Ask the Trainer with Laura Monaco Torelli

Animal Behavior Training ConceptsLaura Monaco Torelli

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: Daisy sounds like a wonderful member of your family. Signing her up for school, too, may help as a good platform moving forward. If she is a young puppy, she needs frequent bathroom breaks. Identifying and managing the triggers that cause her barking and howling are the first steps in the right direction, as is your caring inquiry for help! Be sure to share this current behavioral concern with your veterinarian. She may want to rule out any underlying medical concerns.

A sudden change in a dog’s home environment can cause sudden shifts in their behavior. She is used to having a full audience with your family! Your schedules have altered, and she needs your patience and time to positively adjust her new routine, too. Be patient with yourself, as well. It can be very stressful for the families to have to manage excessive barking and separation anxiety concerns. Keeping yourself reinforced for moving forward with small steps is important so you keep up with Daisy’s future goals while having fun on both ends of the training. Some initial suggestions to help set up Team Daisy up for success:

Nice easy walks to start her day. Let Daisy engage her senses and sniff all the wonderful scents outside. Daisy is gathering information while sniffing, which is a great form of aerobic exercise and sensory input and output. Also, it’s a great bonding time for all.

Create daily quick, fun, and engaging training time activities with Daisy. Training provides mental stimulation and physical exercise, both for us and our dogs. After training time, mix the rest of her food with treats and place them in Kong toys for her to scent, seek, and eat!

Hire a dog walker to help in the middle of the day. Or bring her to dog daycare as another option. Ensure that they engage and care for her in a positive and dog-friendly way.

Play calming music that helps balance out any sounds that she hears outside of her home that may initiate and prolong her barking. Dogs have excellent hearing. Consider a CD from Through a Dog’s Ear (ThroughADogsEar.com).

Have a Certified Professional Dog Trainer help you. Their professional expertise and support while teaching positive, dog-friendly, and humane tips is a huge asset. Depending on the severity of the separation anxiety, a Veterinary Behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist can assist while collaborating with you, your referring veterinarian, and the certified trainer. A team effort indeed!

Finally, some great literary supplements include I’ll Be Home Soon! How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. and Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety by Nicole Wilde.

Good Luck with Daisy. And keep us posted on your small steps forward toward success!

ABOUT the Trainer
Laura Monaco Torelli began her professional animal training career in 1991 with the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. As a Senior Lead Trainer, she trained beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals, river otters, and penguins. In 2000, Monaco Torelli moved from marine to terrestrial animals, working for the San Diego Zoo and Brookfield Zoo as a Supervisory Keeper. She has trained a wide variety of species, including primates, large cats, birds of prey, horses, parrots, macaws, tree kangaroos, red pandas, and dogs while in the zoological community. Monaco Torelli is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed, a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner Graduate with Distinction, and a Certified TAG teacher Level 1. She is the Founder and Training Director of Animal Behavior Training Concepts (ABTConcepts.com), and serves as faculty with Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior. Monaco Torelli works in collaboration with Illinois Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi and Animal Behavior Partners (AnimalBehaviorPartners.com) and is based in Chicago.

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