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Ask a vet online – ‘My 3 year old yorkie gets very destressed when left on his own howling and barking, neighbours are complaining’

Question from Sue Michele Whitehouse My 3 year old yorkie gets very destressed when left on his own howling and barking, neighbours complain so I try and take him wherever possible with me, but sometimes this isn't possible and he can sense I am going out and starts getting upset before I even leave him.........thanks Hi Sue, and thank you for your question about your Yorkshire terrier. What you have described your dog as suffering from sounds very much like a condition known as Separation Anxiety. I will try to explain what separation anxiety is, how it affects dogs and some ways to try and combat it. Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) So what is Separation Anxiety? Separation Anxiety (SA) as the name suggests is when your pet becomes worried and or distressed when alone. There are many ways in which dogs can show their distress including vocalising (barking and howling), chewing at furniture or themselves (often chew or lick at paws), toileting in the wrong place, pacing around, hiding, drooling and generally being miserable. Why do some dogs suffer from Separation Anxiety (SA)? As with most behaviour related problems there is not a definite explanation as to why a particular dog develops a condition such as SA but it may well be related to poor socialisation as a puppy or changes in the household. The peak socialisation period for a puppy is around 1-2 months of age, during this time it is really important that your puppy is exposed to lots of different people, animals, places and situations. Household changes can include: moving house, new family members, new pets and changes to family members daily routine such as starting a new job. How to try and avoid Separation Anxiety? It is really important to check that your dog is in good health and that you are not assuming a problem to be behavioural when an underlying medical condition exists. If you are in any doubt then take your dog to your vet for a full health examination and also to discuss treatment options. All dogs benefit from a good diet, fresh water, regular exercise and mental stimulation appropriate for its life stage. We assume that once dogs have grown up from being puppies that they are not as interested in playing, if you give your dog to opportunity to play you will realise how much they still love it. It can be helpful to make a weekly chart of games to play with your dog to remind you to keep things varied. Try and choose activities that you and your dog enjoy such as: fetching a ball, finding hidden treats, heel work, agility work, grooming, bathing and massage. It is also worth making sure your dog is slowly introduced to having time apart from you so that they can adjust gradually to longer periods of separation. Always make sure that your dog has had chance to toilet and has a safe comfortable place to rest. It is also worth trying to reduce the triggers for your dog’s SA by leaving the house in a quiet and subtle way. By having your shoes, bag, coat and keys all ready and close to the exit it will be less obvious that you are leaving and hopefully less stressful for your dog. A lot of owners think that by making a fuss over their pet and explaining that they will be home soon they are helping SA but unfortunately this just acts another trigger for your dog to become stressed. It is more important to positively reinforce your dog’s good behaviour on your return home and never punish it for its distressed behaviour. I strongly believe that negative reinforcement does not help owner or dog. Some pets also benefit from background noise such as having the television or radio on so the house is not so quiet and they feel less alone. What can I get to help reduce the symptoms of Separation Anxiety? Pheromones such as the DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) can help reduce anxiety in some dogs. Pheromones are chemicals that are specific to a particular species of animal, the DAP products (plug in diffuser, spray and collars) contains an artificial version of a pheromone that helps to relieve stress in dogs. Correct use of pheromones along with a change to how you approach leaving the house can help reduce SA. Behaviour modifying drugs, these include Valium related chemicals and antidepressants can also help to reduce SA but must be used under the direction of your vet. What do I tell the Neighbours? It is worth talking to your neighbours and explaining that you are aware that your dog barking is really annoying for them and that you are working with your vet to try and reduce the problem. Most people will appreciate you acknowledging the problem and that you are working towards stopping it but that it will take time. I hope that this answer has been helpful and that your dog manages to overcome his Separation Anxiety. Shanika Winters VetMB MRCVS (online vet) If you are worried that your dog is behaving strangely please see your vet or use our online symptom checker for guidance

Getting a good nights sleep – Helping your new puppy to settle in

Cat is the vet for an on-line social networking site for pet lovers. Bichon FriseThis afternoon I had a consult with a women who had recently bought a Bichon Frise puppy and was at her wits end.  The pup was refusing to settle at night and she hadn't slept properly for several days.  But, she wailed, as soon as she cracked and took the pup upstairs to bed with her, she settled down quickly and slept though the night with no problems. And there in lay the problem. Leaving the litter and their mother is a very stressful time for a new puppy; not only have they been taken on by a completely new set of people and moved into a new home, it is also likely to be the first time they have ever been left on their own.  So, it is very common for them to not settle well for the first few nights.  However, there are several things you can do to help them; the most important of which is to NOT give in!  It may seem unkind, leaving the pup to cry but trust me, if you go to them just once, the whole process will be much harder and you may end up with a dog who never sleeps alone.  It might be cute to have a small puppy sharing your bed but just think what it will be like when they are fully grown and have been out in a muddy garden all day! One of the most successful methods for getting pups to settle is to use a puppy crate.  These can be easily purchase from pet stores and come in various sizes.  They should be big enough for a bed, a water bowl, and a clear area for them to toilet if they need to.  Position the crate in a downstairs room, the kitchen is usually best, and leave the door open during the day.  The crate should be the pup's own space, somewhere where they will go when they want to rest and somewhere where they feel safe and secure.  Encourage them to use it from day one by showing them the bed and giving treats and praise when they use it.  It is very important you never send a pup to the crate as a punishment, it must always be a positive space for them.  Crates help the pup to learn independence as they are on their own when they are in there and they can also be very helpful for toilet training as dogs will naturally try to not toilet where they sleep.  They are are very useful for you as an owner as you know when the pup is shut in the crate, they are safe when you leave them. Another product which can be used very successfully to help puppies to sleep at night, or to settle whenever they are left are DAP diffusers.  DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone, it is a synthetic pheromone identical to the once which a nursing bitch releases from her mammary glands.  For a dog of any age, but particularly a pup, it is an extremely comforting and reassuring scent which makes them feel relaxed and secure.  DAP comes as either a plug-in diffuser (just like the ones containing household scents) or an impregnated collar.  The plug-ins should be positioned somewhere close to where the pup rests and last for about 6 weeks.  Humans cannot detect the smell so don't worry!  The collars are also very effective for pups and research has shown that they can help them be more confident and out-going in all areas of their life, which can really aid their development into happy and well balanced adults.  Both the plug-ins and collars are available from your vet or larger pet stores. All pups will give you some sleepless nights at the beginning, they are only babies after all and it is all part of the experience of being a new dog owner.  It is very important at these early stages to start as you mean to go on and this means, unfortunately, leaving them to cry if you want them to sleep alone.  Giving in, even once, will make things much harder as then the pup will know there are other options and, as dogs don't have much concept of the passage of time, they will be able to keep crying for a very long while if they know that eventually you will come for them!  Also, learning to be independent and to cope on their own is an extremely important skill for a young pup and the dogs that never master this are often the ones which suffer from over-attachment and separation anxiety.  So, stay strong, right from the beginning, make sure everyone in the family knows the rules and it won't be long before you are back to a full nights sleep.  However, it might be worth investing in some ear plugs, just for the start! For more advice on how to look after your dog, please visit our Pet Care Advice pages. If you are worried about any aspect of your dog's health, use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.