Leaving Your Havanese Home Alone
This is Wasabi looking out the window after we left. Where are you, mommy and daddy? Are you ever coming home?
Havanese are social animals. You can often hear people refer to them as their Velcro dogs. It's not that they can't or shouldn't be alone at various times, it's just that Havanese really do prefer to be with their people or other pack mates. If you have more than one dog, they will enjoy having the pack nearby.
Most dogs will naturally experience some stress or anxiety when we leave them alone. After all, as pack animals, being left alone for a chunk of the day is not something that is naturally appealing to a dog. Despite this fact, most dogs are able to adapt to our routine, and when owners are gone, they generally spend a good deal of their day sleeping, and then are overjoyed when their people return home.
How They React
They may whine, cry, bark, or become destructive. But you could correct this behavior by setting aside a special time to play with and exercise your dog each day. Then, don't make a big event of your departure. Just leave quietly. When you return, don't pay attention to them till they calm down. This is rather hard but the best thing you can do, otherwise the greeting may escalate and the anxiety may grow.
Dogs with separation anxiety often greet their owners with overly intense enthusiasm upon their return, and it may take a long time for them to calm down again. Our dogs greet us with enthusiasm but recover fast. This is different than a dog that has separation anxiety.
We suggest you reserve a day or two to work on the problem. Come and go frequently to show your dog that you will always return. This can reassure your pet. If the problems persists, consult a professional trainer. If you have one of our dogs, call us, send us a note. We will help. We are always there for you.
Possible Contributing Factors
Traumatic events in a young dog's life may increase the likelihood of the development of very strong attachments. These events include; early separation from the bitch (we will not send a puppy out before its time), deprivation of attachment early in life (puppies kept in pet shops, kennels outside the home or animal shelters), a sudden change of environment (new home, stay at a kennel, long traveling time to get to you), a change in owner's lifestyle which results in a sudden end to constant contact with the animal, a long-term or permanent absence of a family member (divorce, death, child leaving home) or the addition of a new family member (baby, pet). (We think there's nothing like two Havanese in a household but it is important to train, bond and adjust before you bring another one into the equation. This way they will bond with you and relate to you as the alpha vs. their pack mate. Once you are established as the alpha in your Havanese eyes, the addition of another can be amazing, to say the least.
Many dogs can sense when their owner is leaving and become anxious even before the owner leaves the house. We go through rituals and our dogs are very sensitive to them - the clanging of the keys, the coat going on, the breakfast before you go out the door. Mix up your rituals so the anxiety does not build. The dog's anxiety level peaks within 30 minutes of departure and this is usually when most damage is done. Dogs displaying separation anxiety will often scratch and dig at doors and windows in an attempt to follow their owner. Chewing on household objects is also very common. Some dogs urinate and defecate in unacceptable locations such as by the door or on their owner's bed. Whining and barking for an extended period are also common concerns. Other dogs become depressed and will not eat or drink while their owner is gone. This is especially detrimental if the owner is gone for an extended period. With a Havanese, we suggest a dog walker, doggie day care (a quality one). It's very hard on a Havanese to be alone all day. They are people dogs and need the interaction.
Strategies for Coping With Separation Anxiety
This is not a problem which the dog will outgrow or which will go away on its own. Neither is there a quick fix. Coping with a dog with separation anxiety takes patience and perseverance.
1. STOP PUNISHING THE BEHAVIOR
The dog will not make an association between shredding your curtains in the morning and getting punished in the evening. It will associate punishment with the owner's return, often causing an increase in the anxiety level. You need to practice positive training. You can accomplish this by giving them positive things to do while you are gone - jobs, find the toys, the treats etc Make the experience intellectually challenging for them. Boredom can lead to destructive behavior.
2. ENSURE THAT THE DOG GETS ENOUGH EXERCISE
Preferably, exercise should be provided by someone other than the person to whom the dog is most attached when you are dealing with separation anxiety. Get a dog walker, a neighbour or, if it has to be you, be sure to give walks longer than around the block. Use different routes. If they know that at 5pm they are getting a walk, they will have something to look forward to.
3. TONE DOWN DEPARTURES AND ARRIVALS
Much as you may want to sympathize with or reassure your dog, attempts to do so usually backfire. Emotion-laden farewells or greetings just increase the dog's level of anxiety. IGNORE the dog for 15 minutes before leaving. Then just leave. Ignoring the dog on your return is usually more difficult. Try to be calm. Change your clothes, talk to your family, then say hello to the dog QUIETLY. Praise him only when his or her behavior is correct.
4. STRETCH THE BOND BETWEEN THE DOG AND ITS MOST FAVORED PERSON
Have someone else in the family take over feeding, grooming, and exercise. The favored person should TOTALLY IGNORE the dog for several weeks. This can be very difficult, especially for people who like the fact that the dog is dependent upon them. But it is helpful to give the dog a wider perspective on life. It is also difficult for single dog owners. They may have to consider having the dog stay in a doggie daycare or with someone else while they are at work. This strategy can, of course, be used by anyone with a separation anxiety problem. At doggy day-care, the dog is entertained by other people, and learns that there is life beyond the favored person.
5. IDENTIFY ANXIETY-TRIGGERING SIGNALS
People often report that the dog anticipates the owner’s departure. Common activities which the dog picks up on are: putting on a coat and/or shoes; rattling car keys; and picking up purses, briefcases or lunchboxes. Once you have identified your dog’s particular stress signals, have everyone in the family repeat these activities often WITHOUT LEAVING THE HOUSE. Eventually, the dog will come to attach less importance to the signals and should be less upset when the real thing happens. Switch around your rituals. Sometimes, there seem to be signals the dog picks up which tell it you are only leaving for a short time. Trips out the door with a garbage bag or laundry basket are usually followed by a rapid return. If this is the case, take a dummy garbage bag or a laundry basket with you whenever you leave.
6. USE A SOOTHER
Some dogs can be distracted by a particularly interesting toy or a special food treat. If it is given just before the person leaves, it may be some time before the dog notices the departure. The dog won't have time to get upset. An item which works well is a 'Kong Toy, or any of the toys that give your dog something challenging to do.
7. PRACTICE DEPARTURES
Once the dog is desensitized to departure signals, spend a lot of time going out the door and returning immediately. Do not pay attention to the dog as you do this. Gradually increase the length of time you are out and vary the times. The nice part of this is that, once the dog tolerates being left for an hour or so, it usually handles longer periods of isolation better. You do not have to train minute by minute up to the time you need to be away. If, at any time, the dog seems upset, go back to shorter intervals until its confidence returns.
Some vets may want you to use anti-anxiety medications in cases where the dog is so upset that even short departures cause great anxiety or when the dog is likely to injure itself in attempts to escape the house. We do not believe in them unless you have a very severe case. In some severe cases, drugs may be used in association with retraining, but they don't cure the problem. You are only masking the issue. Slow conditioning is the best way to deal with anxiety, fear and any issues that are unacceptable. Consult with your veterinarian, a behaviorist and think hard before you treat with drugs.
9. CRATING MAY OR MAY NOT HELP
If the dog has been trained to use a crate as a puppy, it MAY find the crate a source of comfort and reassurance. If it has never been crated before, it may find sudden confinement very threatening. A crate may still be useful if you get the dog accustomed to it GRADUALLY when you are home and again GRADUALLY for short intervals when you leave. If the dog consistently barks, digs at the crate door or soils the crate, stop using it and try another strategy.
The importance of training your dog cannot be overemphasized. A well trained dog has something to fill his mind, has better control over himself and is more likely to respond to you when you tell him to be calm and quiet. We stongly advise all of our puppy families to participate in at least the first level of Obedience training, if not more. This is excellent both in terms of teaching your dog in a controlled environment, practicing every night for a week between classes and most of all socialization. It will also help solidfy your bond with your dog. Don't tell me you already know it all. I can probably teach the course as I've taken dozens of them over and over with various of our dogs and still look forward to each one with each new dog.
We are lucky to work out of our house but this can also create an over attachment. Therefore we make sure we go out and live - go shopping, go to a movie - whatever life chores or fun you can create. This will help you achieve balance for your dogs. You will learn to appreciate them more and they will appreciate you more.
Most of all, enjoy your Havanese. We truly believe it is the very best companion dog you could ever own.
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