Resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe addresses a reader problem. This week a dog who gets separation anxiety is the issue
I’ve been seeing a guy for almost six months now and things are almost great. We work in similar industries, are both creatives and share so many of the same interests it’s freaky. My previous relationships have all been in the ‘opposites attract’ zone so this new dynamic of having so much in common is new for me.
His marriage ended amicably about a year ago but he is still living with his ex as it just made more financial sense at the time. I’ve no problem with that but it does mean that we’re always in my place. I live alone, with my dog and she is basically the problem.
She’s a rescue I adopted about two years ago and suffers from separation anxiety so goes everywhere with me, even work. She’s always slept on my bed which has become a little awkward. My boyfriend likes dogs but he’s not so into sharing a bed with them. The other problem is, we put her out of the room when we have sex but she absolutely loses it, barking, crying, chewing the door frame, scratching, you name it. Although she’s not in the room, we both find it difficult to just lose ourselves in the moment as she’s whining outside.
Because I know her history and spend so much time with her, I also feel really bad for excluding her and know she doesn’t understand. This is starting to become a big issue between me and my boyfriend. I’ve had a trainer in but it hasn’t made much of a difference.
I know my boyfriend’s not being unreasonable, but his lack of patience is irritating me and I can tell he’s starting to resent my dog. If it came to it, I’d choose the dog over him.
Barking Mad, Dublin.
I feel that this is a little outside my realm of expertise. Having said that, if I was to rank my specialist subjects, I’m not sure what would top the list. Maybe intimate medical issues? Though that crosses over into ‘general fascination,’ with little on-the-job experience. Dog psychology, however, wouldn’t even make the list.
Although I adore my own pooch, I know little about his inner workings. So, here comes the disclaimer: I am not a vet or pet trainer and as such can only share with you some of the wisdom I have amassed via personal blogs, professional dog trainers and some thoroughly enlightening podcasts. This might be a kick- starter for you but ultimately I will be recommending that you consult with an expert, ideally one who majors in separation anxiety.
In the meantime, thank you for sparking some of the best laughs I’ve had in ages. I would never have explored this topic independently and found one feature in particular which had me howling. I think it might be too revolting to share (I’m not great at discerning audience-friendly boundaries and suspect this traverses a few). Briefly, (I can’t help myself!) it covered an owner accidentally elbowing his dog while masturbating and that same dog ‘surprising’ the owner and his girlfriend while they were deep in the throes of passion. I’ve said too much.
A 2018 survey commissioned by Groupon, found that 14% of UK pet owners agreed that their sex life was negatively impacted by their pet. This increased to 23% in Newcastle and 22% in Glasgow, with many saying that they were too embarrassed to make love in front of their furry or feathered friends. Others said that they were too tired for a romp after walking or looking after their pets, which sounds like a coital deathblow and complete cop-out to me but who knows? There are a lot of hills in Scotland.
To wrap up the stats, 20% of those polled said they would rather a night in with their pet than a night in with their partner! Bird owners were most attached to their beloveds, with 28% opting for a night in with Beaky rather than a date with their significant other. This all just reminds us that our pets can own us if we don’t establish some ground rules. Dogs need a calm and firm pack leader who they can trust and follow. They are said to be the only animal that can pick up on human emotions by combining information from different senses. Their stress hormones fall or rise in direct correlation with their owners, and they often yawn when they see other people yawning, with contagious yawning connected to higher levels of empathy in humans! As emotional sponges go, they’re up there.
Your pup is also used to having you all to herself, which is problematic long-term, if for example you go on holidays or have to work away. I’ve read of dogs so distressed by their owner’s absence that they hurled themselves through plate glass windows to escape or developed unusual behaviours, with one dog licking his paws bald. It’s in both of your interests – and I’m referring to your dog here, not your boyfriend – to help her become more independent and secure. This might be re-situating her bed, crate-training her and leaving her home alone or with a dog minder a couple of days per week. Separation anxiety, which tends to be more common with rescue dogs, is fixable but does take time, persistence, patience and a professional dog trainer at the helm. You must get support to effectively manage your dog’s behaviour, ensuring she’s as settled and happy as she can be.
Swotting up will also give you a head start. The It’s A Doggy World podcast is a brilliant and apparently endless resource on canine dilemmas. They have some great advice on separation anxiety too, reminding listeners to be calm and casual when greeting or leaving your pet. As per dogs picking up on your emotional cues, long, teary, smoochy goodbyes or screechy, maniacal hellos tell Fido that something bad has either just happened or is about to happen. Not good for general levels of hysteria. Starting the training a few days before your boyfriend is due to visit would be good, not just moving her bed out of your room when he arrives, for example. You want her to look forward to his visits, not resent them so investing in one of these http://www.petcara.ie/dog/dog-toys/kong-dog-toys/kong-extreme delayed- gratification treating toys would be ideal. Filling it with her favourite bits and popping her in her crate when you and your boyfriend get the tingles should eventually work. Remember it’s for her own good, as well as yours. Soon, all you’ll have to worry about is the Barry White playlist. Fingers crossed.