Tag Archives: SA log

He stopped barking!

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 11 days since I wrote a post. It’s been a little intense over that period. I can’t explain everything right now, but will later. RIght now, I want to write about today’s departure:

Tuesdays are always hard for departures because the cleaning lady is here in the morning, so I have to be locked up in a room with Spencer to keep him calm and away from her. Obviously, that kind of intense togetherness does not facilitate separation. Plus, I gave him a frozen stuffed Kong and a chocolate dental stick this morning so he associates goodies with the cleaning lady and visitors in general. That didn’t leave me a lot of ammunition for this afternoon.

So I went for simplicity. I gave him a simple, but yummy, treat and one of his chew toys as I left. As it turned out, I forgot stuff twice, so there were two false starts, which actually is not so bad since it reinforced the idea that I always come back.

Anyway, I walked up to post a letter, which only took about four minutes. So I sat down outside the gate and listened. He was barking intermittently. At the 7-minute mark, he stopped!  And he only barked again about 3 minutes later. But that was not insistent. Since I don’t want him to think barking makes me come back, I took advantage of the lull after that bark to go inside…and found him calmly lying in the entryway! He was happy to see me, but not at all panicked. This is a major good sign. Yay! Now we just need to start building up the length of the separations.



SA log 6

Agh, the dangers of not logging things on the day is that you think you’ll remember them and you don’t. I can’t recall the details of Wednesday, but I know that I didn’t get away much. Because of the heat, I did close Spencer in the house in the afternoon, which is also something he needs to get used to. That went fairly well.

At the end of the afternoon, I decided to try something a bit different. I needed to go to the pharmacy, so I decided to take him and, if it wasn’t too busy, tie him up outside while I popped into the shop. Well, there was way too much going on around the pharmacy, and Spencer was too stressed for me to actually go in. But we used the occasion to work on the separation anyway. I tied him up and then walked a step away. When got up, I asked him to lie back down and then praised him when he obeyed. And then another step and another until I felt that I had reached his limit. I managed to make it up the steps the walkway in front of the shops. I was probably about 3-4 metres from him and visible. I had taken a toy so he could chew, but he ignored it. I then went back down and untied him and we went home, although I had to be very careful to to get too close to anyone because Spencer was clearly on edge.

Yesterday was a really good day for separations.

In the morning, I sprinkled his breakfast kibble across the living room floor and left. He went to the door immediately and then returned to the living room to continue eating. He didn’t bark or protest until he had finished eating, which is a really good sign since stressed dogs don’t eat. I was only outside for a couple of minutes, and looking in through the window, but it showed a major improvement over the beginning of the process when he would become anxious before I even left.

In the afternoon, we had a major breakthrough, I think. I had prepared his lunch as a frozen stuffed toy (I pulverized his kibble in a blender and mixed it with yogurt). Since it was hot, this “ice cream” treat would serve the dual purpose of helping to keep him cool and keeping him busy while I tried a longer absence.

He went to work on the toy, which I gave him outside (for fear of making a mess with yogurt all over the place), but found that his usual tactics of rolling and dropping it had no effect. So he starting sucking, licking and chewing it. He was very quickly engrossed. I went inside, closed up the house, took my handbag and keys, and locked the door. He looked up, watched me leave, and then went back to eating. He barked once about a minute later and then at two-minute intervals, until about the 18-minute mark when the barking became more insistent. This was the longest he had been alone since we started the process, so I decided not to push things too far. Plus I was curious why his barking sounded so distant.

Much to my surprise, he wasn’t anywhere near the gate when I returned. He was still lying near the corner of the patio, where I had given him his stuffed toy (thus explaining the muted voice). When I looked at the toy to see how far he had gotten, I realized that the core was very solidly frozen (it had been in the deep freezer), so I deduced that he barked whenever he reached a point where the stuffing was still too frozen to eat.

I went into the house and closed the door, and he didn’t even notice until the 56-minute mark, when he came to the front door, then tried the back and then the front. I finally let him in, and he went straight for his water dish. I realized that we need to keep a second water dish outside so that he can stay out long periods and putting water outside doesn’t become a departure cue.

By this time, it was getting quite hot, so I brought his toy inside, and he continued munching indoors while I worked upstairs. Unfortunately, the toy got wedged under the couch some point, so he was stuck until I came downstairs, found it and liberated it.

All told, it took him about two hours to finish the toy. If that keeps him happy and occupied while we’re away, that will already be a huge improvement.

My current analysis of the situation (again without the camera) is that while we do have separation and isolation issues, we also have boredom issues. It seems to me that the potential solutions to the latter are:

  • A dog door so he can be in the garden or the house while we’re away. However, I am not sure they make big enough dog doors, and we would actually have to replace the front door to install one since the glass panel is to big on the current door to be able to add a Spencer-sized dog door.
  • A dogsitter. At the moment, this is a little delicate since we also have territoriality issues to work through.
  • Doggie daycare. As far as I can tell, the only doggie daycare in France is in central Paris, so too far away. But maybe we could find someone willing to take him at their house. It would have to be fairly close to be practical.
  • A companion dog. There’s no guarantee this would work, but Spencer does seem to want to play with every dog we meet in the park. Before taking any permanent steps, we should try having a “friend” over for the  day and seeing if that facilitates departures. However, I would hesitate to leave someone else’s dog unattended at my house since I am supposed to be responsible for that animal’s well-being. 

Lots to think about!

SA log 5

So yesterday, I left Spencer alone, snoring in his cage while I went and dumped a glass bottle in the recycling bin at the top of the hill. All told I was gone about 5 minutes. He didn’t seem to notice my departure, but since we don’t have a camera set up yet, it’s difficult for me to know exactly how he reacted. Also, since we ring the doorbell as we come in now, that would have gotten him out of bed, if nothing else did. Instead of coming straight into the house, I rolled the garbage bin back around to its storage place. By the time I got back around to the front door, Spencer was in the hallway, said hello and then headed back to bed. He barely seems to have noticed I was gone.

At lunchtime, I gave him his stuffed toy, made sure he was happily chomping away at it and then headed out to get the mail. I took a book with me and sat out by the mailbox until I heard him bark. It was about 6 minutes later. The bark was calm, and I didn’t want to give him time to get panicky, so I went back in. He was in the hallway, and his empty toy was there. So that explained the 6 minutes: it’s about the time he needs to finish his lunch. Clearly I need to learn stuffing techniques that will take him longer to get the food out of the toy.

I’m thinking that it’s also important for us to get the camera set up, because we don’t want him to get conditioned to think that if he barks, I’ll come back right away.

it was actually kind of miraculous that these seaprations went so well, when you consider his general mood as described in Ghosts.

SA log 4

Spencer’s reactions to our absences are uneven. But I suppose that’s normal since the conditions are never quite the same.

Yesterday, I gave him his lunch in a stuffed toy and left, taking my purse and all. In fact, I was just gong to get the mail, so I was gone just over two minutes. In that time, he had come to the front door and barked once, but as soon as he heard me coming back up the walk, he turned around and was munching on his toy again by the time I was in the house. 

In the evening, shortly before Greg’s return, Spencer was lounging out in the yard without me, so I decided to capitalize on that and see how he would react if I left him in the garden. I bumped into some neighbours, so I was gone longer than planned: about 17 minutes in all. He had  barked quite a bit in this time and was right behind the garden gate when I came in, but he quickly calmed back down. However, I got the distinct impression that 15 minutes is the limit of his comfort zone before he starts to get panicky.

Today, I went out twice to run errands while Greg was in the house. The first time I left, Spencer barked and cried before I had even gotten into the car, but Greg said he calmed down quickly after my departure. I was gone an hour, and he didn’t even get up right away when I came back into the yard. The second time, I was gone a half hour, and he did come to meet me at the gate, but that also might have been spurred by curiosity about what was in the shopping bags I was carrying.

In the evening, we thought it was important that we both go out. Since Spencer was hanging out in the garden, we decided to leave him outside. He barked as soon as we closed the gate and continued intermittently the entire time we were gone (about 6.5 minutes). He was panting heavily when we returned, so seeing us both go together seems to be quite stressful for him. However, he calmed down very quickly and wanted to play.

SA log 3

So today we didn’t do a lot of separation work because I had a friend over for lunch and Spencer also has a little issue with being over-protective of our territory (which the trainer assures us will eventually resolve itself), he currently needs to be in a contained space away from guests.

Before my friend arrived, I did go out to the mailbox (to mail the enrollment for Spencer’s health insurance, actually). Spencer was in the garden, so I decided to leave him there and see how things went. As soon as I left he barked and then calmed down. And then started again later. But when I came back just over four minutes later, he was laying calmly about halfway up the path, not even right behind the garden gate. So wile he seemed unhappy with my departure, he did not seem panicky.

As a matter of fact, when I came back, rather than act like he hadn’t seen me in a million years, he tried to initiate a game. That tends to imply that he was fairly calm.

When he was isolated during the visit, he did pretty well. He got barky at one point, but not whiny. And actually when i finally let him out, he made a beeline for his water dish, which I had forgotten to put in with him. So the barking might actually have a message more than distress (it didn’t sound like his distressed barking).

SA log 2

Today has been a good day for separation exercises. I went out this morning for 6 minutes. Spencer watched me go, but didn’t bark once! However, I forgot to take my handbag, so he might have thought I was just going to the mailbox or something.

When we came back from our midday walk (which went quite well apart from the cat incident, but that’s another story), I gave him a stuffed toy (this is how he gets lunch every day to make him work for what he eats) and then picked up my gear and left.

I’m not even sure he noticed me go. When I got back 6.5 minutes later, he was still working on getting the food out of the toy. This is excellent. In the past he would stop eating as soon as I got anywhere near the door and wouldn’t start again until I returned. Next time, I’ll give him the toy and try to stay away longer.

This gives me hope that the severity of his problem is due to a lack of practice and not an inherent pschological problem. After all, he’s gotten really good about my  being upstairs for hours on end, and he used to whine and cry at the bottom of the stairs and occasionally try to come up.

Interestingly, although he didn’t bark while I was away this morning, when I subsequently went upstairs and closed the baby gate, he cried a little bit, which he hadn’t done in a long time time. But he quickly settled down.

SA log 1

So, one of reasons I set up this blog was to have a place to log our progress on separation anxiety / isolation distress front. We need to do the full diagnostic with nanny cams and all that, but we’ve already got some clear ideas of the situation. Even though Spencer is perfectly house-trained, we’ve come home to a some nasty surprises on the occasions we’ve tried to leave him alone (except for once when we thought the problem had magically resolved itself and we later realized he was in too much pain from his punctured eye to protest). When we tried crating him to see if that would help (since he happily spends the better part of every day in his crate and gets through the night without leaving), he even had an accident in his bed, which goes against a dog’s natural instinct not to soil the place he sleeps. So we know this is a genuine problem.

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