I know that moving can be stressful for dogs, my dog Sandy being firmly in that category. She is a dog who likes her routine and can get stressed by changes in the environment. So upon moving to our new home in Hamilton I worked on leaving her alone for short time frames and every time I came back she was calm & relaxed, no signs of anxiety.
Phew. Or so I thought.
The first morning I had to leave her for a few hours I got a call from my landlord that Sandy was barking. If you’ve ever gotten a call or had a note left about your dog’s behaviour you know what it feels like: your stomach drops, your face flushes with embarrassment, maybe you even get frustrated or angry that this is happening, why is my dog behaving like this!
That’s the very question I asked myself: why was my dog behaving like this! Sandy had never experienced separation anxiety prior to this and I was shocked to get the phone call. But then I started piecing together some issues in the past year that I had ignored.
As a dog trainer I’ve worked to be carefully attuned to signs of stress and anxiety in dogs I work with and yet, when it came to my own dog, I had explained away those same subtle signs I would’ve brought to the attention of a client. Before moving, while still in Toronto, some days I came home to Sandy panic barking. It was a bark I had never heard from her before.
If a client had come to me with that situation I would’ve recommended to record the dog while the client was out to see exactly what was going on. Without video, you can only speculate about your dog’s emotional state while you aren’t there.
Instead, I attributed her behaviour to needing to go to the bathroom, a change in our schedule, or maybe she had heard a strange noise. Now, after the phone call from my landlord, I saw that those were signs that she had been coping with increased anxiety. I had ignored them, which resulted in separation anxiety when the BIG change of our new home came.
I put together a training plan for Sandy that included her never being left alone in unfamiliar places, I was lucky to have family close that could look after her when I had to be out of the house, and I chose to put her on medication in order to get us to our end goal quicker.
Sandy is now weaned off the medication, she can be left alone for as long as needed with no anxiety and we have a reliable routine, which she loves. She actually wants me to hurry up and leave the house so she can get her stuffed kongs!
Here is some footage of the first trial of Sandy being left alone during our training plan. (Sorry for the camera angle, it tipped a little too far to the side!)
Note that initially she is alert, focused on the point of exit, but no vocalization or excessive pacing. She’s clearly not comfortable being left alone yet. Compare that to the second half of the video after she has worked through separation anxiety protocol.
If your dog has a behavioural change, don’t be ready with a quick answer to dismiss it.
If I had taken the time to consider why Sandy was behaving differently at our home in Toronto, it would’ve saved me the extra work when the additional stressor of the move occurred.