Help a dog who's missing his mommy?
April 27, 2011 8:36 AM   Subscribe

How can we help calm this dog's separation anxiety?

One of my housemates recently left for a trip back to her home country. She will be gone for a little over two months, and my partner and I are looking after her little Pomeranian dog while she is gone. We have looked after him before when she has been away on weekend trips, but never for this long before. We're currently about a week in and it's...a bit of a headache. He's always been quite clingy - he followed my housemate around the house, barked when she left (or put shoes on, or picked up a bag, or did anything that indicated she might leave.) When she packed to go on this trip, he spent the whole day whining at her suitcases.

So, things were OK for the first couple of days, but now he's exhibiting some signs of what I think might be related to separation anxiety. He's started peeing in the house, when he has never done so before (there is a doggy door and we take him for walks daily). He refuses to sleep on his bedding (which my housemate placed in the lounge since her room is locked while she's away) but will only sleep in our room. If we try to remove him from our room, he scratches at the door and howls until he is allowed in. We've tried holding firm, but he is quite willing to keep this up for several hours at a time. Sometimes he actually throws himself against the door. He hasn't been eating or drinking as much as he used to.

The only time he ever seems to calm down when he is in our room, if I am there and directly interacting with him. We didn't want him to be spending all his time in our room, since I'm mildly allergic to him, but he HATES our other housemate, and he seems completely unable to cope with being alone. I can't cuddle him constantly (again, allergies) but it's the only thing that works. I don't know what to do.

I want to try to do something to help him, because the poor guy is SO stressed out without his owner here, but I don't really have the first clue about dogs, beyond keeping them fed and watered and walked. I've tried googling, but I can only find resources about what the owner can do to ease the dog into coping with separation, which doesn't work for us because she's already gone.
posted by lwb to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Try a Thundershirt. Seriously, the vet at the clinic tried it on her super-anxious dog and it WORKED!
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:46 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

See if any of your other friends (someone who the dog likes, who's not allergic and doesn't mind the dog sleeping in their room) can take the dog off your hands for a while?

And/or, take the dog to the vet and ask for some advice. There are medications they can give dogs for separation anxiety nowadays, but it's not a decision to make lightly.

Either way make SURE you contact the dog's owner before you do anything. Ultimately this is her responsibility, and if you end up having to spend money on vet visits or pet sitters, she should reimburse you when she gets back (and make better arrangements for the dog's care before she leaves next time).
posted by Gator at 8:47 AM on April 27, 2011

Response by poster: Either way make SURE you contact the dog's owner before you do anything

Sorry, don't mean to threadsit, but I came back because I forgot to mention that we don't have a reliable way to contact our housemate. She has an email address but she won't have internet access for most of her trip (she is from a developing country.)

The whole thing is a not-great situation. The dog was supposed to be going to a kennel, it fell through, and we basically got landed with the dog via note-pushed-under-door. Yeah. Our housemate is not the greatest at responsibility in general. But it's not the dog's fault, and I don't want him to suffer. We will pay vet bills if he needs to go.
posted by lwb at 8:53 AM on April 27, 2011

For starters, get a small Kong ball and some freeze-dried liver. Stuff the Kong with the liver and give it to the dog. You'll get some relief from the dog's constant need for attention, and the chewing will give the dog relief from his anxiety. You can do this several times in a day; you might want to use the dog's kibble instead of the liver for a few of the treat times. I know it seems a little silly, but it really does work for anxiety.

Does he like going for walks? Does he play fetch? You need to be wearing him out so he's not focusing on his anxiety. It may take a while, but if you keep engaging him, he'll eventually settle down.
posted by cooker girl at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2011

Best answer: Aside from maybe a health check, there are two things that should help any dog with behavior problems (and if they make NO difference, you should go back to pursuing the health route):


Even just learning "sit", or practicing it many times a day if he knows it already, will tell the dog that SOMEBODY is in charge and 95% of dogs will relax some just from that knowledge. From sit you can move on to shake or bring the ball or something else fairly natural to learn. At feeding times, teach him to sit and wait for you to put the food down. That's what alpha dogs do: they tell the other dogs when (and what) to eat (also, alphas eat first - our trainer has us standing and holding the food bowls and eating a cracker or a couple of M&Ms before the bowls go down). This is not about being big-D Dominant, it's about reassuring the troops that somebody's taking care of business and it's okay.

You may have to let the dog sleep in your room, but I would put the bedding in there if you can and make him sleep on it. As you reassure him you're taking care of everything, you may be able to move him out to the hall and then the other room.

Walks and running games just help burn off excess energy. But also it reinforces that you are taking care of things and they can look to you for leadership instead of being nervous all the time.

(Also: congratulations on your new dog. In my experience, that's always how this story ends.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:51 AM on April 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Super-upvoting Lyn Never's post. NOTHING calms down a dog short-term like affection, but it's not a long-term solution. NOTHING calms down a dog overall like increased exercise, and new challenges. Ergo: walks and training.

Energetic play is good, too, but walks are doubly effective, because they're both exercise and training. The dog has to obey, follow the leader, maintain a safe distance, stay on track despite distractions (assuming you are maintaining a proper HEEL)...
posted by IAmBroom at 9:56 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Humane Society has a good overview of Separation Anxiety, with tips for how to help the dog stay calm.
posted by hms71 at 7:09 PM on April 27, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the help everyone.

We've started taking him for much longer walks (his owner usually just took him out for 10 minutes or so, I think just so he could do his business, the last few days we've taken him for walks close to an hour.) It seems to be helping. He's still desperate to be in our room, but at least he is more willing to just lie quietly when he's told rather than whining whenever he isn't being cuddled. Which is frankly making it much easier on my mental health! And he's started eating properly again, which is a huge relief.

He is still showing a disturbing amount of animosity towards Other Housemate, compared to his usual simple reluctance to be around him. But I don't know if it's related to his owner being gone.

(Also: congratulations on your new dog. In my experience, that's always how this story ends.)

Knowing my housemate, I wouldn't be in the least surprised.
posted by lwb at 12:30 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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