Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Spike

A little too happy to see me.

Spike is just overly attached. — Susan Hobart

Dear Tom,

When I adopted Spike two years ago, he was a very damaged and shy rescue puppy. He has become more confident, and is a happy, loving pet, although overly attached to me. Spike is normally housebroken, but sometimes I get home from work to find that he has pooped by the front door and eaten some of his poop, and then he jumps around greeting me so enthusiastically that he vomits it back up. Not the surprise I want to come home to!

Any advice?


Dear Melanie,

Coming home to an enthusiastic greeting is nice, but when it comes to Spike’s “welcome home,” it’s a case of NI (needs improvement). It’s not a matter of housebreaking or coprophagia (eating poop — the dung beetle’s job). It’s separation anxiety, and assuming you’re not willing to quit your job and never leave the house without Spike, the very first thing I’d suggest is that you de-emotionalize leaving and coming. No dropping to your knees with hugs and kisses, bemoaning the time apart. Just a pat on the head, “See ya later, Spike,” and book out.

Same when you return, pat on the head, “How ya doin, Spike,” and go put on a cup of tea. A little music can help, their favorites, classic harp, and believe it or not, country-western. Spike’s hearing is probably about 16 times better than yours, so not too loud. At this stage, the only time on Planet Earth he gets people food is when you leave him alone, when he gets his “special toys.”

I’m not talking about leaving him a half a cow to munch on while you’re gone, but rather get three or four hollow marrow bones from the pet store and wedge a piece of any kind of meat in the middle of one. He’ll appreciate it more if he has to earn it with a little work. He may not even be able to get all the meat out; that’s OK. Different meats or cheeses, peanut butter, whatever he really likes.

It’s very important that all the special toys are removed, put out of his reach or purview, as soon as you get home. Otherwise they will lose their “specialness.” Try tossing five or six small regular dog treats into the room as you leave. When my five-pound dog MacDuff went blind at age 11, he loved it when we left. I’d say, “See ya later, Duff,” and throw a half-dozen treats into the living room, and he probably took a good 10 minutes to track them all down, and then he spent extra time looking in case he missed any.

Then he needed a nap! Getting Spike a ThunderShirt or Anxiety Wrap to wear whenever you leave can often help. So can DAP (dog-appeasing pheromone) collars.

The dog with a severe separation problem that lives with a traveling salesman starts to get nervous when the suitcase is pulled out, and is a basket case by the time it’s packed. If you really want to work it, Melanie, in minute detail, think about all the things you do before you leave the house. From makeup being applied, to jewelry, hair, clothing, etc.

Spike is totally aware of all the things you regularly do before you leave, and gets more and more nervous as you get closer to walking out the door. So to desensitize him to the nerve-racking cues that you’re “splitting” on him, try doing all the cues once or twice a day, and DON’T leave. I’m not suggesting trying to get him to love being crated, because often dogs with real separation anxiety also suffer from “barrier frustration,” in which case he’d be more crazed at the confinement. As a latter resort, speak to your vet about some type of drug to help. Clomicalm was FDA-approved for dogs for separation anxiety years ago — in my experience, it worked sometimes, but took six weeks to become therapeutic. Good luck, and don’t hesitate to call with any questions.

Good luck,
The Dogcharmer

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