Separation anxiety case study – Milo (Cockapoo)
I worked with Milo and his lovely humans for 3 months, from 14th September 2022 until 1st February 2023 (with a couple of breaks inbetween for holidays!). In our initial assessment on 14.9.23 Milo became mildly anxious when he realised that his people were getting ready to go out, and as soon as the front […]
I worked with Milo and his lovely humans for 3 months, from 14th September 2022 until 1st February 2023 (with a couple of breaks inbetween for holidays!). In our initial assessment on 14.9.23 Milo became mildly anxious when he realised that his people were getting ready to go out, and as soon as the front door closed his anxiety escalated and he went to the baby gate (at this stage he was in the large living room/kitchen area) and started barking. This continued, along with him running to and front the back door, and then he started howling and barking constantly 30 seconds in to the absence.
Below is a video of Milo’s initial assessment – unfortunately the sound seemed to fail to pick up his sounds for some reason (it never did after this!) but you will see how anxious he is from his very clear body language. You can, however, hear the front door close which helps!
The first month
In Milo’s first month he did really well, I kept the sessions for his first week very very easy, barely involving them even closing the front door after them because this was a huge trigger for Milo. But after the first week he appeared noticeably more comfortable with the whole process, but his behaviour was rather inconsistent. During absences he would sometimes lie down and appear very relaxed, but then raise his head and show signs he was anxious such as small whines and lip licking, before then completely chilling out again! Or he would stand up, go closer to the stair gate, and then lie down and look very relaxed again for a couple of minutes. In the first month he became able to cope with absences of between about 15 and 20 minutes, which was amazing.
A holiday for the humans meant a regression for Milo
Regressions, as I always tell people, are so so common, as are plateaus. And these happen for many, many reasons, none of which we can predict and often we dont even truly know why they happen. But for Milo, his humans going on holiday for 10 days which was well deserved, was what seemed to trigger his regression. Milo stayed at another family member’s home, where he goes regularly to stay, but when he returned home after his humans’ holiday, he was only able to cope with about a minute or 2 of alone time, if that. I bought his absences right down to between 30 seconds and 2 minutes that first week, and he slowly built up over the next few weeks, but not anywhere near to where he had been.
Location, location, location
Soon after this, I suggested we actually give him freedom to go down the corridor to the front door, and remove the stair gate. He can see the front door from behind the gate, but I wanted to make sure we remove any element of frustration, plus dogs generally do better with more freedom and shutting them OUT of room we don’t want them to go in rather than shutting them IN. So, the stair gate was removed from the living room doorway and Milo was able to go down the hallway.
We discussed where he likes to chill out during the day, and he tended to vary between his bed or the sofa in the living room, or his humans’ bed in the bedroom, so we agreed to keep the bedroom door open to see if it helped having access to that room. Most often it helps for the dog to have access to the areas they feel comfortable in and would choose to relax in.
This helped, but by early/mid December he was still only able to cope with a few minutes, and there was some pacing to the kitchen and back to the front door, where sometimes he lay down, but sometimes he did not. Although the bedroom door was open, he sometimes briefly popped in there but wasn’t (at this point!) staying in there!
Below is the final 35 seconds of our reassessment on 28th November 2022.
By December, the length of time he was able to comfortably cope with increased significantly, to about 10 minutes, and he started going and sitting, then lying on the bed!
The winning third month!
January saw Milo go from strength to strength! At this stage (which I did not mention) we had incorporated all pre-departure cues such as keys, shoes, coats, locking the front door and locking the main external door, and the only one we had left was the car, which was parked outside the front of the property.
So after Milo building up comfortably in early January to around 15 minutes, I added the car into the mix very, very slowly. Ensuring I started with just the sound of unlocking the car, then when I was certain that didn cause any extra anxiety I added the sound of car doors, then the engine, and then pulling the car off the drive (which is gravel), bringing the duration of the absence right down to make it easy while adding the sound of the car pulling off the drive.
Milo coped amazingly, and in our reassessment on 18th January his humans were able to pull the car off the drive with Milo lying on the bed (see image below) and I texted them to come back after 21 minutes when Milo just started to get a tiny bit “itchy” or uncomfortable, and in the week they were able to go out during their training session, in the car, to get some petrol and pop to the shop quickly!
In our reassessment on 24th January Milo got on the bed as soon as the front door closed, lay down, showed some never seen before relaxed behaviour like lying on his side, for 31 minutes 20 seconds!!! Below are some screen shots from the camera showing some of his various poses during this session (we had NEVER seen Milo lie in such a relaxed position during sessions – he has always been lying down with his head up)!
We have our final assessment next week, as then Milo’s humans will be building up the duration on their own (with any ad-hoc support from me as needed). I will update this following that! This is a graph to show Milo’s progress: