Question from Sarah Brookes:
I have a 9 month old labradoodle. He tends to bark a lot attention barking I have ignored him but he still barks what else can u do. Also when we leave him he shakes and barks but settles eventually I have an DAP plugged in but seems to make no difference HELP
Answer by Shanika Winters:
Hi Sarah and thank you for your question regarding your dog’s behaviour when he is left. What you are describing sounds like a combination of separation anxiety and attention seeking. Separation anxiety is when animals feel worried when left alone and this can lead to destructive behaviour, toileting in the wrong place and also vocalisation such as the barking you described. Attention seeking is when your pet behaves in a way that you cannot ignore often in similar ways to those already listed.
Why does my dog have separation anxiety/attention seeking behaviour?
It is really important that any medical conditions are first ruled out before starting to treat a behavioural condition. Dogs can show changes to their behaviour when in pain (e.g. arthritis), suffering from epilepsy (having seizures) and when suffering from liver or kidney disease (due to build up of toxic chemicals in their blood).
A detailed history of what is going on with your pet, followed by a thorough clinical examination and diagnostic tests as required are the best way for you and your vet to rule out the presence of any underlying medical conditions.
In the process of taking the details of what is happening with your pet, your vet will get a picture of what is happening in your dog’s world, i.e. changes to the family, pets, daily routine and moving home to mention a few possible triggers of a behavioural change. It is also important to note that some breeds of dog, especially working breeds (e.g. border collies, German shepherds and Labradors) need a lot more mental and physical stimulation than other breeds of dog. It is important to take this into consideration when choosing a dog to try and match its characteristics to your family and lifestyle.
How will my dog’s behaviour be assessed?
Your vet may assess your dog’s behaviour themselves or may refer your dog to a behavioural specialist (someone specifically trained in animal behaviour). As described above the first thing that they will need to ensure is that your pet is physically well, the second thing they will do it take a detailed history of how your pet behaves. The third part of the process is observation, your dog will be observed in the consultation room but this does not always give as much information as seeing how your dog behaves in the home environment and how he/she interacts with other members of the household both human and animal. Such observation may be via video recordings which can then be watched and analysed.
How can I help my dog to feel less anxious?
In order to help your dog stop feeling the need to bark changes need to be made to help him/her feel more secure and less in need of getting attention through barking. The use of chemicals can sometimes help when trying to change a dog’s behaviour. You have mentioned that you tried DAP plug in, this is a pheromone dispenser that releases dog appeasing pheromone, this is thought to help dogs to feel calm. Chemicals alone cannot always help to change an unwanted behaviour such as barking. Ideally chemicals should be used in conjunction with a behavioural treatment plan. Anther chemical that may be advised by your vet is an antidepressant.
When we leave our house we usually have a set routine of getting our bag, coat, shoes and key then leaving. Also we think that saying good bye to our dog will let them know what is happening and make them feel better about us leaving. What we are actually doing is setting off a chain of events which build up to trigger their anxious behaviour. It can help to make a quiet exit and put the emphasis on your return home.
What is in the behavioural plan?
Regular exercise of an amount suitable for the breed and age of dog you have, a small elderly dog will still need to be taken out for exercise but this will be for much shorter length of time than a young adult working breed of dog. It is important to give your pet regular exercise, if you are not able to do this yourself then remember there are dog walkers available in most areas.
Attention of a positive nature from members of the household is important to reassure your dog of his place in the pecking order. It is easy to just get on with what needs to be done when you come home after a long day at work and forget that your dog is waiting to greet you and be reassured that you are happy with him/her. If the majority of attention your pet receives is being told off for bad behaviour then this negative attention can further unwanted behaviours.
Provide adequate mental stimulation for your dog, this can be in the form of games such as fetch, training such as obedience, agility and fly ball. It can be helpful to make up a timetable of activities to carry out with your dog, this can help to keep things interesting for both owner a dog.
Company whether in the form of another pet or human can help to relieve the anxiety felt by some dog’s but this is not always practical as many people work long hours and have many family commitments. There are pet sitting services which can provide someone to visit your dog and break up the length of time that he/she spends alone.
Background noise such as a television or radio can make some dogs feel as though they are not alone.
I hope that I have managed to answer your question and that your dog starts to feel calmer when left alone. Making behavioural changes involves both dog and owner and can be a slow process but it is worth the effort.
Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online vet)