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Early, potentially mild separation anxiety
  • Hello,

    I'm in the midst of Week 2 with my almost-11 week old Shiba puppy, Mitsu. I've got some questions about separation.

    My husband and I are starting to leave her alone in the house (crated, with treat toys to occupy her), and it seems like she's OK about us leaving for a couple of hours. She doesn't soil her crate, she isn't crying or whining when we come home (this sounds like she's OK, right?). We don't make a big fuss when we come home, and she seems excited to see us, but not excessively so.

    When we're at home, we keep her crate door open so she has access to the living room but the rest of the house is gated off. When she isn't sleepy, my husband and I will leave the living room into adjacent rooms where she can see or hear us, and then she will go berserk--barking, whining, screaming, crying, biting the couch, grabbing her toys but not playing with them, and twice, she's peed. I'm assuming she doesn't just want attention when she pees, she's expressing anxiety or is worked up and can't hold it especially since she's young. When she's sleepy, she doesn't have enough energy to care, and she ends up falling asleep.

    The only time we close the crate door while we're at home and visible to her is when we eat dinner. I've crated her when I showered during the day, and she seemed fine, I think because she couldn't see me (I was upstairs) and was occupied with toys. The first night being crated during our dinner, she was really upset about being separated, and seeing us so close but being unable to be with us, and then the second night she seemed better. Tonight, she was sleeping, so we didn't close the door. I'm thinking maybe I should've closed the door anyway.

    I guess my question is what I can do to help her be alone more often when we are nearby and she can see me/us. [ETA: The treat toy business works well for leaving her home alone, but I'm not sure what to do about every time I go to the kitchen or adjacent dining room to check email, etc.] I assume this is kind of normal for a young puppy, but I don't want her to develop more serious anxiety, and now seems a good time to start getting her to be more independent. [Also ETA: Do I just ignore her tantrums, even when she ends up peeing?] The thing is, I'm a graduate student so I'm at home quite often, so she might be developing a sense of dependency on someone always being around. Should I be leaving her alone more frequently, kind of cold turkey, since she's starting to experience it when my husband and I run errands after dinner? Should we be crating her more often for shorter periods of times, when she can see me/us, not just when she's home alone? Should I be completely out of sight when I leave the living room?

    Any stories, help, advice, suggestions, input would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks very much for reading my long post!

    [mod edit: re-categorized due to addition of new category]
    Post edited by sunyata at 2013-06-06 14:55:32
  • What you describe is quite common among young pups and this early in age I don't think separation anxiety would be full blown unless the behavior is reinforced. I would go about your normal routine each day as if you are going to work since it will help once you go back into a full time career etc etc. Yeah, at first your dog will fuss, he/she is only 11 wks and there is lots of learning phases so be prepared. Stick to it like you are doing and always keep a kong or chew in the crate. They'll "get it" eventually although as pups they will try to push your sympathy buttons so keep a stoic Make sure you don't coddle, don't say much, and never jump up to run in at a mere whimper or you could setup the dog to exhibit a horrible nasal whine or yapping every time it has a pity party. Once this is ingrained is really hard to break.

    So do as you are doing.. feed, walk and exercise in am as you normally would and then place puppy in the crate and go about your work. Take a break with your pup at lunch and then again go about your business while pup is in the crate. There will be a lot of crate time and barrier time in the beginning (1st yr ) but it is well worth it to get them acclimated to particular areas without you holding a paw. They do eventually learn being alone is not so bad (even if they can see you) by keeping around lots of toys (age appropriate kong etc). Ignore the tantrums, it may be noisy at first but don't give in. Put on a calm cd for them and get yourself ear phones or ear plugs . You can check in once they are a bit quite and on a schedule....Dogs are creatures of habit and they get the idea that things are on a routine.

    Oh almost forgot to mention, I would get some clicker training started with small things, such as sitting and coming to you. Then I would apply it when you want quiet time. If he/she is quite just for a moment (say 30 seconds) in between screams click and treat. You would then extend the length durations, say 1 minute, 3 minutes on up to 15 minutes of quiet etc etc. Eventually he/she should be completely quite. You should be able to get mostly complete silence within a day if you applied the sequence of click and reward correctly. Since she is a single dog in your home this method should be a little easier to work out. This technique has been extremely helpful for us. If you are unsure how to go about it with the clicker, I would contact a decent trainer. If you are in the U.S. I would check out the individuals on this list.

    Good luck....

    PS; here are some good tips too to peruse
    Post edited by StaticNfuzz at 2010-12-12 15:37:52
  • Snf--thanks very much for your response and the links! I figured some of this had to do with her young age, but I can tell it could become more serious if we didn't do something about it. We're doing more crate time for her, and she seems to be getting used to it, though it seems to confuse her, which confuses us, but I think we just need to get over that phase. I guess I also didn't realize that crate time should be more frequent and scheduled. When she does have her tantrums, we tend to ignore the yappy, loud part until she settles down, and then we come over to check on her, but as soon as we turn our backs the tantrums continue. So far we are taking it day by day, but I think with more crate time and scheduling my work time more consistently, it'll make it easier for puppy and humans alike. She has had fewer problems being crated when she sees us, I'm starting to notice, so hopefully that's a real improvement, not imagined, and it keeps up.

    I hadn't heard about clicker training until I started reading puppy literature. It sounded a little complicated at first, but it also sounds like once they make the associations (ie when done properly), it can be a really good way to train. We were thinking of getting a personal trainer and/or puppy classes soon, so I'll be looking into that. Her mouthy-ness is starting to become more of a problem, so hopefully that'll be taken care of altogether.

    Thanks again! I probably get more anxiety about separation than Mitsu does, lol.
  • kittymskittyms
    Posts: 35
    I have a similar question/issue to kuromitsu, but my Shiba is a little older (~11 months). Since she was a baby puppy, I have practiced crate games, crate-training, leaving her in an ex-pen with delicious treats regularly while I work in my room, go to the grocery store, or go out for the day. She has also been left at home with my roommates while I've been gone for longer trips (weekend or week-long) and I have left her with treats in a crate at places other than home, so my absences (and subsequent returns) are a known thing. She has always been good, but just recently I have been noticing a little more anxious behavior that is making me worried about her developing separation anxiety.

    Specifically, she has been leaving even the high-value treats that I leave her (duck feet, stuffed Kongs, pig ears) half-eaten or untouched until I return. She has also been crying more when I come back, despite the fact that I have never once intentionally reinforced her for attention-seeking vocalizations (I always continue about my business of putting stuff away until she is quiet and composed before I let her out of the pen or crate). And today my roommate told me that after I left this morning to get groceries, she was yipping in the ex-pen. I have also noticed that she seems to get a little concerned or worried and watches me when I start getting my things together to leave.

    Do people think I have reason to worry? Based on what I've read in this forum and other places, I'm thinking maybe I should start getting her used to my leaving routine, without actually leaving. Any other suggestions for heading off this potential problem? I'm concerned because since I am a graduate student (like kuromitsu) I work from home a lot right now, but I also need to take days away from the house for work and teaching, and at some point may eventually have a regular job that will necessitate me spending longer periods of the weekdays away from home.
  • kittymskittyms
    Posts: 35
    Update: Just got home after leaving Kiko in the ex-pen for a few hours and came back to find her out and about. The door to the ex-pen was still closed. The pen is about 4 feet tall so i am wondering how she got out...Her dachshund friend was staying over, so I’m hoping maybe this was an isolated incident related to having a dog friend over in my absence. In any case, thinking of leaving a camera out next time I leave so I can check for anxious behavior (crying, pacing, etc.) when I’m gone. :/
  • sunyatasunyata
    Posts: 8589

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