I started working with Louie the 3 year old French Bulldog on 22nd June 2022, after his mum contacted me to help him with his separation anxiety. He had never been comfortable being home alone, but since lockdown in 2020 his behaviour had got worse.
Louie’s mum had been amazing and trying to find solutions and had even found a good daycare for him so that he could go there, but unfortunately although Louie was happy there for a while, he started reacting to the other dogs as the environment was likely a bit too overwhelming for him (which is really common) and therefore daycare was no longer an option for him. This left his mum feeling a complete prisoner in her own home and that her life was ruled by Louie, and just did not know what to do.
A stressed Frenchie
Very sensibly Louie’s mum got a camera so she could have eyes on him when she left him so she could get a true picture on what he did. She also tried leaving him in a crate, a pen, as well as free in the house, and had also tried leaving him with food dispensing toys, leaving him with her clothes so they smelt of her and might comfort him, and also tried leaving him with some calming music on, but none of these made any difference. He would pant and cry and scream, and if he was not in his pen this would be accompanied by running back and forth, and would also toilet in the house as well. The toileting only happened when he was alone as a stress response.
The video below shows Louie before we started working together (warning – there are noises of him crying, barking and howling):
The initial assessment
In our initial assessment on 22nd June, we kept Louie out of the pen and with some freedom, closing doors to rooms his mum did not want him to go into in case he toileted. Shutting dogs with separation anxiety OUT of rooms works much better than shutting them IN a room – confinement and separation anxiety, as a rule, do not go well together.
When we begun the assessment Louie was upstairs, and he ran downstairs 20 seconds after the front door closed. From 26 seconds he started to show signs of anxiety by trotting around from back door to front door, and then started whining and running upstairs and downstairs from 39 seconds. He escalated his behaviour very slowly, but that was simply valuable information on Louie so we know what he tended to do as his anxiety increased – it did not mean he was coping well.
His main indicators that he was starting to feel anxious, before he even started whining, was the pacing and trotting around and some panting.
In his first week Louie did, quite frankly unbelievably, and in our 1 week reassessment, he wandered around and stood in the hall for 5 minutes, then at 5 minutes and 8 seconds, he LAY down on the front doormat until until just after 26 minutes from when the front door closed, and then heard something at the back door and trotted to check it out. After that he then went upstairs onto his mum’s bed and coped really well for a total of just over 1 hour!
Louie & Nala (a double act!)
One of the regular entertainment elements was the family cat, Nala, who always liked to make an appearance! During this session she kept going to investigate Louie on the doormat (video 1 below) and then there ensued a hilarious moment when Louie made Nala literally jump in the air when he trotted to the back door to investigate the potential disturbance (video 2 below!):
We started incorporating the pre-departure cues in week 2, which we had identified in our initial assessment, and pretty quickly we folded in keys, shoes and locking the front door….and then there was the car! I knew the car might prove slightly more challenging for Louie and it did. I folded it in very slowly as of 2nd July, but to set him up for success I lowered the duration of the final step – whenever we make something harder, in any area of dog training or behaviour modification, it is important to try and make something else easier, so as to set the dog up to succeed. Louie did really well but was noticeably more unsettled, but was soon easily manging over 30 minutes with the car pulling away from the drive comfortably.
Final 4 week assessment
In Louie’s final assessment, he went up to his mum’s room 1 minutes and 9 seconds after the front door closed and she drove off, stood looking out of the window for a bit, then sat, and then at 8 minutes 35 seconds after the front door had closed he lay down relaxing on the bed, alternating between his head being up, and relaxed on the bed!
In fact even when a dog barked outside, twice, Louie didnt even raise his head, let alone react, and his mum reported he would have used to have barked back immediately.
At 40 minutes 16 seconds Louie went down and stood in the hall staring at the front door, and that was when he was just starting to feel a little uncomfortable, so I texted his mum to come in, and the front door opened at 41 minutes 11 seconds. Most of that time was spent chilling on the bed as per below (obviously only a short clip, as watching this for 40 minutes may not be riveting viewing!)
Louie did amazingly in just 4 weeks – progressing this fast is not the norm, but it does occasionally happen! His mum is going to build up the length of time he is left now on her own, with me being available for support as and when she needs it!
This is what she had to say following our month working together:
“I have been working with Angela for a month with my dog that has separation anxiety. She has been great during the whole process and very flexible with me and my dog. Before training, I was at the point where I was so scared to leave my dog home alone due to him getting so stressed I didn’t know where to turn! Since training with Angela, she has enabled me to learn the techniques that do and do not work for my dog. Before discovering Polite Paws, my dog would scream the house down and get so stressed it gave us as a family no option but to always have someone with him at all times. I have learnt how to leave him alone and build up the time gradually leaving him too (I too felt guilty leaving him, so this has really helped my confidence). My dog now manages to cope in his own company for a period of time. I would strongly recommend Angela if you are experiencing separation anxiety with your dog.”