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: Dogs are very social (and can be highly emotional) animals, but, yes, there are some steps you can take to ease this separation anxiety for Daisy. Exercise is key, and I would recommend that you take Daisy for a long walk every morning before you leave for the day. This will help burn some of the excess energy that she has. If you have worked on obedience in the past with her, then great! Continue to work at it on a daily basis so that she understands what her role is in the pack. If she sees herself as the leader, than she will be more apt to obsess about the comings and goings of all the other members of her pack, and her perceived lack of control will have a less-than calming effect on her.
Also, try ignoring her for 10 to 15 minutes before you leave and once you return. Expressing your concern for her, or telling her in a sympathetic voice that “it’s going to be OK” has the potential for having the opposite effect of what we hope for. She may read our energy as being insecure about the situation, which will only validate her own feelings of nervousness. Make your comings and goings as nonchalant and low-key as possible.
Make an effort to leave interactive toys for her too. If she has free run of the house, then I would try confining her to a smaller area that can be hers, as sometimes creating a den-like environment will have a calming effect on anxious dogs.
ABOUT the Trainer
Nick Miller, CPT, began working with dogs as a walker in the hills of Los Angeles, where he was fortunate to become acquainted with Cesar Millan of National Geographic’s The Dog Whisperer. Nick had the opportunity to begin his education at The Dog Psychology Center of Los Angeles with Cesar and his pack. He carries those lessons with him in his approach to dog training today. Before starting his career as a dog trainer, Nick attended the National K-9 School for Dog Trainers in Columbus, OH, where he studied advanced obedience, service dog training, police dog training, search and rescue, and general dog psychology while obtaining his qualification as a Certified Professional Trainer. Nick is currently training dogs at the Urban Hound in Boston.