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Thread: Separation anxiety

  1. #1
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    Separation anxiety

    Hi there, I have two 3 year old rescue Labradors which I've had about 4 months now. We went to our first training lesson on Saturday and my two boys were already fairly well trained so long as they were NEAR each other! The trainer has asked us to try and work on their anxiety of being separated until we meet again (course starts properly in January) but Digby gets anxious if you do heelwork even 5 metres from Romulus! Any ideas for a gentle way to start separating them? My fiance is also very involved with both of them and can help out.

  2. #2
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    Hmmmmm, my dog has a problem with separation anxiety from me, and I know all about how to deal with that. However, with another dog I don't know. There are a lot of knowlegable people here at PetTalk that I am sure will have some ideas for you.

    The only thing I can say that would probably help, would be to start separating them a little bit at a time, and then slowly increase the time......I statrted with that with my dog, and it is probably a similar type of problem.
    Kedi, Wylie, Rudy, and the dog Scout!

  3. #3
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    The only way to ease their reliance on each other is to shift it onto you.
    The dog that has trouble working away from the other will automatically be thought of as the lower member of the pack....beware! This may not be the case. It may the alpha of the pair and unwilling to let it's responsibility go ungaurded.

    So your first job is to work out which of the two is the dominant. Which one goes through doors first, which one sits back at feeding and at times when there is only one person to give affection? This may not be as obvious at it seems as the dogs have had some time to be comfortable in their roles and have it all well sorted out. You may have to watch them very closely to fathom it out. (If you need more help with this email me and I will reply......eventually!) It is not always the obvious one!

    Your next step is to reinforce that the alpha dog is the alpha in the pair and be trustworthy in petting him, feeding him, taking him for training and putting on his lead first every time.

    Your next and parallel job is to make it clear that the responsibility for the entire pack now lies with you and not with the alpha dog.
    So, although the more dominant of the two dogs gets everything first, you decide and CONTROL when and under what circumstances anything is given.

    This can be hard, especially with such new dogs that you really just want to hug and love.
    You have to think like a dog and behave like an untouchable leader in their eyes. They have to trust that you are better than them at everything attatched to their security, well being, food supply, defence of territory and when it is 100% safe to relax and have no worries at all because you are taking care of it and it is not their concern.

    To do this you have to be able to speak dog.

    Both dogs get totally ignored at all times - you walk through them, not around them. You don't look at them. You don't talk to them. You totally pretend they are not there. As soon as both dogs are relaxed - that means lying down and not watching you constantly- for five minutes you call them both, give the sit command. If they comply you praise the more dominant dog first, give a treat if you like BUT make it a very small taste of something! (They have not done anything very special - just come and sit. If you start off with huge rewards then the reward will seem too small for later actions you request.) Then ignore again until they have been settled for six or seven minutes.

    Carry this on all the time you are with them but vary the amount of time they must be settled before you call them. 5 minutes upto two or three hours eventually. (Dogs can tell the time up to a point - if they are called every five minutes and rewarded it will not take long before they are up in your face just at the five minute point and then shortly before - this defeats the purpose so avoid it!)

    If you are leaving the house make sure there is a significant time period between your last interaction with the dogs and when you actually leave - so if you know the dogs will take about ten minutes to settle, let them out for a toilet at least half an hour before you leave.

    If you are entering the house the same applies - you give them nothing, not even eye contact, until they are settled and leaving you well alone. Many people find this the hardest as they mistakenly interpret the dog's greeting as a sign of affection.
    It isn't.
    It is a highly ritualised behaviour to retain pack bonding and status. It makes the pack feel safe and trust their leader ever more deeply...as long as that leader responds in the proper manner. The leader MUST ignore all those that it feels are less able to lead the pack than it is. Any recognition gives the signal that the leader is unsure who the Alpha of the pack should be.

    Do this for a couple of weeks, without seperate training for the dogs. Then gradually phase in the training sessions you wish to have - it really won't be a problem.
    Your dogs will both look to you as the leader, training will be easier with each individual and their bond will remain intact.

    You sound as if you have found a good trainer too, have great dogs and are surely destined for success!!

    Let us know how it goes, good luck. Any questions, please feel free - but don't hold your breath while waiting for an answer at the moment!!!!!

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the advice! Digby seems to be the dominant dog but is also less secure (if off lead around other dogs, he will keep on checking on us where Romulus is more independant). This morning I tried a bit of heelwork on our walk and Digby will pull on the leash and break the heel command. As soon as you do an about turn or make him sit, the distance between him and Romulus increases and Digby starts breaking the sit command and pulling to get to his brother. I don't know what the previous owners did to them but I kept Digby in heel after we got inside our property and he suddenly put his head down, sat down and wouldn't move. I'm glad to say that I ignored him, kept the leash tight and continued telling him to heel. Eventually he moved forward and looked at me and I then praised him. I then made him sit and lie down with strong verbal praise and he seemed to be a bit happier. Oh well, we have a long road ahead of us to get them to trust us but it is early days!

  5. #5
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    From what you say I would agree that Digby seems to be the dominant dog.

    The major step you can take here is give up taking the dogs for walks for two weeks.

    It sounds drastic but to concentrate on the points I gave you at first they will not miss it. They will have enough brain work to tire them out and it will make the rest of their lives sooooo much better for them. It is also a natural behaviour - unless they accept the leader they are not included on trips away from the den, hunting, defence, scavenging or play because they are not trusted in their given role.
    Garden only for two weeks and work on the ignore factor and when praise has been earned for a given task, and only then, make sure that Digby gets it first as well as dinner etc.

  6. #6
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    Carrie, thanks for all the help! I think not walking them could help EXCEPT I'm on holiday in 2 weeks time and then we're moving house!

    Do you think I should still walk them in the evening and do obedience in the yard in the morning? I'm living on a 5 acre property (my yard is a small fenced off part of that), should I walk them in the 5 acres maybe?

    Brendon and I have been working Romulus and Digby on heelwork at the end of our walks (we have an open park next door so they're usually off lead for all but the beginning and end of the walk) and they are definitely listening more.

    I think they accept us as Alpha (obey us, won't try and outstare, etc) but it would definitely help to establish Digby as dominant. Well, we're moving onto a fenced off 2 and a half acre property which should be great for them!

  7. #7
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    MMMMM....I have changed my opinion slighty and think the only thing can help at all is to pay for my airfare so I can check out the new place myself????

    No???
    Wellllll, it was worth a try - it sounds fantastic and South Africa is one place I'd love to see!

    Seriously, short lead sessions are best and walking only on fenced in property for a couple of weeks is ideal - you lucky thing!

    I'd be tempted to say carry on as you are and for the first week at the new place do not do any lead work. Give youself a chance to sort out the house and get settled. Then when you are "in and sorted" begin lead work again with the new ideas. Continue to treat Digby as dominant for that time though.

    One thing to watch is carry on the lead work for a few minutes before releasing the dogs to run free when you reach your destination. I am assuming that both of you take one dog each. A useful excersise is to get both dog's to sit and then you or your husband takes the dog they have for a very short session of sit, down and heel and then you swap dogs and you do the same. Then your husband takes the dog he has not worked and then you do (hope that makes sense) before you let them free.

    If you can get a little lead work before every free run - perfect.
    After a couple of weeks increase the leadwork and vary the places the lead work happens, gradually more distractions. Vary the speed of your walk and the timing and number of commands - this is the hard time to keep your enthusiasm going. Pretty soon the dogs' will be so busy paying attention to the next move they will have no time for worry or passer by's.

    Good luck with the move!

    Have a look at the question on stairs....the ssssteady is a brilliant attention keeper if used well.

  8. #8
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    Originally posted by carrie:
    <STRONG>Wellll, it was worth a try - it sounds fantastic and South Africa is one place I'd love to see!</STRONG>
    Well Carrie, if you ever have the time and the money at the SAME time, we'd love to have you and help you see the sights!

    Digby is REALLY responding to the dominant dog signals, it's sorted out when he ignores us (VERY occasional) and feeding Digby first has made Romulus more happy about eating (we thought he'd been trained to wait until given some wierd command to eat but feed Digby first and he climbs into his own food!)

    The walks have also been MUCH more successful. We've been doing heelwork up the hill to the park and we both crisscross the road and walk forward and back so the dogs are near each other but they still have to listen to us.

    BTW if we walk Digby at right angles to Romulus, he looks up at us and tries jumping up. Is he trying to tell us that he's in charge or is he asking us to PLEASE let him go back to his brother?


    Thanks for all the help, it must be frustrating to give us all advice and then we tell you that actually we don't feel comfortable doing that, can't we just do half?!! Hee hee

  9. #9
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    Hurray for good owners, good advice, and good pups! And hurray for PetTalk being part of an international solution for your family.

    I am always in awe of how our pets let us connect better with one another - even if we live half a world apart!
    "Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened" - Anatole France

  10. #10
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    Digby doing the jumping thing is him telling you that he is insecure and not quite ready to give over the reins of leadership just yet.
    It is a VERY good sign, in this case.
    You have convinced him 98% that it is OK not to be the one with the stress and worry. That is fantastic!
    He will still be feeling slightly stressed and is looking for reassurance - this is a puppy response.

    You must understand that he is looking for reassurance and that you have to give him peace of mind, but in a way that reaffirms your position without leaving him unclear or stressed.
    As soon as he makes the first hop up you stop dead still - arms, legs and body - still in the position you are caught in. As soon as he sits carry on as if nothing happened.
    If this takes more than 30 seconds try crossing your arms and looking up into the sky. If you really get fed up of this before the dog sits you can turn your back on him and wait.

    If you can anticipate the moment when he will start to jump then distraction is the key - give fast commands in a high voice with loads of, "Gooood booyyyyyy!!!" stuff. Go nuts!! Keep him interested in you and busy with plenty of reward - vocal and physical. Help him with some practice in the garden first and make it the most fun he has ever had! Really stupid voice and only things you 100% know he will obey. Make sure one of the commands is, "heel," for two or three steps only. After a minute or two of messing around get him to sit for twenty seconds then carry on walking.

    This is really useful to do before you get to the walking at right angles thing. Make it a random part of every training session - you suddenly go nuts for no reason.....

    The reason is - if you feel safe enough to go looney then everything must be fine, the pack has nothing to worry about, all is safe and under control enough for some fun but you are still calling the shots. This will make things feel better and safer for Digby. Things are soooooooo safe and fine that the leader can play, but Digby still knows exactly where his status is.

    You have done a fantastic job already and it won't take long if you do nothing else for everything to settle down.

    What I want for Christmas is clients like you!!!!!

    I'm so glad I could help and hope you realise how great a job you have done.

    My only regret, and not because I want to see S. Africa, is that I couldn't see you working the dogs.
    I hope you feel proud of yourselves and I hope you see the change in your dogs' attitude to life in general.

    Well done!

  11. #11
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    AntiPam, thanks for your comments! It's wonderful to find people all over the world who understand EXACTLY what I'm going through and exactly how much I love the naughty darlings!!

    Carrie, thanks for all your help, I would NEVER have thought that working out which one is dominant could have such an effect yet it makes soooo much sense!!

    Digby is still pulling a bit but we're trying to circle right every time he pulls ahead so he has to watch us. We REALLY need to do more work in the garden because he knows just around the corner I get let off the lead and that's where I want to be! Oh well, the new place will be perfect for "garden work" (if you can call 2 1/2 acres a garden!!)

    Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year all of you!!

  12. #12
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    Carrie, Digby still "tests" us at every road (we're in a quiet area praise God!). Every time we get near a road, he looks at us through the corner of his eye and will head for the road until we call his name when he is more than happy to come back. Once we weren't paying attention and we looked up to see him on the opposite side of the road! Am I right in thinking this is linked to the dominant problem and that he cannot be trusted to go out in doggie language? We'll see if this is improved at the new house, his only outing will be round the garden for a few weeks.

  13. #13
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    Oh nooo, not again - just when I think have the majority of American English sussed out...here come the South Africans!!! (Only joking, I have had major trouble with some American phrases....still do!)

    I'm not sure what you mean when you say, "Does it mean that he cannot be trusted to out in doggie language?" I'm sorry, I can see everyone else here going, "Duuhhh!! There she goes again!"

    That aside ( shame on me, shame on me...) Digby is doing what comes naturally. It does take some time for any dog that has seen itself in the alpha position to accept that it is alright to give it up in every situation. Many are model dog's when in the house but will pull on the lead, go manic in the car and/or lunge at other people when outside.

    The secret in Digby's rush to get to the corner is to make it counterproductive. The more he rushes - the longer it takes to get there. You are driving home the fact that it is up to you, you are the decision makers and, although nothing bad will happen if he doesn't accept it, nothing really good will either. As soon as he puts pressure on the lead, walks out of position or, if off lead, walks ahead of you, say, "Digby, heel." Very quietly, he has to learn how to listen to you too. As you say it walk backwards, ignore him if he puts pressure on the lead or doesn't listen - just keep walking backwards. As soon as he looks at you repeat the command with a pat on your leg to encourage him. After ten or so steps, stop. Wait for him to stop avoiding direction and then get back in position - walk two steps forward to help him out. Get him to sit and go on as normal. As soon as he gets in front again repeat the excersise.

    Another good trick is to do the above and then go past the corner to another area. Play a game there...it must be a great game! Then go home without going around the usual area. Use the new area at least once a day and if you can, difficult in your situation, as the only destination for walks for two or three days. Then there is no point in anticipating the corner as the dog doesn't know where it is going.

    Walk to the corner, past it or nearly to it every time you want to put the dogs' in the car - using the method above.

    I'm pretty sure this is not what you were asking about, but I'm a div when it comes to phrases from other countries and I'm afraid you will have to put the road question in a different way for me to understand. I'm soooo sorry and all confidence you had in me has now failed totally, I'm sure.

  14. #14
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    Michelle,
    By go "out" do you mean the dog is off lead
    and you are using only voice & body signals
    with him?
    Carrie, What's a div ?
    Thanks, Liz.
    P.S. Please excuse my "butting in", I'm
    just trying to follow the conversation...
    I've Been Boo'd

    I've been Frosted






    Men, it has been well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."
    Charles Mackay, Scottish journalist, circa 1841

  15. #15
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    Phew, UK English, American English, South African English!!! How on earth are we supposed to understand each other?!!!

    Thanks Lizbud for your input, I sometimes wonder if this thread is of interest to anyone else, it's pretty much a 2 way conversation with Carrie and me!!

    OK, to reword. Carrie, you were saying in an earlier response that I should NOT take the dogs for a walk for 2 weeks because in a pack, only members that can be trusted are allowed to go hunting, etc. I was wondering if that would be the solution to Digby testing us. He runs ahead of us toward the road and then half turns to see if we call him back. If we call him back, he'll come back immediately but if we don't call him back, he runs across the road (every time he gets near the road, we tell him to sit and put him back on lead). This seems as though he's testing our position as pack leader, making sure we are looking out for the other members.

    He is still pulling a bit on our way to the park but we have been trying to vary the place where we take them off lead and every time Digby moves out of heel, we turn around or do a circle so he has to listen. It means that if he's in heel, he gets let off sooner and seems to be working quite well.

    We do have another open area just above the normal place where we walk, but the grass is long and WET in the morning!! Well, nearly the weekend, maybe we can drive them somewhere this weekend and do heelwork.

    Carrie, I looked back and that sentence didn't make much sense to me either. Lizbud, I'm not sure what a div is either!!

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