Canine Behavior/Toy poodle suddenly became scared
I have a three years old toy poodle. He suddenly became afraid of staying at home alone recently.
In the past, he basically had no problem of me leaving for school. He would just sat on the couch or somewhere and saw me leave. About three days ago, he started to be afraid of me leaving and wanted to go out with me whenever I approached the door. His tail tucked and he was shaking a little bit. I felt he was nervous and scared, but did not know why. If I went back to stayed with him, he would calm down. But once I lifted and approached the door, he would be nervous again, tail tucked, and wanted to go out with me. One time he was able to go out, he refused to come back when I called him (he normally will come back).
I really have no idea what to do. Do you think he is sick or something around my apartment terrified him when I was not at home?
It's possible something frightened him while you were about to leave or just after your having left (this could have been anything, even as small a thing as the refrigerator starting up). First stop: veterinarian for orthopedic evaluation (Toy Poodles almost always have luxating patella problems which can cause pain and any sharp pain the dog receives from a movement, such as scratching at the door upon your departure, can be associated with that departure), blood chemistry, overall exam. Report back with findings using followup feature. Meanwhile, let's start to treat this dog for separation anxiety using the program I designed for same:
1. You can create an emotional independence in the dog by conditioning a "time out" article.
Simply place the chosen article (something you don’t use for any other purpose, like an odd garden statue) in full view of the dog every day for thirty minutes to one hour and call a "time out", during which you actively ignore the dog. When you remove the article, reward the dog with praise, but don’t overdo it. Over the course of two weeks, your dog will begin to recognize the article and begin to acknowledge your unavailability (many dogs go to a corner to lie down, or their favorite couch spot, etc.) Once you observe your dog’s recognition of the article, put it in plain sight about ten minutes before leaving the house (but NOT in the room the dog is confined to, the dog will lose its conditioned response.) In other words, use the article as a CUE to the dog that you are not available.
2. Make your dog earn everything for about one month, including pats, entering/leaving the home, etc. (This is called “Nothing in life is free”.) You will be promoting yourself psychologically, which will help the dog to feel calmer.
3. Purchase Turid Rugaas' book, “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming signals” or go to her web site http://www.canis.no/rugaas/index.php
. Observe the dog’s behaviors before you depart to determine if your departure rituals are creating anxiety. Use calming signals just before leaving the house WITHOUT saying “goodbye” to the dog (which can set the dog up for emotional distress.) Dogs instantly respond to these signals and you’ll begin to see that response immediately.
4. Change your departure rituals so you do not inadvertently "cue" your dog. This means doing things differently EVERY day during treatment (which should last about two to four weeks.) If you put your coat on last, put your coat on five minutes before you actually leave the house; if you pick up your keys last, put them in your pocket ten minutes before leaving the house, etc. Again, given two weeks (at least) of this treatment, along with the others, your dog’s extreme sensitivity to your departure rituals should diminish and/or extinguish. When you RETURN home, ignore the dog for a few seconds, and then ask the dog to “sit” and acknowledge him/her; keep your homecoming attention short and sweet. If there is any destruction around (torn objects, etc.) IGNORE IT. What you don’t want is the dog to fear your RETURN as much as s/he fears your leave taking.
5. Do not allow the dog free “run” of the house when you are gone; this places a heavy emotional burden to “protect” on the dog, and might increase stress (which accounts for excessive barking!) Put the dog in a protected space (kitchen, well ventilated and spacious laundry area, etc., NOT the basement or the garage). Keep “special” toys there the dog doesn’t have at any other time, like a “kong” with a ½ teaspoon of peanut butter, a Buster Cube which holds a portion of the dog's daily food and which the dog will roll around to obtain it, a squeaky toy, etc. The dog will begin to anticipate this treat and associate it with your leaving the house. Leave a radio playing (on soft music or calm talk shows) and a light on when you are not home, and if possible move your answering machine (at full volume) into the room with the dog and leave your dog "messages" during the day.
The above is a general intention treatment. Modify it if you wish but one thing is necessary, CHANGE YOUR DEPARTURE RITUALS because they are now cuing your dog and his fear is the direct result of that cue.