Seperation Anxiety in Dogs

(This almost started as a Pit of my Housemate, but then, slowly and begrudgingly, sanity arrived and told me a GQ would be more productive… If this doesn’t work, though, I’m gonna have to get my charcoal chimney ready…)
I recently (~1.5months ago) moved in with 3 great people. We randomly found each other through internet, etc. and we get along very well - something I am loathe to jeopardize. When we were meeting each other (which was over a very short time period), “Sally” made it clear that she had a cat (which she takes care of, no problem) and would be getting as dog. As we were moving into a pretty large house, we all thought this would be fine. I had some internal doubts - Sally had never before owned or lived with a dog, but she told us the dog was well behaved (ha!) and pretty well trained (for some definition of trained). About one month ago, Sally got a black lab (/Dalmatian??) mix, named Lola.

Lola was owned, and then given up to a kennel for unknown reasons. (I suspect her high energy was the issue, but that’s not an issue for four 27 yr olds, we can deal with that.) During her time in the kennel, Lola was given some obedience training, but I think that’s where her separation anxiety started. I can only imagine that she picked up (or at least had reinforced) her habit of barking at night while in the kennel. (We finally seem to have that taken care of, at least.)

I have lived with dogs for a large chunk of my life. I have no problems around dogs. Love 'em to pieces. Dog owners can really irritate me, though. I have no problems with Lola. I speak her language (figuratively, of course). But Sally is having problems, and I don’t know if she is dealing with them, and I am afraid that if I bring up the subject (again) she is going to think I am being a know-it-all.
When it comes to dog training, I am a pretty physical guy. Please don’t take that to mean that I ever hit a dog; I just mean that, e.g. when I say, “sit,” Lola has one chance to perform the command before I push her tush down - not harshly, but firmly. I also use the “pin” or “flip” when she is not listening to “no.” (For those not in the know, it’s just like in wrestling, you get the dog on her back and hold her until she stops struggling; it is not hurtful or harmful, it goes along with their thinking (think: submissive position), and it is surprisingly effective.) Lola is a very dominant personality. When she first showed up, I recognized her as such and mentioned that to my housemates. When I am at home by myself with Lola, I have no problems with her at all. (In fact, I’ve left my Goldie up home with my folks and their black lab, so having Lola around means I get to play with a doggie.) I take Lola out for walks, work on her training with her, play fetch with her, etc. Lola, for all I can tell, seems to enjoy my company, and, with a few exceptions, I enjoy hers.

“So,” you might be asking right about now, “what’s the problem? It seems like things are going well.” The problems are 1.) barking/whining* in the mornings, 2.) barking/whining when Sally is home, but not in the same part of the house as Lola, and 3.) destructive behaviors when left alone.

*(I have never heard this noise before; Lola seems to combine in the same vocalization a whine and a bark. It is, bar none, the . most . AnNoYiNg . noise . I . have . ever . heard.)

In the mornings, Lola will wake up with any movement (read: the first person up) and make the above noted noise from hell. It is impossible to sleep through, and damn near impossible to go back to sleep after. As a new graduate student, I’m back in the college mode- I like to sleep to 8 or 9, thank you. Sally tries to get Lola quiet, but it never seems to work for long. This has been going on long enough that one housemate has already mentioned to me that he is really thinking about voting Lola off the island.

As for the destructive behaviors, I’m talking about ripping up pillows and furniture. Lola has already shredded one arm of a (admittedly UGLY) chair that came with the house and has worked on a section of housemate#3’s couch (a very nice recliner). In Sally’s defense, she has done her best to sew it up, etc. but still… Housemate#3 is also getting upset with Lola. I would have been livid – he’s a much cooler guy than I.

Basically, it boils down to Separation Anxiety, as near as I can tell. With what little research I have done, I read that you 1.) give the dog her own space, 2.) work on training with the dog, and 3.) work on leaving the dog alone for increasing lengths of time and not running in to her space to see her first thing.

1.) Check. Lola’s got a room for the day when we’re not home, and her kennel, also in the room, at night.
2.) Also check. Sally has been taking Lola to obedience classes offered (for free!) by the same kennel she got Lola from. (However, I don’t think that the Lola they see is the same one we do here; thus, I don’t know if they are addressing this issue, and I don’t know is Sally is bringing it up with them.)
3.) Not-so-check. I’ve been able to do this, but Sally has not. I also believe that Sally’s training is nowhere near as assertive as it needs to be. Granted, I don’t really expect her to pin Lola (although I have seen a friend the same size as Sally pin a dog the same size as Lola…), but she’s very … passive in getting Lola to respond. (“Lola, sit. Lola, sit. Lola, sit. Lolasit. Lolasitlolasit. Lola sit, or you don’t get a treat. Lola, sit. Lolasit…”)

“So, where in all of this rambling rant is the question?”, you may ask, or at least would ask, if only I would give you the chance to, but I won’t, so I’ll ask it or you.

1.) Has anyone had experience with Separation Anxiety in dogs? What was it like?
2.) Has anyone had an experience with Separation Anxiety in dominant dogs?
3.) Does anyone have a good reference they can send me to? (trusted website? book?)
4.) Does anyone have a good idea on how to tactfully broach the subject with Sally?
5.) You really read this far?
6.) Hi, Opal?

Thanks for your time, I welcome all advice.

I haven’t much experience with training dogs, but the Monks of New Skete’s book How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend is considered one of the definitive books on dog training, and goes into some detail on how the monks train their dogs to deal with quiet time and being left alone for periods. It basically boils down to, as you said, giving the dog some space to itself, making it clear that you expect it to be quiet and calm, and having the willpower not to come running every time it puts up a fuss.

Unfortunately, Lola doesn’t sound like the type of person who would be very successful at crate training. Would it be possible for y’all to work out a deal, where she’s allowed to keep the dog, but on the condition that you train it, without her interference?

You need to look into crate training. Lola is desperately casting about, wanting to do what’s right but having no way of knowing what that is. Meanwhile, she’s learning bad habits, which will themselves need to be unlearned.

The Monks books are great if you own a farm, but they don’t address urban/apartment/inside dog issues very well.

I have a lot of experience with such things, and I’m glad to provide you with some more details here, or you can get Mother Knows Best, my favorite training book when I was a dog trainer.

Sorry, meant to hotlink the title.

Hmmm. The latest edition, at least, goes into some detail about indoor crate training.

Hah. I just realized that Lola is the dog, not the owner. In my first post, replace “Lola” with “Sally”.

Funny it didn’t read that bad the way you wrote it. :smiley:

Well, I haven’t seen the latest edition, but when I was training dogs (admittedly 10 years ago), I found Mother Knows Best to be extremely user-friendly and intuitive, and the Monks’ books to require a bit more sophisticated knowledge and adaptation. YMMV.

The Monks’ books definitely have their following; I’m speaking strictly personally, anecdotally.

(Ever since those days, I give a copy of *MKB *to any friend who acquires a dog, and so far there’s a perfect record of appreciation and effectiveness among that pool, too. YMM, again, V.)

Wow. It sounds like you really know your dog stuff. May I contact you, hijack this thread, or start a new one to get your input?

This article kinda-sorta address that topic.

Do Dogs Think?
Owners assume their pet’s brain works like their own. That’s a big mistake.

I’ll answer any question I know the answer too. And there are a lot of other people on this board with a lot of dog knowledge too, so I’m sure you can get most of your questions answered here.

Thanks for your input, gang. I have looked at (and had subsequently forgotten about) the Monks’ book. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on my monsterous post, I guess I really need something less… cumbersome to entice my housemate. I really like the atricle astro suggested, tho.

Lola is in a crate (what I’ve been calling her kennel) at night, and locked in a small room during the day when she’s not directly observed. The couch damage was during times when she was given free reign of the downstairs without supervision. Suffice it to say, we don’t let that happen any more :smack:

The big issue now is morning barking and barking when Sally is around, but not downstairs. The two facts that are yet confusing me are that (at least in my mind) Sally is the least dominant trainer and Lola’s SA is most pronounced with Sally. Usually, I figure SA goes with submissive dogs, not dominant ones. Hence my confusion…

And Oslo, I dunno if you were asking me, but I’m happy to answer what I can

You can train a dog during its whole life using positive reinforcement almost exclusively.


The exception is when you’re trying to train a dog OUT of a bad habit, like barking.

At this stage of his education, especially since it sounds like she’s spent some time not getting as much structure as is ideal (this is, after all, how bad habits are learned), she’s kind of just running stuff up the flagpole and seeing if it sticks. She’s doing whatever feels right, and will only adjust her behavior according to feedback. She didn’t get enough–or consistent enough–negative reinforcement in the early stages of her barking habit, so now it’s become somewhat ingrained.

To correct this, you’ll have to make sure that, from here on out, she gets 100% negative feedback for barking when it’s inappropriate to bark. You don’t need to be cruel, just negative.

When she barks, whoever’s closest needs to stomp angrily toward the room (or, preferably, the crate), and make a short, sharp “bark” of disapproval: NO! Think of a mother dog snapping at a puppy who’s gotten unruly. Nothing severe, just startling and sharp.

Then you turn and walk away.

DO NOT PRAISE HIM FOR STOPPING. This is not the case with all dogs, but it sounds like it might be with Lola. Some dogs will decide that the whole rigmarole–barking, stomping, NO!–is all worth it for a little praise. In other words, if you praise her for stopping, after you’ve barked NO! at her, you’re basically praising her for taking a scolding. You’re saying the scolding isn’t that big a deal, in other words. So again, not cruel, but 100% negative. You can come back later and interact with her quietly after she’s been quiet for a while, but NOT right after a scolding.

The worst part of this is you really need to be 100% consistent with this. You can’t scold her sometimes, and ignore her others. What that says is, “Hmm, sometimes barking gets me scolded . . . but sometimes it doesn’t. What the heck, I’ll give it a try.”

She needs to have a conditioned response, that barking=scolding.

It’s a real pain in the ass when you start this regime. She won’t get it at first. She’ll only be quiet for as long as her startlement lasts. But you must keep at it. Eventually she’ll reach that first step on the road to understanding a new concept: confusion. Confusion is the trainer’s friend; it cuts through habit and gets a dog’s attention. When she’s confused, she’ll look to you for clarification.

From that point forward, her new habit will begin to take root. Not overnight; she’ll still be testing for consistency and exceptions. But keep at it.

(Sorry for the gender issues; I wrote the whole thing misremembering the dog as a male, then went through and tried to correct pronouns . . . and missed a few.)

Oh and, for clarity’s sake, don’t do what comes so naturally to most of us–it’s something I have to watch out for at any rate–don’t use her name as a scold. Don’t say “Lola!” and expect the tone to carry your entire message. Dogs are very sensitive to tone, of course, but they’re also phenomenal with language. You’ll eventually be able to modulate your tone on “no,” and it will carry the same meaning. I’ve had dogs that eventually learned to respond immediately to a silently mouthed “no,” literally by reading my lips. Shouting “Lola!” is not as versatile.

And don’t shout it from across the house (this is the pain in the ass part): you need to startle her.

Also (sorry, should have written, waited, and fixed before sending)–Also, the reason for stomping across the house is so that your response is tied in immediately with her transgression. If you walk to where she is, and then say no, it won’t be nearly as effective. Think about it from her point of view: she barks, and then she hears you approach. Oh joy! . . . and then you tell her NO! As far as she’s concerned, you’re telling her NO for being happy to see you. Your entire response, including the buildup and approach, has to be negative and startling. Feel free to bark “NO!” with each stomp, as you approach her. She needs to NOT want the response her barking gets, without any lack of clarity.

Seperation Anxiety is a very specific diagnosis that should be discussed with a veterinarian. I would suggest discussing a trial of clomipramine, if (s)he believes the dog has seperation anxiety.

lissener: Thanks for the reply. That makes a lot of sense. When I use negative reinforcement, I probably am stomping. I am not naturally a light-footed individual, so I may have been doing the stomping without realizing. (And since Sally is about half of my weight, she would have to try to stomp.) Although, I have also had luck with just ignoring her when I come in or go out. Also, I have made sure I don’t do anything positive when she’s barking. I will turn around and walk away; I don’t know if Sally does.

Just to make sure I understand the regimen: When Lola’s barking,
1.) Stomp towards her
2.) “NO!”
3.) Turn around and walk away, no “good girl” when she stops.

That’s pretty easy and only a slight change from what Sally is doing.

Thanks again,

Side effects to clomipramine?

I have seen a few dogs who vomit if medicated on an empty stomach. It can take 4 to 6 weeks to see results, and some dogs need to be on the drug forever.

Novartis has a veterinary brand and their page is pretty complete:

Doesn’t Clomicalm require training to accompany the medication? If the dog does have separation anxiety as opposed to not being properly trained.