terça-feira, 22 de fevereiro de 2011

Separation problems - update



I haven’t updated the blog in a very long time, partially due to an excess of professional work. So, let’s update the situation regarding the separation problems I’ve been dealing with…

Most of Kikko’s problems became quite manageable with time, as he settled into his new life. Most of his anxious bark ended, he now typically only barks with the normal situations – like seeing strange people or tractors passing in front of the house. He is not pulling a lot on the leash, even without the halter, although he will still do it when he’s excited. In his crate, although not totally relaxed during the day, he will stay quiet in the normal situations – like when he is locked up to sleep at night. The main problem remaining is his anxious (and noisy!) bark when he feels me arriving home after I left for a few hours.

About a couple of months ago, I started to realize (and my neighbor confirmed it) that the dogs would start barking and howling when I left home to go to town (something that doesn’t happen every day, one of the perks of working from home most of the time). Personally, it is something I don’t particularly consider a problem (after all, several dogs together tend to bark easily), but to avoid potential hassles with the neighbors, I’d have to do something about it. But, having several dogs, to assess what I should do, I first needed to know who was the noise-starter – howling is a social act, where several dogs join in after one starts, so it is important to know who starts it to know whom and how I have to manage… But the fact that they only make noise when I leave and there is no one at home (if there’s someone there they don’t make any noise) makes it hard to evaluate the situation. The only option – filming the dogs! I don’t have a video camera, but my photo camera allows me to record small videos. Unfortunately, they are limited to a 10 minutes length, but from my feeling and my neighbor’s comments, the dogs would start the noise almost after I left and only do it for a couple of minutes, so that length should be more than enough. So, first I aimed the camera to the most likely suspect – Kikko, who was still adjusting, was the most anxious dog and the least used to being in the crate (all my house dogs are used to being crated when I have to go somewhere for relatively short periods). Well, imagine my surprise when I come back home and saw the video – 10 minutes in which the dog, although not totally relaxed, is quiet and even lies down to sleep near the end of the video! Hmmm… ok, we have another unanticipated (but not totally unexpected) guilty dog… So next time I aim the camera at suspect #2 – Pinhão. Although Pinhão is used to being crated (actually, he often prefers to go sleep and relax in his crate than being with the other dogs), his anxiety level has increased since Kikko came back – probably a conjugation of Kikko’s anxiety with my excess of attention towards him and unintentional lack of attention towards the other dogs, thereby breaking Pinhão’s routines, which are essential for him to have some stability and relax (Pinhão is a very anxious dog, although he has made a huge progress since I have him). So, I started filming Pinhão and voilá, the “guilty” one was found. It was indeed Pinhão who started the whining and howling. Trough several days of filming, I realized I had actually been very “lucky” when I first filmed Kikko, as actually both Pinhão and Kikko would start the whining and howling. And once they started to howl, the rest of the dogs would follow – I realized Drevers love to howl, and Dachshunds are not that far behind, although they are easier to shut up! ;) Interestingly, normally the Barbados da Terceira would not join in the howling.
So…now I knew who was starting the noise when I leave… Now, how to deal with it? First, I thought of getting Kongs for everyone, not just Kikko as up to then. However, this did not work with Pinhão, his problem was not boredom, and he is not especially motivated by food (not even chew bones).
Idea number 2 was to put Pinhão’s and Kikko’s cratesside by side. They have become best friends, so I thought maybe the problem was being anxious for not being together (despite the fact that at night there was no problem). That also did not help, the noise continued…
Letting them out in the yard to do their business before I left also did not help…
So, then I thought of something that, although would not solve the core problem, could make the situation more manageable… My oldest Drever Lupi is the dog that will more easily start howling – when she hears other dogs whining, when she hears sirens on the street, when she hears different and prolonged noises… She usually sleeps in the crate with the house dogs, but when I leave during the day I leave her in the garage with the other dogs. When Pinhão and/or Kikko start whining when I leave, she is the first to start howling. So, if I could stop her from starting to howl, hopefully I would not have the usual “symphony”. So, before I left, I started bringing Lupi home and to her crate, with the rest of the house dogs. Good result! Pinhão and Kikko will still make noise, but as Lupi is with them, she does not begin to howl, so the rest of the dogs also do not howl. Ok, so I don’t have the ultimate cause solved, but the neighbor’s problem is controlled while I look for a better solution!
At the same time, I also began to change my exit routines. Normally I follow a predictable sequence – I lock up the dogs that are out on the yard and close the garage door, I let the house dogs out while I change clothes, I put the laptop in the backpack, I crate the house dogs, I get the keys and I leave. I am now changing that order, for example, change my clothes and go do other stuff, let the dogs out (or not) and continue my usual life without crating them, etc., to try to break the fixed pattern of leaving. In the mean time, a few days ago I had to go without my car for a few days while it was being worked on at the shop. And that allowed me to identify one situation I had not realized before – when I followed my normal routines to leave the house, but by bus instead of by car, the dogs would not make any noise! And when I came back home by bus, Kikko would not bark so quickly and so loud, only when I was about to enter the house. Which means, apparently the main trigger for the dogs’ noise was not me leaving per si, but the noise of the car. Great! So I have finally (I hope!) identified the trigger for Pinhão’s and Kikko’s anxiety when I leave. And if it is indeed the car, I think it will be relatively easy to desensitize them – it should be enough to turn the car on and off at different, without necessarily me leaving, leave and come straight back, etc.

Now, hopefully it is a matter of time to see if the problem really gets controlled this way or not…

(If you have just arrived to this post and have no idea what I'm talking about ;), please read the first part of the series and the second part of the series)

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