Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Separation anxiety

Guests are welcome, they just can’t leave.

Anne's dog is a friendly companion when guests arrive at her house. When it's time to leave, however, he changes his tune. —Anne Kronenfeld


We have a warm, loving dog, who is very happy when we have company. But when our guests are ready to leave, he becomes somewhat aggressive. How do I keep the love going at the end of our gathering?



Dear Anne,

Years ago someone told me that the guard dogs left in Macy’s main store in New York were trained to let the thieves in, but not out. I have no idea if that’s true of the Macy’s dogs, but I’ve personally met dogs trained to do just that, let you in, and have you realize very quickly, “Don’t even think about trying to leave!”

Police patrol dogs are often taught to “hold a bad guy at bay” until the posse shows up. It’s great training, if you’re a cop! Then there are the “naturals.” You’re having some friends over for wine and pâte, or beer and chips, and at the end of the night, it’s time for the guests to leave. And your dog, with no training whatsoever, attacks your unsuspecting guest, who has been petting the dog all night, for having the audacity to leave. This would be a good thing if the dog was assisting you in the course of an arrest, but it’s the last thing in the world you need when entertaining friends.

Over the years I’ve met several of these problematic “naturals.” I remember an insurance salesman whose good-size dog named Bob grabbed his tie, while he was wearing it, and wouldn’t let go. His wife had to come downstairs, put a leash on the dog, and they all walked outdoors, with the guy bent over at a 90° angle, with Bob holding onto the tie and growling eight inches from his face. That’s when I got called. The owners told me that it started with Bob circling and barking at anybody trying to leave, and getting more and more aggressive about people leaving over time. Bob’s type of separation anxiety was pretty hardwired by this time, so in addition to basic training, I created a new routine for Bob and the owners. Ten minutes before anyone was to leave, Bob was lured to a spot with a view of the door, leashed to an eyehook in the molding, and given a hollow marrow bone with a piece of meat wedged in the middle. It took about two weeks till Bob ran to his tiedown spot and looked forward to Dad’s leaving for work.

But what to do if the wife is alone and wants to depart without leaving Bob tied up? Well, Bob was taught “to go hunting.” It started by having Bob go to his tiedown spot, without being tied down, and told to sit and stay. Then the wife tossed a half-dozen treats near him as she called out, “OK, go hunting.” OK was the release from the stay, and Bob loved hunting down all the treats when the wife left the house. Instead of punishing a response, redirecting a dog’s unwanted behavior into a different response is a major part of training. Dogs love routines. Create ones that will make both of you happy.

Good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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