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Is My Shih Tzu Suffering from Separation Anxiety?

shih tzuI have 5-year-old Shih Tzu. I have recently moved out of my parents’ house and took her with me, separating her from my parents’ 7-year-old Shih Tzu. So I bring my dog back to spend one or two days a week with my parents and the other dog.

I work all day and I have always put her with my parents’ dog in the same crate, but now she is alone. Recently she has been going to the bathroom in her crate, so I took her bed and toys out and just left her in there to see what would happen. She was fine for a few days with no accidents. Until one day I came home, and to my surprise, there was Ginger greeting me at the front door with the cage door still closed!

I could not figure it out, so the next morning I put her back in and left again for work and was greeted again at the front door, but this time she was bleeding. I’m still not sure how she got out – the only thing I can come up with is that she kept pushing the cage on its side with her little paws and eventually squeezed though. Her nails and paw pads were a mess. I haven’t put her back in the crate since, but now she is having accidents in the house.

I am really at a loss as to what to do to stop her. I think part of it is that she doesn’t like to be alone. Unfortunately I can’t take my parents’ dog because he is attached to them. Any idea on how to make my doggie happy while I’m gone? Would a friend help? She doesn’t seem to like other dogs when we come across them on our daily walks.

-Danielle, Wanaque, N.J.

Hi Danielle,

Your dog’s dealing with a substantial amount of stress, from your description of the changes she’s had, and her current behavior. Dogs thrive on routine, and hers has been changed substantially. Please read My Chihuahua Can’t Hold Her Licker. The Chihuahua’s stress is caused by the same thing – change in personnel and routine. The exercises I suggest there are the same for your little girl, with some additions.

The most important thing is that you do not get upset with her about any of the behaviors she’s been exhibiting; it will only increase her stress level. Keep in mind she’s keenly aware of your body language and tone of voice. Never use her name as a punishment – “Bebe! What did you do?!” will stress her out completely and she’ll go back to square one with the training.

Her soiling in the house is a direct result of the stress. Please read my housetraining instructional flyer, and treat her as though she’s a new dog in your house as far as her potty schedule.

No dog should be left crated for a full day, under any circumstances. Please read the following keeping in mind you’ll either be going home at lunch to give her a potty break and some attention, or have someone like a dog walker or sitter come by to do that for you on workdays.

Take her to your parent’s house every workday morning. This may be a bit inconvenient for you, but your dog really does need this for the time being. That way, she’s in a familiar place where her stress goes down during the day, and the rest of the time, including weekends, she’s with you.

Dogs are extremely social critters, and she’s going through “withdrawals” right now. When she’s reached the stage in training where she’s fine for a full day alone while you’re at work, you can start keeping her home for two Mondays in a row.

So the first week, she’s only alone on Monday; the rest of the week she’s at your parent’s house. Do the same thing the following week. Then, she’s home alone Monday and Tuesday, etc. – two weeks at each stage.

After a month or so, when you’ve been working with her in the evenings and on weekends, start putting her back in her crate for brief periods of time in the evenings, while she’s very near you. Be sure she has a stuffed Kong to entertain her.

When she’s okay in the crate for brief periods with you around, start re-acclimating her to your leaving by (after tossing her a Kong) grabbing your keys, putting on your sunglasses, grabbing your purse and opening the door for just a second. Quickly close it, put your stuff down, walk toward her, ask her to sit, then open her crate door. Slowly work up to stepping outside and shutting the door, first for just a second, then as she shows comfort at each level, stand outside for about 5 seconds longer than the last. When she’s good at that level, go to your car, open the door, shut it, come back in, etc. Do all this until she’s okay with you being gone for 10 minutes.

Be sure you don’t push it or you will undo the work you’ve both done so far – be sure she’s really comfortable at each stage before moving on. Once she’s fine with you being gone 10 minutes, you can move more quickly toward being gone for longer periods. Try a half-hour longer at each level (again, make sure she’s comfortable before moving on).

When she’s truly ready, give her a day at home by herself (including a visit from a human to give her a potty run and some attention and training) on a workday. Remember to keep comings and goings very boring and very unemotional. Come home at lunch, take her for a potty run, play with her then go back to work. After a few times of doing this, she should be okay for the day.

Being with her is great, but training with her will really help bring her to a point where she’s doing great with her new routine and environment. When you’re training her, you’re spending that time focusing on her, encouraging her and improving your relationship with her as only training can.

I suggest you have a trainer come and work with you and your dog if you have any difficulty with this process. There’s nothing like having an expert coach you along! Training should always be fun, so be sure the trainer you choose (after calling at least four or five trainers) uses positive reinforcement and motivational techniques. A great place to start your trainer search is with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. You just type in your zip code and a list of trainers in your area pops up.

The very best to you and your dog – please keep me posted on your progress.


PHOTO: Ltshears

August 9, 2011 By : Category : ASK A TRAINER Separation Anxiety Tags:
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