The Dog Charmer
I got my dog, Girlie, from the Susquehanna SPCA last December. She is a Rottweiler/Australian Shepherd mix, about 7 years old. She has separation anxiety that has worsened in the past few months. Fortunately, she does accept being in a crate when I am gone. She is afraid of the sounds of strong wind, gunshots, or any sudden, loud noise, and tries to hide around my legs or under furniture.
When I am walking her, always on a leash, and we see another dog, she growls and barks and lunges at the dog. Does she want to play or fight?
Girlie’s Frustrated Companion
Dear Girlie’s Frustrated Companion (GFC),
First things first — thank you for being one of the good guys and adopting from the shelter. You are not alone when it comes to separation anxiety.
First, you have to get Girlie to love the comfort and security of the crate. It’s the only place she gets people food. Several times throughout the day, toss little pieces of chicken or ham or whatever into the crate as you tell her to go to her house. The crate door is left open.
Feed her one of her two meals a day in the crate with the open door. Next, I want you to seriously de-emotionalize leaving and coming home. No sorrowful goodbyes. Just “See ya later Girlie” as you toss a few of the treats into the crate, in addition to a couple of hollow marrow bones.
When you come home it’s a casual “Hi Girlie.” Then let her out of the crate, no big deal. Then remove the special marrow bones. She only gets them when nobody’s home! Period. Soft classical or believe it or not, country western music in your absence may help. The old saying, “A tired dog is a well behaved dog” has some validity to it. A walk before you leave can’t hurt.
I have seen over-the-counter products help with some dogs. You may want to ask your vet. You don’t want to reward the fear response by telling her “It’s okay” and giving her treats as she’s cowering.
In lieu of drugs, if you want to actually de-sensitize Girlie to loud noises go on the internet and get a recording of the sounds that often scare dogs such as thunder, sirens, gunfire, etc. Then have her lie down on one of her favorite comfort spots and play the recording softly enough for her to tolerate it as you give her tiny pieces of people food.
With patience and repetition slowly increase the volume, increasing her tolerance and desensitization.
In the great majority of cases dogs are more aggressive on leash than off-leash. While you may think they are protecting you, in actuality they just feel more secure being attached to you with the leash. The first mistake that most people make is reacting negatively the moment they see another dog. You’ve actually exacerbated the problem.
So when you are approaching another dog on your walks, give her treats and try to keep her attention on you. Girlie also needs to be taught the “Leave It” command, to ignore whatever else she’s focused on.
There are plenty of dogs who have great lives without being social butterflies when it comes to being with other dogs.
Dog Charmer Tom