Separation anxiety or not?

I thought my Specs-post-writing days were over, but this little ‘problem’ is quite interesting so definitely deserves a mention.

As you know from one of my early posts, Specs was introduced to crates and play pens from day one.  Crates and pens make life with a puppy immeasurably easier – no worries about toilet accidents on the carpet, nor about them chewing your favourite slippers.  And, my favourite, when you go on holiday you take the crate with you and then you don’t incur the wrath of the holiday home owners who have asked very politely that you keep dogs off the furniture.

Mum's puppy penAnyway, until the last few days, Specs was still using her playpen at nights (there’s Specs in it when she was tiny – wasn’t she just so cute?), and whenever I left the house.  For some time now I’ve been letting her wander while I’m in, with half an ear open at all times for sounds of illicit chewing, but there have been no major incidents (apart from my old slippers, but the less said of that the better).  She’s now nearly a year old, and I am, quite frankly, sick to death of the play pen in the middle of the living room, so it has now gone back into the garage and will probably next come out when Gracie comes to visit.

Given that Specs is now reasonably calm and pretty trustworthy, I’ve been letting her roam at night, without incident at all.  I thought she would sleep either in my bedroom or on the landing, but actually she prefers the bed she had in the playpen (which I’ve left out). She was a little unsettled the first night and kept trying to jump on my bed (absolutely not allowed in my house), but all is well now.

So you can probably sympathise with my decision to also let Specs roam when I left the house. Boy oh boy was that a wrong decision!  The first time I did it all was fine. The second time (presumably she knew what was about to happen this time) she barked as I left, so I just left her to settle.  Then the third time she howled, barked, screamed, and launched herself against the door with the ferocity of a banshee.

Well I had to go out, didn’t I?, so I got one of my cages out and popped her in it.  She settled instantly, curled up, watched me leave quietly, and off I went.

Does this mean that little Specs is suffering from separation anxiety?  Well, technically yes, but then again there’s evidence that the vast majority of dogs do.  Dogs are pack animals and particularly like being with their humans (after all, that’s why so many of us have them as pets), so whenever they’re left on their own their stress levels rise (check out this article about a Channel 4 programme in 2013 that filmed dogs when they are left alone – just because your dog does no damage when you’re out doesn’t mean to say he’s happy about you leaving him).

So what to do about it?  There’s all sorts of stuff you can do about separation anxiety, and if it’s a particular issue for you then you should see your vet and ask for a referral to a dog behaviourist.  If, however, like Specs, your pooch has been crate trained from an early age, then my advice would be to simply keep using the crate.  If your dog settles happily in its crate, what’s the big deal?

WP_20160117_007Having said that, the big deal for me in this instance was the playpen in the living room – so the playpen is still gone, but I’ve swapped it for a smaller crate which slots nicely under the stairs.  (I’m quite happy to use a smaller crate now since she doesn’t spend as much time in it as she did the playpen. )

And why does this work for Specs? We does she settle in the cage but not when she’s left to roam? Jen’s theory is that over the last year I’ve taught her that when she’s in the cage/playpen that means no attention or company from mum, but when she’s out anything could happen. And the reason that she settles at night despite being allowed to roam is much the same – lights out, bed time, means no fun and games.

Is there anything I could have done to stop this happening? Maybe, but Specs is a particularly affectionate little dog, and apart from the bit of Jack Russell in her, she’s from a long line of dogs (Cavalier and Shih Tzu) which have been bred simply to be companion animals, so perhaps this was always going to happen.  But I don’t care – she is fully relaxed and settles beautifully in her cage, leaving me free to go out whenever I please.  And when I go on holiday I can be secure in the knowledge that she’ll settle wherever I choose to take her.

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