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Canine Behavior/abandement/anxiety

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Dear Madeline, I have read your biography and i promise to read and rate your response within three days. I understand that your time is valuable, that you are most likely spending at least 45 mins of your time on response to my question and I understand too that when questioners read and rate my responses fairly that you make random donations to animal shelters to help homeless animls. In the interest of being appreciative of your time AND helping to shelter dogs and cats I agree that i will rate your response and give you fair feedback. How can we help our puppy adjust in our family? We have a 3 month old plott/bluetick coonhound puppy named Chester. We brought him home from a farm to a rural neighbourhood when he was about 5 weeks old. I am a stay at home mom our kids are 8 & 11. We have been with him just about all the time espespecially when we first brought him home. We brought him everywhere with us trying to help him feel secure. I plan on going back to work soon and have started leaving him alone for short bursts of time about 45mins or less to get the kids to school and back. we have him in our entry way of the home which isnt a very big space and from the moment we close the door until we get back he howls or beys like he is being seriously hurt. When we get home he is always covered in drool as well as the floor. We are getting him a crate this weekend to see if the even smaller enclousure will help. We really enjoy having chester and really want him to feel safe and secure knowing we will always come back. Can you please help?

Answer
Hello Johanna,

Thank you for your question submission and for taking the time to read my bio and agree to the virtual 'contract.'

What you're experiencing is what I call "Teacher Syndrome," because in September I get loads of calls from teachers who spent all summer with recently acquired pups, or rescued dogs, and then *bam*!  All of a sudden, in September (or, late August), it's "back to school" time and the pup or dog has not learned to be alone, and panics.

This is just as I wrote: dogs need to LEARN to be alone.  In Nature, it's most common to see the dog's closest ancestor, wolves, in packs of up to 32 members (although, packs are frequently smaller than that).  There can be lone wolves, but wolves in a pack are most common.  And, although dogs are not wolves, many of the behaviors still hearken back to dogs' closest ancestor.  When a wolf pup is out of the den and left alone, he howls and bays in order to alert the pack as a distress signal (since wolf pups won't survive on their own).  

Chester, who has never learned to be alone, is sending out such a distress signal for his "pack," or, more accurately, his human social group.  Not only did your children leave suddenly after being with Chester all summer, but you have left as well.  Chester's whole family leaves him en masse, and he doesn't understand that he'll be safe and that you're coming back soon.  Regardless of the fact that it's only for 45 minutes, for poor Chester, who hasn't learned to be alone, all he knows is that you're gone and he feels scared and vulnerable.

Although it may not seem like a long time to you, for Chester 45 minutes may as well be a whole day.  What you need to do is teach Chester to be alone.

You'll need to start with very small steps, starting with a few seconds, and working up to half an hour, and then longer.  Chester will need to learn to "wait" and "stay" first.  You'll place Chester in a "wait" or "stay" and step away from him, at first a very short distance away.  You'll tell him what a Good Boy he is for "waiting/staying," and step back and give him a small treat reward.  As time goes on and Chester becomes good at this 'game,' you'll step a little further, and a little longer (build up in increments of seconds, not minutes).  Reward Chester with praise and treats for staying where he is.  When you have worked up to several minutes, you'll go behind a wall or somewhere he can't see you, but very briefly, only for a few seconds again.  Once you're out of his sight, you'll need to approach the training as if the exercise is new again, just as you did with the "wait/stay" while you were in sight.  Again, you'll go out of sight for a few seconds, and gradually, over days, or even weeks (as Chester progresses - it may go quickly with him, or not), work up to longer periods of time.  If Chester was successful, but at some point stops being successful, back up to the point at which he was last successful and build more slowly up from there.

If you intend to use the crate, I would make sure that it's a good experience for him before you attempt to leave him alone in it.  Many dogs with separation anxiety can become even more anxious in a crate, and hurt themselves, even bloody themselves, trying to escape from the crate when their people leave.

I wouldn't leave him in the crate until he's had a couple of weeks to get used to it, and, after you've done the training as outlined above without the crate, the approach with the crate should be the same as outlined above, except that Chester will "wait/stay" in the crate as you move away from him, and eventually out of sight.  Do NOT close the crate door immediately.  Wait until you can see that Chester is comfoortable in his crate, and then close the door briefly, and open again immediately.  As with the other training, build up to closing the crate for longer periods of time, by seconds each time, building up to minutes.  

During times when you're home, leave little toys and tidbits in the crate, and a soft sleeping area in it, so that Chester starts to feel comfortable wandering in and out of it as he likes.  Have it in the room where he sleeps, and let him start to get used to sleeping in it, if he will, with all of you in the house.  Having the crate near your bed is best, where Chester can see and smell you.  If Chester is allowed to sleep on your bed, you may want to leave the crate open and observe whether and how often he uses it, if you can.  Never use the crate for punishment.  It should have only positive associations for the dog and be a safe haven.  Never leave your dog in a crate with a collar on.  And, I would advise against feeding Chester his meals in the crate right now, so that he does not become territorial about food in "his" crate.  In general, I'm not a fan of feeding dogs meals in crates for many reasons.

There's a book I recommend, too.  It's called, aptly enough, "Dogs Home Alone," written by Roger Abrantes.  It outlines an excellent training plan for teaching dogs to be alone.  Although it's a little awkwardly written because English is not Abrantes's first language, the training program outlined in it is extremely sound.  I love this book!  Another is a pamphlet you might want to look at.  It's called "I'll Be Home Soon," by Patricia McConnell.  I like both, but I really love the Abrantes book because it will take you step-by-step through a program designed to conquer separation anxiety if you plan to go it alone.

Since the training can be a little complicated, you may want to hire a trainer to work with you and Chester until you feel comfortable.

With the holidays coming up, it may be a good time to start the training, as, ideally, you want to be home on a regular basis so as not to have the dog regress when you leave before he's fully trained to be alone without becoming distressed.  If you'd like to start right away, start on a week-end when you're home.  In the meantime, maybe you can buckle Chester up with a doggie buckle and take him in your vehicle to school when you drop the kids off, so that the training can take hold; or, have him stay with someone who can watch him during that time until you return.

Since Chester's still very young, and the separation issues not ingrained for too long, I think that, with the right training, Chester can learn to be alone without panicking.  However, if you work on the problem for a couple of months and find you're not getting anywhere, especially with a trainer, talk to your veterinarian.  There are medications that can help, but only when combined with behavior modification as well; and, medication should be the very last resort.  Your vet can tell you more about the possible use of medication down the road if you can't resolve the separation issues on your own after giving it your best shot.

Thank you again for submitting your question to me.  I hope the training goes well with Chester, and I'd love to hear back and learn how it's going in a month or so if you're able.

Best regards,
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
AllExperts Volunteer since 2006

Canine Behavior

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Madeline S. Friedman, M.A.

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I respond to public questions only. I'm not a veterinarian & do not respond to medical questions.Suggestions: Submit a question in one area of priority, as what I am able to address in this venue is limited. Provide as much detail re: the behavior & issue as you can. Tell me how & if behavior is a change from previous behavior & when the changes occurred. Let me know what you think may have triggered such changes & what you have tried so far to resolve it, & what the results were. Let me know what you want help with & what are your concerns & questions about the behavior. I have set up a payment/donation to myself for responding to questions. I donate most of it to animal shelters & rescues. I keep a small portion for my time. The minimum donation is $25.00 on PayPal. When I see that a donation has been made, I will respond to your question. You will be prompted to make the donation before submitting your question. When you have read & rated my response fairly, which must be at the time you read it, I will refund $5.00 back to you IF YOU REQUEST that I do so in your rating comments. If I ask for more details, please respond as a "follow-up" & not as a new question. If I don't respond to your question, I will refund your donation less $5.00. DO rate me fairly at the end of our exchange. I will be pleased if you DO nominate me for volunteer of the month - why not, if I was generous in my response? I may suggest something you were not necessarily ready to hear, but I am honest in the interest of helping your dog, & that is my goal. Please keep that in mind. Please do NOT contact me privately about Allexperts questions through my e-mail or website unless I have invited you to do so. That is an invasion of my privacy - thank you for respecting it. If you would like to contact me for actual dog training & behavior consulting, you may contact me through my Web site.

Experience

Own & operate dog training & behavior consulting businesses, Hoboken Dog Trainer, and ny-njDogTrainer, in the NYC & NYC Metro areas since 2002. Work with thousands of dog owners & their dogs, & shelter & rescue dogs. Active volunteer in dog shelters and rescues (rescues being "no kill" and shelters being municipality-run urban shelters that can and do euthanize dogs). AllExperts volunteer in "Dogs, Category 701" and "Dog Training" and "Canine Behavior" since 2006. When you submit a question, please make sure it's being submitted in the appropriate category as I volunteer in two different categories. Make sure you agree to the Virtual Contract (the instructions I outline for question submissions) and agree to read and rate my response when I answer in the body of your question. I make donations to various animal non-profits based on YOUR ratings. If you don't rate my response, or rate it unfairly, you have just denied a dog rescue org or shelter a donation. Keep that in mind.

Organizations
Professional Member of APDT for five years Founding Member of Animal Behavior Associates Behavior Education Network Former Board Member of IAABC, appointed by Founder Former Member of IPDTA in Canada Founding member of Behavior Education Network

Publications
Chronicle of the Dog (APDT, peer publication, numerous articles) Popular Dog Series magazine, numerous entries AOL in Everydayhealth.com Tonowanda News Morris County News Vermont News Boston NOW New York A.M. Polo Trace Newsletter The Dodo AOL

Education/Credentials
Counseling Psychology, Caldwell College Animal Science, Rutgers University Master of Arts Degree Permanent New Jersey State Teaching Certification (teach public school and university level) Numerous workshops, lectures, and seminars on dog training and behavior Ongoing self-motivated study in my area of expertise

Awards and Honors
Best Canine Coach Award, 2006, Rondout Valley Instructor's Training Course Society of Illustrators, second place international competition Jellybean Photographics, second place international competition Fashion Institute of Technology "Commitment to Illustration" award

Past/Present Clients
Testimonials from a number of clients appear on my Web site at www.ny-njDogTrainer.com under "Reviews." My customers include: Puppy owners wanting to get their puppies off to the best start; owners of mature dogs who want their dogs to have more obedience skills; fosters and owners of rescue dogs or shelter dogs; customers with special needs who need to train or retrain their dogs; housetraining and housebreaking; owners who have behavioral issues with their dogs such as house accidents, aggression towards humans, aggression towards other animals, inattentive dogs, unmotivated dogs, overly-exuberant dogs; and, more.

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