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I've looked at quite some separation anxiety questions and none seems to tackle the problem we're facing. I do not think that this is a duplicate.

Dog: soon to be 8yo female Lab-x (probably)

Situation:

We moved into a new apartment recently. We've filmed our dog when she was home alone (anything between 2 minutes and 3 hours) to see how she's behaving in the new environment when we are not around. The footage shows her walking through the apartment, whining every now and then for a bit, getting onto the sofa (which she shouldn't do) to look out the balcony door, laying/sitting behind the apartment door for more than an hour and even standing up against the wall to look out the window. Even when she lays down she has her head and ears up and is actively searching for us. She has never shown this behaviour in the two places we've lived before. She's usually not left alone for more than two hours, she's with family when I expect to leave for a longer period.

When we're at home she is perfectly fine and relaxed in the new apartment and she got used to the new sounds quickly (we haven't lived in an apartment building before). She sleeps in the living room by herself (health reasons) and mastered that from day one (I can hear her snore and dream bark).

Settings:

In both places we've lived before she was fine alone and dozed until we came back. Even now she's perfectly relaxed at my parent's place where she spends her day a few days a week and is left alone with my parent's dog during the mornings.

The only thing different now is that she cannot observe the door from her bed which she could do in the other settings. We can not put the bed anywhere else as a regular spot and we don't want to move it when we leave cause we feel it will encourage the "active waiting" mentality.

She's not necessarily walked before we leave but it's happened. The video shows no signs of a difference in her behaviour regarding this. We have a routine with her where we tell her to lay down in her bed (if she's not), pet her a bit, say our goodbye phrase and leave. She knows exactly that we're gonna leave and seems fine with it in all settings. But as soon as I close the door she's running into the hallway. She does not do this in other settings than our apartment.

She has a Kong that she has access to 24/7 (we use it as a chew toy without treats) but she has in no setting ever engaged with it when she was alone.

Core of it all:

She has never before shown this behaviour and is still fine alone when it's not in the new apartment. We hope this is gonna wear off sooner or later but I'd like to know if there's anything we can do to help her with the situation until that happens.

  • Reading my own question I feel that there's a "she can't see us leave so she searches for us to double check" thing going on. Can anyone confirm that this is a thing? – Sambovi Jan 11 '18 at 15:17
  • Your question implies but does clearly state that filmed your dog in similar situations in previous homes. Can you clarify? Currently it looks like it might be that now you are worried, but don't have actual filmed behavior prior to this home. – James Jenkins Jan 11 '18 at 17:47
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    @JamesJenkins I have filmed our dog in our last home, my parents home and our new apartment. For various reasons. Apart of now I have hours of footage of a sleeping dog. – Sambovi Jan 11 '18 at 18:01
  • Is it possible a neighbor is using an ultrasonic pest device, that you dog can hear? – James Jenkins Jan 11 '18 at 18:25
  • @JamesJenkins do you mean those to keep cats off? If so, no cause I can hear those. If not it's still highly unlikely for someone to use it around here. – Sambovi Jan 11 '18 at 18:43
5

I have dealt with separation anxiety with a lot of dogs I rescued and here is what my experience tells me:

First, a change of environment for a dog is a major thing, regardless of age breed or character.

She has never shown this behaviour in the two places we've lived before.

The fact is that she probably has but you’ve not really notice. This time you’re noticing because it is clearly bothering her more, possibly because of an outside problem as per comments on your question. However, this shouldn’t be focused on a a primary solution unless it is bluntly obvious.

When we're at home she is perfectly fine and relaxed in the new apartment and she got used to the new sounds quickly.

That’s because you are at home and she feels safe within her pack. Dogs are pack animals and when the pack is not together, that’s when problems occur, brought on by the stress of the separation.

The only thing different now is that she cannot observe the door from her bed which she could do in the other settings

That could be an issue but balanced dogs are usually not so bothered and adapt well. However, if you feel strongly about this, you’re creating a problem for your dog. Dogs have been scientifically proven to be able to interpret and mimic human behaviours: if you see this as a problem, your dog will too!

She's not necessarily walked before we leave

In my experience, that’s not good. If you drain your dog’s physical and mental energy before she can be left, that’s energy she won’t have to fuel the anxiety with. In my experience, that’s at least 80% of your problem.

Dogs‘s ancestors are wolves. They have a specific way of functioning. A dog’s natural instinct is to have a den. Get up in the morning, venture out to find food. If the dog is good at it, it will return and sleep all day and start again in the evening. If it’s not good, it will roam all day or find a stronger dog that will help, forming a pack. In either cases, the dog is physically and mentally challenged to survive..... hence why we walk, train, work a dog.... it’s gives them balance and a purpose in life.

So,

I would suggest a new routine to snap her out of that behaviour. I have never seen a dog settling into it.

Mimicking nature is by far the best option:

  • Walk to drain physical energy
  • training to drain mental energy
  • breakfast for reward
  • tired dog means sleepy dog but more important, a content balanced dog. Once you’ve got that, you are on a winner.

Your description of her moving about in the flat is perfectly normal(apart from the anxiety bits). Dogs can hear a lot lot more than you think, even when asleep. You will always have ear twitch and movements from one area to the next, including getting on the sofa; the sofa is a human space unless you invite the dog on it. However if the dog takes that place when you’re away, apart from comfort, this tells me your dog “takes” your place or role as the leader when you’re away guarding the place which is excellent behaviour. We have 2 sofas and a chair and my dog moves around all of them through the day.

The Kong is excellent but having it 24/7 is not necessarily a good idea: would you allow kids to play on a game console 24/7? Instead I would make it a positive event. You leaving the dog is a negative perception for her. If you changed it into a positive it would go towards changing the dog’s perception. When I leave my dog, I leave a Kong and other treats scattered in the kitchen which is at the opposite end of the front door. The dog is given a biscuit in her crate. I leave quickly and swiftly. We’ve taped her getting out and take her treats. She returns to her crate, has a moment thinking”what should I do next!” Then settles.

Change the way you leave - practise leaving:

Dogs are experts at picking up the signs. From walking to tea time to bed time and of course when they will be left.

Think how you leave her. Key noises, putting shoes on, the stress of going to work, talking on your mobile..... the dog sees and feels all of that.

How to practise: during your day, fake leaving.... but return straight away! Or put your shoes on and stay. Make key noises... and so on... Basically, this desensitises your dog.

Remove emotions: if you leave the dog with long goodbyes and affection then leave, you will make the dog miss you...

Dog’s noises are also extremely developed. There is a new study currently going on regarding dogs being able to determine how many follicles and in what amount there is in the air. The longer you leave your dog, the less follicles of you there is in the air. Have you ever wondered how they know you’re coming home? As far as I can tell, they can’t tell the time.

There is so much more to say about separation anxiety but it would take all day. I hope this gives you an idea. I am happy to answer more specific question if you need.

The good news is that you clearly care for your dog’s wellbeing. I can also tell you that your problem is quite mild and perfectly workable. I have dealt with dogs who would chew half a door, howl, destroy a sofa, poo and pee everywhere after being left for a few minutes!

Good luck!

  • I hope to work through this in one comment. First of all, thank you so much for your answer, it's much appreciated and helpful. She's not left alone here in the mornings so the "nature" schedule can't be applied. She does have that schedule when we work and leave her with the fam tho. I know 100% that she didn't show this behaviour anywhere else as I filmed her and she was sleeping on all of them. As for the sofa, I don't mind her being on there if it's for comfort but not as an aide to look outside. We might use the toy idea if I can bring myself to take away the Kong for the rest of the day. – Sambovi Jan 13 '18 at 11:47
  • You seem to be really experienced with this sort of behavior. How do you feel about limiting her space to the living room while we're gone? We don't have a door there, probably a baby gate or so? The idea is that she won't get so "worked up" and spend more time in the comfort zone of the apartment, rather than the hallway. I'll wait for another few days for other answers and then accept one. – Sambovi Jan 13 '18 at 11:56
  • @Sambovi the schedule is flexible. My wife and I work different patterns. At times, I start at 12 or 6am. Yet we still stick to the schedule(mostly) apart from when we are home. When I walk at 6am or say, 1030am before 12pm shift. You can adapt by splitting her breakfast in 2: feed in the morning with a pee time. Walk, rest of the food then leave her. That’s the secret – user33232 Jan 13 '18 at 13:06
  • @Sambovi limiting space is a good idea. Dogs prefer to deal with smaller area, resembling den conditions. I use a crate and suggest you do. They love it but training has to be done properly. Ours is in our lounge. The main room of the house. There’s a very big window there but we make sure the blind is almost all the way down. However, make sure she respect that area to avoid destruction. Changing the available space might be a bit late now but worth a try. Baby gates are a waste of time and aggravate the issue. – user33232 Jan 13 '18 at 13:13
  • And yes. I over 20 years experience with dogs, especially difficult ones or lost cases from my local shelter, using techniques based on the evolution of the relationship between man(and woman). – user33232 Jan 13 '18 at 13:17
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The answer to your question, brutal as it may seem, is that dogs are pack animals and should not be left, locked up, on their own all day.

I am ashamed to say that we left our first dog (also a Lab) locked up in a kitchen, on his own, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. We never realised that this was a cruel thing to do, and it could easily have been avoided since we had our own business. Later in his life, we took him to work with us. Our other dogs were never left on their own.

It distresses me to hear from other dog owners who are anxious about leaving their dogs on their own for extended periods of time. The simple answer is "don't."

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