Ask the Trainer – Lynne Willeke

Lynne Willeke, CPDT-KA  •  Bark Busters

Q. Now that the kids are back in school and we’re not home as often, our Cocker Spaniel, Daisy, seems to be suffering from separation anxiety. She’s normally calm and relatively quiet, but she’s been barking when we leave the house in the morning and, as our neighbors report, howling while we’re away. Is there anything we can do to ease this behavior?

A. Back-to-school time can be stressful for every family member, including the family dog like Daisy. Here are some tips to help your dog get accustomed to the new routine and avoid bad behaviors.

With everyone gone to work or school all day, dogs left alone can become stressed, resulting in destructive behaviors and endless barking. Some things you can do to alleviate this behavior is to pay less attention to your dog starting a week before school starts and increasing the amount of time each day. She’ll get used to not being the center of attention. You can also practice leaving the house by gathering your gear and exiting the door, but coming right back in. Daisy will cease associating the routine of your leaving with your departure and will be more relaxed when you actually do leave. Also, be calm and assured when leaving. As pack animals, dogs expect their leaders to be strong when they leave the pack.

Dogs also need to have their own “home,” a place where they feel secure and comfortable. For example, most dogs love the safety of a crate. If you are concerned about your dog toileting in the house, enclose her in a small room, such as a laundry room, which inhibits the tendency to toilet and has an easy-to-clean floor in case of any accidents. Place a soft bed and toys in the room for her.

Speaking of toys, dogs sleep a lot during the day, but, when they wake up, they want something to do. It doesn’t take much to entertain a dog, even when you’re not at home. Dogs love toys, but they can quickly get bored with them or destroy them. Buy high quality, virtually indestructible puzzle toys that hold treats, like the Buster Cube or Kong products. Every few days, switch out the toys so your dog has new and fun things to hold her interest. Also, dogs are natural foragers who enjoy looking for food on the ground. Scatter bits of raw vegetables, dog kibble, or treats for her to find, and always provide plenty of fresh, clean water.

Finally, a stressed dog can begin to exhibit bad behaviors, such as jumping up or biting. Sometimes a dog will greet children roughly when they arrive home from school. After being alone all day, the dog’s pent-up energy may cause her to overreact. Train your children to avoid going right to the dog’s area as soon as they get home. Have them ignore Daisy for five minutes to allow her to settle down. Also, train your dog. It is amazing how quickly dogs learn what is acceptable and what is not. Dogs have a language of their own, and, once we understand it, we can easily manage them.

ABOUT the Trainer
As Bark Busters behavioral therapists and trainers, Lynne and Briana Willeke will work with you to solve the dog behavioral issues you are having with your pet. The Minneapolis and St. Paul area Bark Busters have trained more than 2,500 dogs, including many puppy-training sessions with barking, potty training, and separation anxiety issues. We welcome the opportunity to assist you in changing your dog’s behavior and to help you achieve peace and harmony in your home.

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