I’m the Alpha Dog

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By now I’m sure you all know who Abigail is. And, from her frequent popping up here on the blog, you can probably tell that she and I are attached at the hip. She is a loyal and loving companion who trots along next to me wherever I go. When people say that they and their pet were meant to be, I completely understand. Abigail’s my goof and I’m her ball, we’re two peas in a pod…

She doesn’t chew, she doesn’t bite, she comes when she’s called, but Abigail has another problem…

Abigail barks. She doesn’t do it when I’m home, but as soon as I leave, she raises an objection that bothers my neighbor to no end. I get it. I wouldn’t want to listen to it either. But for Abigail the separation anxiety is too much to handle, and she doesn’t know what else to do.

I’ve decided that this isn’t a matter I’m just going to give up on, so a friend of mine put me in touch with her friend that is a dog behaviorist. Stressed and desperate, I got on the phone with her to explore possible solutions.

The psychology behind separation anxiety in dogs turns out to be a fascinating topic. It seems that one of the major solutions is steadily training your dog over time to understand that you are the alpha dog, not them. Since I’ve learned this, I verbally remind Abigail every morning as she stretches awake that I am in fact the alpha dog (this wasn’t one of the trainer’s suggestions, but it’s nonetheless effective and entertaining).  The idea behind establishing your dominance is that they will understand it as their duty to be left behind.

So how am I establishing myself in my new role? Little tricks like running my hand through her food and not letting her eat till I say so. With my permission to eat food coated with my scent, she understands that the food she is getting is a generous act of kindness. I am the alpha dog. We’ve also been working on perfecting heel. Abigail should never lead – I walk out the door first; I set the pace; I choose where we go; and it all needs to be done with calm. Her world needs to be zen so that the general state of being will transfer to moments when I’m not around.

Another thing the trainer suggested to calm her down is a Thundershirt (pictured below). Derived from technology used in children with Autism, the contraption fits the dog snuggly and has a calming, anti-anxiety effect. Each time I mention it, I like to shout the word “Thundershirt!” as if it were a superhero call, think, “superman!” (not normal, but I’m the alpha dog so whatever…). To keep it clear – the way in which it should be said – I will include an exclamation mark to spell it out.

The Thundershirt! directions instructed that the Thundershirt! make a peace offering the first time it’s presented to the dog

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As you can tell, I’m trying to have a lighthearted approach to the situation, but I’m not going to lie – it’s tough at times. I have amazing support from my friends, yet there are still moments where I can’t help but think how free I’d feel should I hand her off to my parents (who would gladly steal her from me as it is). Whenever I’m questioning if it’s worth it, she’ll conveniently plop her head down on my leg and stare up at me – her big brown eyes peeking out behind wild tufts of hair and melting my heart. It reminds me that I can’t give up on her.

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Stay tuned for updates on Abigail’s journey to the bottom of the pack (or should I say my journey to Alpha dogness?). If any of you have gone through similar issues, or have tips on how to deal with separation anxiety in dogs, please share. My ears are open and I’d love to hear what you all have to say.

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Comments

Elizabeth -December 9, 2011, 10:22AM

So excited to read this and know I am not alone. You are very lucky to have the option to bring her to work with you!

Cheryl -December 9, 2011, 10:58AM

I love Abigail!!! She is worth it and will learn soon, you are making so much progress already! :)

Anonymous -December 9, 2011, 11:00AM

My dog has separation anxiety, as well. What works for Gus Gus may not work for Abigail, but I figure it’s worth a shot. Practice leaving the house, I say “I’ll be back” before I go out the door, wait a few minutes and come back and do it again. I did this around ten times each training session. Another thing that helps is giving them plenty of things to chew on while you’re away. Oh, and this is a drastic measure, but when we got a second dog the barking stopped.

Anonymous -December 9, 2011, 11:33AM

Try wearing an old shirt to bed at night and in the morning before you leave tossing it in Abigail’s bed or cozy area where she sleeps during the day. Your scent will be all over the tshirt and will remind you of her while your gone for the day! Kind of like a baby’s security blanket!

sandirarr -December 9, 2011, 11:50AM

Abigail is so sweet. what a delightful face she has! xo

Brittany -December 9, 2011, 12:54PM

My dog is also a rescue, and went through the same thing abigail is going through. She would bark for a long time after we left her alone, or if we placed her in a crate. She also isn’t much of a chewer, doesn’t bite and isn’t possessive of her food or toys.
I did exactly all the things you have been working on with your dog and believe me – it does get better! It has taken a few months but she has been great and now doesn’t bark except to alert us!
Another trick is when you leave, to not look at, talk to or fuss over your dog. just walk out the door. And when you get home, don’t look at your dog or a few minuts. This teaches them that your departure/return isn’t a big deal.
:)

kym -December 9, 2011, 1:12PM

I love this post! I want to compliment you for all you are doing to help Abigail through this! Your a great doggie mom! Keep up the good work! No dog is perfect and if it wasn’t separation anxiety it would be something else. When my dog isn’t happy that i leave she howls. It helps to give her lots of exercise! My 20 pound dog needs at least 2 hours of walking, running, or mental activities..such as working on tricks. When I leave her she is always in her crate, or as we call it her cave. This is not a punishment, The small dark space is like a den and makes her feel safe and secure. She ALWAYS gets a chew or bone filled with frozen peanut butter when I leave. If someone gave me a cupcake every time they went away..I’d be happy! Again, You are doing great and keep up the good work!-Kym

kat -December 9, 2011, 2:32PM

love this post! ;)

Jessica -December 9, 2011, 11:15PM

This is random but a while back there was a picture on this blog that was like an iconic picture from the 60s or 70s maybe, I thought in Paris, of a famous model which like spraked the sweater and skirt trend? or somehting like that? I can’t find that picture for the life of me and it’s killing me!

christine -December 10, 2011, 6:01AM

I have never ever responded online but when I read about Abigail…I thought I’d try. Our Toy Pomeranian had the same separation anxiety & all I had to do was leave my slippers by her bed & she snuggled up to them & was quiet as a mouse when we left! Your scent from your slippers will calm her as if you are still there. You might want to give it a try. Our baby never chewed my slippers but if Abigail might you could try wearing an old pair of your slippers & then leaving them beside her bed. Best of Luck!

christine -December 10, 2011, 7:11AM

Opps…It was sooo many yrs. ago when we went through this with our little one that I forgot to mention some of the other things that we tried before we hit upon the slippers working. Have you tried leaving on spa like music (the sound of waves for eg.) when you leave? It is soothing & it will distract Abigail from hearing every little noise from outside when you are gone & responding by barking. Many dog trainers suggest walking or exercising your dog just before you leave to tire her out. She could be a breed that’s full of energy & when she sees you going out she is wanting to go out too…to play & walk. We were also advised to verbally say “WALK” when our munchkin got to go out & the word “SHOPPING” as we left without her so she could tell that we were not leaving for a walk. We tried many different things before we tried the slippers but for our little sweetie…the slippers did the trick & gave her the most comfort. Keep trying…hope one of the above works for Abigail & you…”BEST WISHES!”

fp naomi -December 10, 2011, 1:07PM

Thank you everyone for all of your suggestions! I really appreciate it, and will definitely be trying some of them. Fingers crossed!

Oksana -December 10, 2011, 11:07PM

I always tell my dog that okay im leaving now, but i will be back soon dont worry, now be good and i give him a treat. As soon as i come how i say whos been a good boy? Lets seee now ( and look around the apt… as he waits in anticipation to be rewarded for being good) and if its all good i shout enthusiastically that “YOU’VE BEEN SUCH A GOOD BOY! You need a treat” and he gets super excited! It works for us :) MInd you we had our hard journey to it, my dog is a guard dog and constantly likes to challenge me, so i make sure he knows whos the boss by always walking close by, and letting me take his bone from his place ( which can be scary as hes 110 pounds and loves it to death…) But i stand my ground and if i appear taller and put my hands on my hips he sees me as the one in control. Also since hes a guard dog, he constantly barks at the people in the hallway, and i kept shushing him and reminding him that other people live here too, and unless someone knocks, no need to panic. He now growls more than barks which is good, and if i hear something too i tell him everything is okay so he knows not to start up. I talk to him like a friend and he seems to understand me as I know hes smart and can understand us way more than we know. Dont give up as its well worth the battle =)

Christine -December 13, 2011, 7:15AM

A fabulous product for Abigail! This type of tricky treat ball might just distract her enough that you will be able to leave her while she is playing & enjoying a treat. Check out this link http://www.omegapaw.com/products/tricky-treat-ball.html I have no connection to this product or company but our dog loved playing with it & retrieving her broken up doggie bones from it. It really held her focus. You might want to check it out. It comes in all sizes & is very reasonably priced. I’m sure there are other products out there using the same theme. Something as simple as this could distract Abigail while you leave & then she might just lay down once she has emptied her treat ball. You could just slip away quietly while she played in another room. “GOOD LUCK!”

Chelsea -December 13, 2011, 3:09PM

It’s so funny to read what has been unfolding in my life for some time now! My dog is me. Myself, my fiancé and our Obi Wan…we are a unit, along with a scale tipping Russian blue tabby mix. That being said I have a pit bull, who for those who know, are verrrrry sensitive dogs. When I say that I don’t mean scary and unpredictable but just pathetic, heartbroken sensitivity. Obi also has very bad separation anxiety. We got him at a very young age, 6 weeks, which isn’t dire but definitely too young to leave his family. The people who had these 10 little monsters along with mom and dad needed them in good homes and I dont think could afford them much longer. He never gained that confidence and security in being alone, we are his stability and when we have to go he loses it. It breaks my heart (as well as two beautiful couches, a canon camera, countless socks and a couple innocent things here and there) so we had to start “crating”, our version he has a while room with familiar objects, food/water and his bed. He doesn’t love it and we don’t expect him too, but it has been keeping him calm and quiet and much less stressed. We try and never be away from him too long, he’s our honor after all :), but when we have to be gone it really helps. He has worked his way up to being okay out of his bedroom for short trips and we are very proud. Good luck on your path dude! They are always a work in progress, as are we. They are just sooo worth it at the end of the day!

local dog walkers -November 15, 2012, 2:29AM

Becoming the leader of your dog is the most important attitude that you must have. Before you can do this, your dog will not obey your command. You must learn to discipline your dog by understanding basic commands such as “Sit!”, “Stop!” and so on. Dogs often dig because they are bored or have no activity going on.

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