Meet Tweet! Tweet is an ADORABLE chihuahua at ECPR with a very common challenge when it comes to his behavior. Tweet is looking for an adopter who has a lot of time to spend with him, but also patience and the willingness to work on helping him with his anxiety. Tweet is SWEET as can be and he attaches himself to a person quickly. When he falls in love with you, he never wants to leave your side! Tweet would do best in a quiet home, as loud noises and “chaotic” environments are a bit too scary for him. He is the perfect couch-potato partner, netflix binger and cuddler!
Today here at ECPR, we felt inspired by Tweet‘s anxiety challenges and we wanted to bring up an important topic that a lot of small dogs have challenges with; separation anxiety! What is separation anxiety and what are the symptoms? What are some behavioral training tips for alleviating your dog when they display these symptoms?
I adopted Lily, my little chorkie (chihuahua/yorkie) when she was about ten months old. I will admit that as a brand new puppy mom, my excitement spilled over into major coddling. (Come on, why would you ever want to put your new puppy down? Their big, sweet eyes, the way they perk their ears, the way they just LOVE YOU SO, SO MUCH! I immediately knew that Lily would pretty much live in my arms!) What I failed to do right away, however, was to establish some proper boundaries. I let her sleep in my bed with me that very first night – and every night since. Because she is quite small (just barely hitting the 5lb mark fully grown) she fit perfectly into a puppy-purse so she went everywhere with me – to the mall, the grocery store, even to get my nails done! To be honest, she still goes almost everywhere with me, only staying home on the occasions when I go out to eat or to the movies.
Which brings me to the challenge with Lily – when I do leave, she gets very worked up and upset. As a doting dog-mommy, my first instinct is to pick her up and comfort her – and this is the exact wrong thing to do. What I didn’t realize during those first few important years was that by lavishing attention on Lily was I was leaving, or immediately after arriving home, was that I was actually perpetuating her anxiety and encouraging her worked-up behavior.
There are many reasons why a dog may develop separation anxiety. Sometimes it can be brought on by exactly what I did wrong, keeping Lily with me literally 24/7 since the day I got her so she gets fearful and upset when left alone for any amount of time, sometimes its a form of PSTD from past abuse and neglect, and sometimes you may have a dog who is simply prone to high levels of anxiety in general, and separation anxiety is just part of an even bigger challenge.
Good news – there ARE training methods you can use to help alleviate your dog’s separation anxiety!
1. Don’t make a fuss when leaving your home, OR when arriving back at home. If your pup starts crying, jumping and/or acting frantic, give them no attention. Do not pick them up and comfort them, and do not scold them either. Even “bad” attention is still attention. Ignore them completely. (Even if it breaks your heart to do so! Tough love can be good love.) Treat leaving home and coming back home as calmly as you can. Don’t give your dog endless snuggles goodbye or hello. Just grab your keys and calmly leave. Enter the same way.
2. Give your pup something to do in your absence; something to focus on! A kong with peanut butter in it is often good at keeping pooches occupied for a while. If you crate them (and you should if part of their anxiety is peeing in places they are not supposed to pee and/or chewing things up they are not supposed to chew), give them a blanket on one side of their crate and a puppy pad on the other side so if they do have to go, they have the option not to lay in it. Leave some soothing music on, classical, or soft happy tunes. Sometimes complete silence can heighten their anxiety.
3. If possible, earlier in the day before you leave, take your dog on a walk, play with your dog, etc to get out some of his or her energy out. Don’t make it a predictable routine though, or your dog will start to associate a specific activity with you leaving soon after.
4. Sometimes, having another pet helps ease your dog’s anxiety so when they are left alone, they are not completely alone. Having another dog, or a kitty to play with can help keep them occupied while you are away!
The most important thing is to STICK TO YOUR GUNS! (Believe me, I KNOW how tough that is!) Do not back down. As much as you want to comfort your dog when they are upset, doing so is only reinforcing their frantic behavior. (“IF I GET ALL WORKED UP, I GET MOMMY’S/DADDY’S ATTENTION!”)
I have taken baby steps with Lily, and although I do take her to work with me on a daily basis I have begun leaving her home alone for a few hours at a time here and there. It’s a good idea to start small, or even to practice grabbing your keys and putting you shoes and leaving, even if just for five minutes, then coming back in. (Especially because dogs quickly pick up on the “signs” of mommy/daddy leaving, such as putting on shoes, grabbing your purse, keys, etc.)
It will take some time, but with some real effort, consistency and willpower, we CAN get our precious pooches to learn that it’s okay to spend some time alone here and there!
If you think you have what it takes to become Tweet‘s new parent, please give us a call at 206 557 4661 and set up a meet and greet with this special little guy! With the right guidance and firm reassurance, he will be the most perfect pooch ever!