Sheltie - seperation anxiety

Posted by MAX-Robinson
Jan 25, 2008
We have an 11 month old Sheltie who is trained in all the basics, sit - stay - come - etc, however his only fault is basically going ballistic when we are leaving for work in the morning or generally any time of day when we or our children's friends leave our home. Max (our Sheltie) will bark non stop and jump at the door and once you get out the door he will run to any window he can to bark more. He does settle down after about 5 minutes unless we can catch him to stop this chain of events.

He is house broken but will poop and pee on the floor occasionally when left during the day. We generally leave at 9:00AM and return at 2:30PM.

The odd part about the separation anxiety is he will travel in the car with us and we can leave him unattended for 5 minutes or so in the car and he is fine, he will just lay down and relax until we return.

Max gets lots of exercise as we also have a horse and he loves to play at the barn where we board.

Any suggestions on how to stop Max's behavior at home?
Posted by Codys-mom
Jan 26, 2008
I know I'm not an expert on this by any means, but my pup had a lot of issues with separation when I first got him. Often, people find crate training to be cruel, but I've found it to be a life-saver! Cody's crate has become his "safe place" where he goes to feel secure, especially when we're away from home. He is also very reliably potty-trained, even in stressful situations. I strongly recommend slowly crate training your pup in case it could help, but again, I am no expert. Good luck!
Posted by MAX-Robinson
Jan 26, 2008
Yes we tried the crate training when Max first arrived and we gave him a few weeks to adjust but it seemed to stress him more than being out of it.

In the last few days we have tried confining him to one room in the basement, he has room to move around and we have put his bed in the same room along with his favorite chew toys, so he has plenty to keep him busy. Not sure if this will help with the other times of day we leave without him but it's worth a try.

Max is extremely smart so we hope he will figure it out over time.
Posted by Todd
Jan 27, 2008
Hi there and thank you for your question regarding Max.

From what you describe it does sound as though separation anxiety is the main cause. What you are doing is completely correct and it can take time to get things under control.
Here are some points that you may have already had explained to you but
they do help with the whole situation.

The goal that we are aiming for is to reduce your dog's anxiety through conditioning it to associate being left alone and outdoors as a good thing. Here are a few tips and techniques that you may find useful.

No.1 Arrivals and departures

Keep your arrivals and departures very low key. Try leaving Max alone for at least 15 minutes when you come home. Just ignore him. If your dog calms down then show it some attention.

No.2 Do not respond

It is important that you do not respond to Max when he starts acting up. This is inadvertently rewarding your dog for poor behavior and will not help. If your dog starts barking or whining then ignore it, no matter how difficult that may be. Do not even make eye contact.

No.3 Attention

Only give him attention when he is lying down or relaxed and not actively seeking attention (by barking for example). Do this by calling Max over and making him sit before petting, etc.

No.4 Contrast

Max is probably having difficulty accepting that sometimes he is going to get all the attention and other times none (like when you are at work). You can help this problem by ignoring your dog for 6 hours a day on the weekends. You can feed your dog but that's it. The idea is that your dog will think "What's the big deal when my owners are gone, even when they are home, they still ignore me".

No.5 Exercise

30 minutes before you leave home walk your dog for 15 minutes at a fast pace. If your dog is tired then it will have less energy to be a nuisance with.

No.6 Crate/Kennel

You could get a dog door put on your door to the backyard. Place a crate inside the house so that when your dog goes through the dog door it can only get into the crate. This has worked effectively for some people.

No.7 Clothing

Try giving your dog something of yours with your scent on it. This may allay its fears when you are not with it.

No.8 Sit-stay and down-stay

Practice these exercises in particular as outlined in the SitStayFetch book. These exercises require your dog to respond to you for longer and longer periods of time, so should be good for its discipline. Once you have your dog staying for 10 minutes or so, then try moving out of its sight for a brief period of time.

Review the "Secrets to becoming the alpha dog" bonus book, this is vital for you. It will help immensely with getting your dog to respond to you in a variety of situations, such as when you are walking it.

A method that is often very successful is to list all the things that trigger Max off in the morning. This may range from something simple like picking up the keys, to the shower, the cereal box or the clothes that you wear.

Put the list in order of what he responds the least to and what he responds the most to. Eg from something that may get him pacing or a small whimper, through to something that makes him howl and get very anxious.
The trick is to use these triggers to desensitize his behaviour.

Use the lowest trigger item eg the keys first. If it is keys pick them up, carry them around the house and then put them down. When you first pick them up make him sit and relax. Wait until you see his ears dip a little, his nose to drop, his tail to stop wagging and his breathing to slow down. The second he relaxes reward him with attention and petting. Rewarding his relaxation is very important.

Use the first stimulus a few times a day. When he has got used to being relaxed with the first item use the next trigger up on the list. In this way you move towards the more anxious triggers. In this way you will desensitize him.
Make sure you use the triggers in a way that will not make the dog more anxious. It will take time to do this.

You may also want to set up a radio on a time trigger. Get the radio to come on 10 minutes before you come home. Soon the dog will relate the radio to you coming home. As he does this you can extend the time the radio is on, which can help calm him down.

If the problem continues to worsen you can always get some advice from your vet on other medications.

Be patient and consistent with what you are doing and do not flood Ma with things that will make his anxiousness worse. Good luck and please let me know of any success you have.

Kind Regards

Todd Field
Posted by MAX-Robinson
Jan 27, 2008
Thanks Todd, in your opinion is it best to keep Max confined to one room as we get close to leaving in the morning?

As for the "triggers" that appear to set Max off. I tried the car keys and he is fairly relaxed with that, however when we open the front or back door this is when he reacts regardless of where he is in the house. He will run at the door not in an attempt to get out but jumps on the door in an attempt to close it. While he is doing this he barking and growling slightly but not attempting to bite anyone. This is the most difficult action to ignore, thus we have decided to put him another room when we leave in the morning. Obviously this doesn't help at others times of the day but it makes the mornings easier to deal with.

We have also taken Max in the car with us for trips to the barn etc.. since he was 5 months old, I wonder if we should discontinue the car trips until we get the other issue under control?

Thanks again for your advice.
Posted by Todd
Jan 28, 2008
Hi there

It doesn't really matter if you confine Max or not in the one room. If it makes it easier for you and him then i guess that is better. But letting him have the whole house and not making him feel trapped is really important.

Making him feel trapped will just make things worse for him and you. Let him hide where he feels safe.

As for taking him for rides i would stop this until you get the anxiety under control.

Good luck