I have been thinking for some time about what to write in my next blog post as I wanted to write something helpful. I have in the last couple of years, and personally myself experienced and been witness to a 'condition' in new puppy owners which seems to be becoming more prevalent, it is often referred to as 'Post Puppy Depression'. It is very similar in many ways to post natal depression and can really leave owners ready to rehome their new family members, they constantly question their decision to take on a puppy and whether they are doing right by the dog.
I feel there are many factors that accumulate to create a feeling of not doing enough, not doing the right thing, making bad choices etc. The general notion amongst the population is that puppies are these adorable bundles of fluff that likes to play and then wear themselves out and sleeping. The things most often considered the worst things with pups is the toilet training and chewing. If you're struggling with your puppy most people just say its a phase and it will pass, but what if you are having a particularly difficult time taking on the responsibility? What if you are the one solely responsible for training that pup, socialising it, caring for it.. it's a lot of pressure especially in the current climate with the dangerous dogs act. We are becoming more conscious of ensuring our puppies turn out to be well-adjusted and safe members of society. It is a huge job to take on, despite what a lot of people say and I feel this is often not addressed.
I personally went through a period of PPD about 10 years ago with my JRT. He wasn't interested in being trained, he was more interested in running off or chasing things. He liked to escape out of the back garden and my neighbours would bring him back after playing with him at or local playground. He would not toilet outside and I was constantly clearing up after him. He was noisy, disobedient, he embarrassed me at puppy classes by completely flunking. I seriously considered rehoming him as though I considered myself an experienced dog owner, he was my first puppy and I felt I was failing him. I remember crying in despair as I asked at the vets if they might be able to find someone willing to take him on. I despaired and really thought he'd be better off somewhere else. I am glad I persevered though as at around 14 months old he finally settled down and he is now one of the most obedient and sociable dogs I know.
It is hard though. When you see people out with their incredibly well-trained dogs and you look at yours at the end of the lead, tongue lolling out gasping because he won't walk nicely, or she barks at every dog and lunging, or refuses to listen to a command or jumps up at everyone and everything, and you think... why is their dog so well trained? what have I done wrong? You get other people telling you stories of their lovely bundles of fun who are behaving quite naturally nicely. The thing is.. it's actually quite normal to feel this way. There are many people who suffer PPD, who feel at their wits end, perhaps their puppy isn't as bad as yours, but still, it can be just as taxing. People are all different as are dogs, they all have personalities, natural traits, likes, dislikes, sometimes even odd quirks that make you cringe or scratch your head in confusion. We are all capable of making mistakes, even really experienced dog owners can do something unintentionally which they later need to correct. There is no magic trick to rearing a well behaved puppy. We have to adapt to them, find what motivates them, and keep working at it. Because we care so much that we are doing things right, this is why raising a puppy can be so emotionally draining. In worrying as much as we do, we don't realise what we ARE doing right, and it's up to us fellow dog owners, trainers etc to ensure that we let new puppy owners know they are not alone, it does pass and that we are there to help if they need it. We are supposed to be supporting a partnership to achieve their goals.
I've asked around and I am including an anonymous quote of someone who has dealt with PPD. I hope people can find it comforting that they are not alone
" I wanted to rescue a dog, I looked in rescue for a 2-3yr old dog and I fell in love with this beautiful Samoyed. I arranged to go and meet her, but there was bad news. She was pregnant. I couldn't have her. I was gutted, but I watched her progress online and when the puppies were born, I fell in love all over again with a chunky little bi eyed boy... But a puppy is such hard work and I have a dog at home that can be unpredictable with other dogs... yet still somehow this little bundle came home... I did all the right things, big puppy pen, careful introduction, right food, socialisation, puppy classes.. even so there would be times when this gorgeous furball was cuddled asleep on my lap that I would panic, or weep unconsolably... "what have I done? Am I the right home? Am I just selfish? what about the adult dogs I left behind, puppies always find families, but what about his Mom? What if he became dog aggressive, what if he grew too big/ he was such an enormous puppy. What if his unknown father was a complete terror?... if he got a sniffle I was convinced it was parvo (It wasn't it was a sniffle), if he threw up because he ate too fast, I would panic, he was choking... I had the vet on speed dial... He was so little, so fragile and depended on me for everything it was such crushing responsibility!... He's 18 months old now and a big chunky cuddly robust monster. Those sleepless panicky nights are behind me... I can't honestly say why he affected me so much. I have had other dogs, I have raised other puppies and none gave me the post puppy depressions like Dexter. Maybe it was timing, I had a lot of other stresses in my life at the time and I think I projected many of them to him. Whatever it was, it was horrible and I'm glad it has passed. He's a lovely dog, whatever I was doing, I did it just fine."
There is plenty of information online about dealing with various behaviour problems, I'm going to add my own ideas now.
Separation Anxiety is one of the most common behavioural 'issues' expressed within the domestic dog. But Why? This goes back to their deliberate and selected breeding to work with us, to enjoy our company and treat us almost as one of their own. Some recent novel experiments using fMRI scanners have begun to show the extent of this with exploring emotion in dogs and recognition of various sounds including the human voice (http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2014/06/06/dog-human-brain-response.aspx?x_cid=20140606_lead_facebookpets) . The fact dogs respond to these is unique in the animal kingdom except for with humans, we are also capable of recognising the difference between dogs vocalisations, even if we do not live with dogs (http://www.wired.com/2011/06/dog-bark-origins/). This mutual understanding has developed over thousands of years of cohabiting.
So if dogs have been bred to understand and want to be with people, it is safe to assume that separation anxiety is perfectly justified. With the neotinization of dogs to stay in a continued 'puppy-like' state, we can expect them to feel more comfortable and at ease in our presence. So how can we combat that sense of loneliness when a dog is well.. alone?
As with most socialisation and adjusting to human life, there is a lot of desensitisation going on when dealing with separation anxiety. The idea is to get a dog who is not anxious and can in fact be happy with his or her own company. This usually starts from puppy hood, though due to the start many dogs get, this necessary training is often left out and a large proportion of rescue dogs will have separation anxiety to some degree and can be made worse if over-attachment is allowed in the initial introductory stages. So one of the key things we need to remember is ' giving the dog the confidence to be left alone'.
So what are the basics in teaching a dog to be happy when left alone? Well we make it a positive and safe experience for them. This means while you are gone you want things to occupy your dog, toys, safe chewy things such as a nylabone or stuffed kong or a buster cube filled with treats that the dog has to work for. I do not recommend rawhide treats unsupervised, as dogs can swallow them in large chunks which can block the gut. Not good. If you have a dog with known separation anxiety, some things they can chew without you being too worried about it, such as old boxes with any tape or staples removed. Old blankets from a charity shop are great while your dog learns to be alone as they are cheap and it matters less if they get chewed or ripped. I do not recommend soft beds as these can get pulled apart, fluff everywhere which can get eaten by explorative puppies. Ideally introducing a large crate in which the dog can stand, lie down and move around with ease is ideal, though they should not be confined to one all day as this is unfair. Crate training would need to be introduced as well. If you have a dog that gets easily disturbed by noises outside, putting on the TV or radio is ideal. Classical music is best as it has been shown to have a calming effect on the dog (http://blogs.discovery.com/daily_treat/2012/11/can-classical-music-calm-stressed-dogs-study-says-yes.html). This would need to be loud enough to dull noises from outside which can stress the dog, but obviously not loud enough to disturb any neighbours. And lastly slowly introducing your dog to being left for longer periods of time. Even a puppy can be left for 10 mins and have this slowly increased as long as it is in a safe environment. With some dogs showing extreme anxiety, just removing yourself from the room for a few seconds then returning while the dog is calm and then slowly increasing this to a few minutes etc will help. Remember to always make the experience of being alone a good one.
Its also worth noting that over-attachment often coincides with separation anxiety, and teaching your dog to be away from you when you are in the house, such as lying quietly on their bed with a toy or chew, not being allowed to follow you from room to room can be a good way to improve confidence and help prevent the symptoms either worsening or even becoming present. It is important to remember that a dog should not be left more than 4 hours on their own, 6 at a push if you have an older dog who does not become anxious, though having someone to check in on the dog is a good idea. If you work it is a good idea to employ a dog walker or sitter who can come in regularly and interact with your dog, either in play,just keeping him company or taking her for a nice walk to break up her day. There are also various services where you can drop your dog off with a professional dog sitter while you work meaning they rarely have to be alone. There is the option of kennels also. So those are some basic bits of advice. Hopefully they may help in some way if this is a problem. Have fun with your dog!
Dog Trainer, animal lover, artist and photographer