loving environment for this dog!
Although your best course of action is to find a professional trainer to visit your home and evaluate the situation, it does sound a lot like separation anxiety. There is a step-by-step protocol for separation anxiety. It entails getting your dog used to your departures and returns. A professional trainer can show you how this is done.
Normally it takes a dog thirty or so days to acclimate to a new environment. Since dogs thrive on routines with positive outcomes and their being able to predict daily occurrences, you may find the situation improving as she gets use to your lifestyle and relaxes more and more. You can help speed this process along by trying to maintain a daily routine of quality times that include training (which will help the bonding process, build trust and instill confidence), exercise and just hanging out together. Massaging your dog while you both relax will really help.
There are some immediate steps you can take without the trainer, however.
First and foremost is setting up the environment for safety so your dog can’t destroy any property, escape, and/or somehow injure herself. Also, make sure your vet has given her a clean bill of health. Here are ten tools to use in dealing with separation anxiety:
Lower your affect when you leave and come home. This is probably the most important ingredient. It means that when you leave, either say nothing or offer a simple, unemotional “later”. When you come home, ignore her for ninety seconds or so (this might be difficult in the beginning!) and allow her to let the adrenaline subside a little. Pay attention to her when she is just a bit more relaxed.
Change your departure routines. Dogs predict what’s about to happen by making associations. So leave by a different door, put your keys somewhere so they don’t make a sound, go through the door earlier and then return and eat breakfast, etc.
Practice leaving and returning throughout the day, especially on weekends when you can practice more often, so she can never predict when you might be gone for longer periods. Occasionally get in your car and drive down the block and walk back to your house. This will help break the association of your leaving with the sound of the car.
Turn the TV or radio on 30 minutes before you leave. Classical, New Age and even Country music work best.
Tire your dog out by providing more exercise before you go to work.
Give her a treat-filled “Kong” to keep her busy and take her mind off you leaving. Many times a dog is most distressed during the first twenty minutes of a person leaving. Giving her something to do during this time period often helps. I have a list of recommended toys and tools you can review at Paul’s-Picks.
Have a dog walker stop by.
There is a dog-appeasing pheromone that helps relax some dogs. As it is inexpensive and very easy to use, you can experiment with it. It is called DAP and is diffused in the air by plugging the diffuser into any electric outlet. Experiment when you can observe results as it doesn’t work for all dogs and in some rare cases, some dogs have a negative reaction.
There are also some holistic therapies such as Bach Flower remedies, herbal aids and aroma therapy which have proven very effective for many dogs.
For severe cases, there are pharmacological aids such as Clomicalm. This is prescribed by your veterinarian and is a temporary aid that is used until your dog learns to relax as the behavior modification program takes hold.
My book, The Puppy Whisperer, has quite a lot of information to help your dog adapt. Very best wishes and good luck to both of you!