biting for fear

Posted by elena
Feb 6, 2008
Hi, I have from a year a mixed breed dog medium size (15 months old). He has always been very energetic and jumping on everybody. He has always had separation anxiety issues, cause he always barked a lot when every morning me and my daughter leave him alone. When he see us ready to leave, he always goes sitting on the couch and trying to "hide" so we can leave him there I guess. So we always had to lift him up and carry him to the corridor, where we leave him during the night too, with the door close. But lately he starts growling and bit both me and my daughter more than once. We made him understood it was wrong, but I think he is overwhelmed in those moments, he is out of control. I don't want to be scared of my dog and I'm sure he feels that, so what can we do?
I am trying to do all the excercise, cause at home he tries to be the leader, even if he is very affectionated and sweet. But when we are out he is so scared of all the noises and people, he seems like a complete different animal, and pull the leash. We use DAP spray at home since he was little but doesn't work on him I guess.
He has the crate in the corridor but he is still scared of it cause it's only a month that we have it (he used to get in when it was without the top cover) and it's taking time for him to get in.
I don't want to leave him in the couch in the living room cause sometimes he tries to come out of the door with us, plus he barks so loud that for the neighbours it's easier to hear (we leave in a apartment).
In the morning I try not to make a big fuss and when I come back home after 5 hours, he is very excited but I ignore him until he sits down and is quiet.
What can I do? I know it's not good to lead him to the point that he panics and bite, but we need to move him from the couch somehow when we leave.
Thanks for your answer!
Posted by puppylove
Feb 7, 2008
I had a 7 year old beagle mix that also had separation anxiety issues when I got her 4 years ago. She is no longer with us do to the fact that I had her put to sleep on Nov. 26, 2007. She was very sick with allergies that we were not able to treat but tried in every way possible, had seizers, and then went blind. She did nothing but lay around chewing herself all day long, and when she wasn't chewing herself she was sleeping. She had no quality of life left at all!

Anyway, when I first got her, I couldn't leave the windows open exposing the screens because she would jump through them. I could not leave her alone in the house because she would tear things up and once even tried to dig a hole in the floor by the front door to get out. I bought a bird cage type kennel in which she mastered to escape from by bending the wires. So I bought a plastic kennel, this one she never got out of, even though she tried to her hearts content. Patches was a very smart dog, when I first started putting her in the kennel she would freak out and try to hide when she heard me open the door of the kennel. I first would put a small treat inside the kennel, then I lured her to the kennel with a treat and gave it to her before she entered it. Eventually she would come a running when she heard I opened the kennel door. She still got the treat before she went in, but I no longer had to put a treat inside of it. After a time I no longer had to put her in the kennel unless I was not going to be home for more than a few hours. Dealing with separation anxiety issues can be very tiresome, it takes allot of patience and repetition. If you'd like any advice on that matter, let me know I can tell you what I had done.

Patches never bite me when I had to pick her up, so I don't know what to say about that. She would get nervous and shake, but never bite. I don't know if I helped you here at all or not. I hope someone else can give you some advise on that.
Posted by elena
Feb 7, 2008
Hi, thanks for your answer. I am really sorry for your dog, it must have been so tough cause they become like family members.
Unfortunately Fitz, if he knows I am leaving, doesn't follow me if I give him a treat, I can't fool him, so it's not that simple.
Thanks and bye!
Posted by Todd
Feb 10, 2008
HI Elane and thanks for the question.

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 him 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 him 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 him over and making him sit before petting, etc.

No.4 Contrast

He is probably having difficulty accepting that sometimes it 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 him 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.

As for the moving him i would be inclined to get him to ignore him and try and make a big fuss about something where you want him to go. He will eventually get curious. You may want to try and move him using food rewards.
Otherwise you may have to muzzle him and move him that way. With time and training he will get better so be patient.
You may want to leave him by the couch if he feels safe there and explain to your neighbours you are trying to solve his problems and he wil make some noise for a wee while.
Medication may help with this.

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

Todd Field