Dogcharmer: Anxious pups

What to do when your four-legged family member worries too much.

A special treat when no one is at home can help with separation anxiety. — Pamela Brock

Hello, I am inquiring about dog training on Martha’s Vineyard. A quick internet search led me to your web page and I’m wondering if you still train here on the Island, and if you’re taking clients at the moment. My dog is struggling with anxiety at the age of 8, and I’d love for him to feel safe with us being around water, leaving him at home, etc. I’m sure there are ways that I can reassure him that we won’t drown, or that we will return home to him, but I’m not sure how to do so. Thank you for your time.

Kay Sunakawa
West Tisbury.

Dear Kay,

At present I’m not on-Island to physically help you with your dog but Jeremy Jones is. He can be reached at He really knows what he’s doing and you will appreciate the help he can give you.

There are many do’s and don’ts to help your dog overcome his anxiety. One of the really important “do’s” is to de-emotionalize leaving and coming home. If you show him you feel sorry for leaving him alone for a few hours he “feels” the sadness of your leaving. Dropping to your knees and hugging and kissing him to apologize for having left him, and over-emphasizing the joy of the reunion exacerbates the separation anxiety. Kay, based on the limited info I have, I suggest that your dog get special people food treats under two circumstances — when you leave him alone in the house, and in conjunction with the ocean. Your goal is to get him to love when you leave him alone because that’s the only time he gets two or three hollow marrow bones with chicken wedged in the middle of one, cheese in another, and peanut butter in the third. Very important: They are removed when you get home. He only gets these great treats when no one’s home. You said he’s fearful “being around water” and if that means while on some kind of boat, let that be the second situation where he gets people food treats. Redirect his attention with a simple command like come or sit and reward him with a piece of chicken for cooperating. Do that a bunch of times and the boat will become less scary and more fun. The same will apply if it’s just playing around and in the surf. If he’s not too big, carry him into the water and let him swim 50 ft to the shore with chicken as his reward.

Aside from the behavior modification training that I suggested, I’ve seen “Adaptil” diffusers and collars help a small percentage of anxious dogs become more at ease. Also, speaking to your vet about CBD for your dog may be quite helpful. I’ve seen very positive results with several dogs getting CBD in one form or another. My book, “Dog Training Diaries,” will also be very helpful as it goes into some depth dealing with separation anxiety.

Best of luck,
Dog Charmer Tom

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