Separation anxiety case study – Lottie (Cockapoo)

September 22, 2022

Lottie is an almost 1 year old Cockapoo who has always struggled with being home alone. She would bark, whine, howl and scratch at the door (in the videos below you will be able to see the damage she has caused to the inside of the door).

Initial assessment 25.8.22

I worked with Lottie and her humans for a month, and during our initial assessment Lottie showed significant signs of stress before her humans had left the house, when they were starting to get ready to leave. As you can see from watching this video below, Lottie appears “excited” and does a couple of yawns, multiple lip licks and has a shake off, all before her humans have left the house. These are what are known as “stress signs” and are very important to notice as they are indicative of the emotional state of that individual dog. The behaviour that would normally be viewed as ‘excitement’ is actually a sign that she is feeling very anxious.

Similarly, when Lottie’s people return, you will see she is displaying very over the top greeting behaviour, jumping up and mouthing. While this is behaviour that usually is displayed with young, adolescent dogs, it must be looked at in the context it is displayed, and in this context it is a clear sign that she has fond that preceding absence very stressful indeed. This is why it is important to not only monitor the behaviour of an individual dog during actual controlled absences, but also what happens after those absences.

During the absence, her body language starts off as very tense, and then she engages in some sniffing which, in this instance, is a displacement behaviour – a way of her trying to make herself feel better when she starts to feel anxious. This then fairly quickly escalates to whining, jumping up at the door, coats etc, barking and then howling, and the entire assessment lasted 2 minutes 1 second from when the front door closed.

The first week – and medication

Lottie was put onto some medication after speaking to the vet, which would help her along this journey. Medication should not be viewed as a ‘last resort’, as it can really help. The gold standard is behaviour modification plus medication, but medication will make no difference on its own! Lottie went onto some medication on 28.8.22.

In our first reassessment, on 2.9.22, after one week of being on the separation anxiety programme, Lottie showed great improvement already. She was following around but not with the same degree of urgency, she was engaging in a bit of sniffing (displacement) and wandered between the hallway and living room, but spent a lot of the time standing in the hallway. Not chilled, but not stressed!

At 3 minutes 13 seconds after the front door had closed, Lottie wagged her tail ever so slightly (a tail wag does not mean a happy dog, it means the dog is feeling ‘something’ and in this situation it can mean Lottie is starting to feel more on edge) and stepped closer to the door, sniffing along the crack at the bottom of the door, so this is when I texted Lottie’s mum to come back, and the front door opened at 3 minutes 36 seconds. No whining, barking, or panic at all.

The second week

In the second week reassessment on 7.9.22, Lottie remained in her bed in the hall for most of the warm up steps, and for the final (significant) step, as you can see from the video below, she remained in her bed sleeping as her mum left the house.

At around 2 minutes 32 seconds Lottie raised her head and barked, then got up and stood at the front door, and barked a few more times, but having started to learn about her body language a bit more now, this did not look like her anxiety bark, and it was confirmed by her mum outside that there had been a man outside the house doing something. Hence I decided to wait and see what happened next, and sure enough, Lottie lay down on the mat by the front door at 3 minutes 28 seconds, and then rested her head down and relaxed at 3 minutes 57 seconds. She then went back into her bed at 9 minutes!

The reassessment ended when I texted Lottie’s mum to come back in at 11 minutes 44 seconds, because Lottie had got out of bed and gone into the living room, come back to stand in the hallway and had a shake off (as mentioned earlier on, this is a sign she is starting to get uncomfortable).

The third week – mini regression

In the third week Lottie had a bit of a regression. As I mention to my clients before we even start working together, regressions and plateaus are SO normal. They happen all the time. Lottie also went off her food for the past couple of weeks and appeared more lethargic, so I suggested they speak to the vet and discuss whether the dose of her medication should be lowered. Occasionally medication can cause dogs to be off their food or a bit lethargic but they are usually short lived, and Lottie had been ‘not quite herself’ for longer than both myself and her owners were happy with. After a chat with the vet, her medication was reduced to a lower dose.

In the third week reassessment Lottie struggled more, and during the final step sat on the door mat right in front of the door as soon as the front door closed, and at 1 minute 22 seconds jumped up at the front door to try and look out. She then sat back down, shifted her weight (this can, with some dogs, also be a sign they are getting a bit ‘uncomfortable’ with the absence’), and then at 3 minutes 9 seconds she stood up, did a tiny whine and went out of sight then came back again. I texted her owner to come back, and between that point and the front door opening Lottie did a bark.

The fourth and final week – back on form!

In the fourth week Lottie started to go back to her normal self – eating much more normally and being much more ‘herself’. This also showed in her daily training sessions, where she went back to either sitting in the hallway or lying in the hallway or in her bed, and the duration of time she was comfortable with went back up.

In our final reassessment on 22.9.22 Lottie was a bit less settled than she had been that week, but all dogs have “off days”, like us humans do, but I felt she had started to notice the laptop that had been set up for our reassessments, as she kept looking back at it which she had never done before. During the rest of the week Lottie’s humans use a stand alone camera but I am not able to access it. Even though she was less settled than she had been in the days leading up to this final reassessment, she still coped very well with an absence of 13 minutes 25 seconds, even being really relaxed on her bed for a good chunk of it as the video below shows.

This is a graph to show Lottie’s progress in the first month. As I am now on holiday for a couple of weeks, and then Lottie’s family are also going away when I come back, they are moving the process forward on their own for the time being and I am around for any ad hoc sessions or if they want to sign up for another block on the programme.

This is what Lottie’s mum had to say:

Angela has been great helping us and our puppy work through her separation anxiety issues – going back to basics and teaching her that it’s OK to be on her own. It’s not a quick process but we have been making great progress, so thank you Angela! Would highly recommend!”

Are you unable to leave your dog home alone? Are you feeling like a prisoner in your own home? Click on the link below and complete the form to book a FREE call with me to find out more!

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By Angela Doyle

I am a highly experienced and qualified reward based dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Surrey, UK. I am a fully qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) and specialise in helping dogs overcome Separation Anxiety.

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