If you’re looking for some help in treating your dog’s behavioural problems, or just curious about why they do what they do, here you will find dog behaviour tips and advice on a variety of topics that will help you look after your best friend.

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Puppies start to learn a preference for the surface that they toilet on from an early age. The more they toilet on a particular surface, the stronger this preference becomes.

Follow the steps below to toilet train your puppy:

1) Start by taking your puppy outside to the same spot in your garden at the following times:

  • Shortly after each feed
  • After playing or exercise
  • After any excitement (e.g. visitors arriving)
  • First thing in the morning
  • At least once every hour
  • Last thing at night and through the night, as necessary

2) Accompany them out, be patient and as soon as they begin to toilet say a chosen phrase such as ‘hurry up’ or ‘be quick’. When they have finished, give them some praise or a treat and take them inside again. Try to avoid leaving a door open for your puppy, if you do it will be difficult for them to understand the distinction between indoors and outdoors.

3) You should watch for signs of impending toileting in the house such as circling, sniffing or getting ready to squat. If these occur, interrupt your puppy immediately and lead them outside of the house (do not carry them).

4) If you do catch your puppy toileting in the house, shout loudly enough to interrupt them but so as not to terrify them. Immediately run to the back door calling your puppy enthusiastically, and take them outside to the toileting area.
If your puppy has made a mess in the house do not shout or attempt to punish them – they will not associate the act of toileting with the punishment and it will only cause your puppy stress and anxiety. The best way to clean up accidents is with a solution of biological washing powder, this is highly effective in removing the scents of any fatty deposits, which may cause your puppy to toilet again in the same area.

5) If your puppy asks to go out in the night, take them out for the normal amount of time then put them back to bed so that they do not view it as a means of getting attention.

If there are times when you are unable to supervise your puppy around the house, then it is best to confine them to a puppy pen.

A puppy’s socialisation period is from the age of 4 to 18 weeks. This is the period when they are most receptive to new experiences and what they experience during this time will shape their attitude and character for the rest of their lives.

Your puppy will not be fully protected by its vaccinations until one week after their second injection. This will be 11 weeks at the earliest, near the end of their socialisation period.

This means that most of your puppy’s socialising must be done whilst they are not fully immunised. This can be done safely by avoiding contact with strange dogs, or places that they may have soiled e.g. streets and parks. A suitable solution would be to carry your puppy in these places so that they are reaping the benefits of new and exciting surroundings whilst still being kept safe.

Meeting people

Your puppy needs to meet as many people as possible, for example children (with supervision), senior citizens, people in uniform, people with beards, joggers and cyclists, etc. It is also a good idea for them to encounter people who love dogs, as they will approach your puppy directly and with lots of eye contact, and also those that are not so keen on dogs. You can help to make the meetings as pleasurable as possible for your puppy by encouraging people to give them a titbit or playing with your puppy.

Meeting animals

Meeting healthy, friendly, adult dogs in a safe environment (your garden or house) is essential for puppies. Puppy parties and puppy socialisation classes are an excellent for allowing your puppy to interact with younger dogs, giving them some of the experiences they would have acquired from staying with their litter mates for longer. If you live in a rural setting it is a good idea to get your puppy used to livestock. Take your puppy to an area where they can see livestock; make sure that your puppy is on a lead, and under control, so that they cannot give chase. Ignore the livestock yourself and engage your puppy in a game or some training, this way they will learn that the livestock are a lot less interesting than you.

Meeting situations

Your puppy needs to be familiarised with anything that they could encounter in adult life. Examples could include car, bus and train journeys, vacuum cleaners, cyclists, thunder and fireworks. Remember that all of these experiences should happen in a fun and positive way. We recommend using Sounds Scary! This is an easy to follow CD therapy pack for dogs, which includes 2 CD’s, and an information book with an easy to follow guide. Play the CD’s to your puppy over an extended period of time, starting at a very low volume and increasing gradually. This will help to accustom your puppy to sounds that they may only hear a few times a year, such as fireworks.

If your puppy becomes fearful or apprehensive at any time, do not act sympathetically, fearful behaviour should be ignored. Trying to soothe a fearful dog not only rewards the behaviour, but also gives the impression that you are also worried about the situation. Seeing you act in this way further undermines you puppy’s confidence. Never punish or get cross with a fearful puppy, because this will only make your puppy more afraid. Instead jolly them along with a game or titbit, whilst reducing the intensity of the experience.

Learning to be alone for more than 5 minutes!

Adaptil collars and diffusers which help calm anxious dogs via pheromones, can help with the management of behavioural problems such as separation anxiety in dogs, but you also need to change some keys things in how you interact with your dog if you are going to help teach your dog to cope when you have to leave it to go to the shops, work, bed etc.

As with many behavioural problems there is no quick fix solution but with a dedicated and patient owner separation anxiety can be totally resolved.

The single most important fact to remember is never to punish the dog on returning to the house, no matter what has happened.

Some people mistakenly believe that getting another dog as a companion will alleviate their first dog’s loneliness when they are out. This may work in a dog which has suddenly lost a companion but rarely works in other cases.

The behaviour sometimes occurs when the owners are in the house, but have shut the dog away from them overnight. It can also occur in cars, although dogs which are destructive in cars do not necessarily show the behaviour in the house & vice versa. The dog may not be destructive every time it is left alone. A common pattern is that it behaves normally during separations which occur routinely (such as when the owner goes to work) but may be destructive during unexpected separations.

Two separate lines of action are undertaken in treating separation anxiety problems.

Stage 1 – Decrease dependency:

The relationship between the owner & the pet has to be altered to decrease dependency of the pet on its owner. This can be started straight away.

Often pets with separation anxiety will follow their owners around the house – even to the extent of lying outside the bathroom when the owner is inside. They will lay at their owner’s feet or climb on their laps to enable close contact at all times.

  • At first the dog must be taught to be away from its owner. Ideally a special mat or place should be allocated in different rooms in the house. The dog must be taught to lie quietly in this place when asked to. Titbits can be used as rewards. If necessary, the dogs daily food ration can be reduced & replaced with titbits to hasten its compliance. Obviously you need to teach the dog to sit or lay if you haven’t already done so. (ask for advice if you are struggling with basic training).
  • If the dog prefers to lie in doorways or passageways or at the foot of stairs it should be made to sleep elsewhere. These places are preferred by dominant dogs, by which I do not man aggressive ones, but those who do what they want when they like.
  • Some dogs with separation anxiety are always dictating to their owners what to do, e.g. instigating games, asking for walks, asking for affection. These are the more dominant-natured dogs. It is the owner who must instigate activities and they must learn to ignore the dog’s commands.
  • A babies’ stair gate in the doorway will prevent a dog following the owner around the house, yet allow visual & auditory contact.
  • Dogs with separation anxiety often sleep on the owner’s bed or are allowed to sit on furniture beside their owners. This must not be allowed & again can be prevented by using a stair gate.
  • Ideally once the dog has learnt to rest away from its owner the dividing door should be gradually closed, but only if no signs of anxiety are seen.
  • A general, simple, daily obedience session is useful. This helps the dog to learn a calmer way to behave which then becomes a new, learnt behaviour.
  • Asking the dog to sit or lie down before putting the lead on or before feeding makes the dog more obedient to its owner & lessens the extent to which it lives the way it wants to. A dog that has learnt to sit-stay & down-stay is being treated like a dog & even the simple act of teaching these commands will separate it from its owners to some degree and help to reduce anxiety.

In the early stages the dog may seem withdrawn or sulky. This is only temporary as the dog adjusts to a new way of life.

  • Tip bits should be given only as rewards for good behaviour and NOT to satisfy the owner’s need to give comfort and pleasure to their pet (this can be done in other ways such as owner instigated play etc.
  • Some dogs with separation anxiety feel calmer & happier if secured in a den. This usually means having an indoor kennel. The den or indoor kennel must be a fun place for the day & NEVER ASSOCIATED WITH PUNISHMENT. To begin with the kennel or cage must be part of the dog’s daily life. The dog should be encouraged to sleep in it & meals should be given in there. Affection & attention should be given when the dog is in the kennel. Instigation of games or walks should begin from the kennel. Only when the dog is happy to go into its kennel& stay there should the door be shut, and in the beginning this should be for short periods only.
  • Some dogs will not accept close confinement. It simply exacerbates their problems or causes others. Dogs that do not tolerate confinement to a kennel or even to one room may be well behaved if they have full run of the house. It does however take a brave owner to try this approach.

It is possible that these steps to decrease owner dependency will suffice to calm a dog to the point that it will not suffer from separation anxiety anymore. If not, the next step is for the owner to de-emphasise the importance of their departure & return.

Stage 2 – Systematic desensitization:

De-emphasize the importance of departure and arrival and train the dog to be alone. This is best left to when you have some time to spare and the effects of stage 1 are becoming apparent.

To desensitise dogs to being left, the owner must break down their actions in detail. Many an owner compounds the anxiety of a dog when leaving by prolonging the goodbye, cuddling, sweet talking & giving extreme love. All this just heightens the anxiety in a dog.

Dogs have no concept of time they feel the same whether they are left for 20 minutes or 2 hours.

  • Behave calmly before leaving a dog…
  • Teach the dog to lie quietly in a certain place (eg. It’s basket)
  • Ignore the dog totally for up to an hour if possible before the owner leaves so that it is not a major crisis when he or she departs. Only acknowledge the dog to correct it if it strays from lying quietly in its basket.
  • During treatment sessions the dog is told to lie in its basket while the owner performs actions connected with leaving the house. Start at the point in the departure sequence at which the dog becomes agitated, (e.g. putting on his coat). When the dog can remain calmly in its basket while he does that, the owner should go on to the next activity (e.g. taking out his car keys) and so on.
  • Eventually treatment should reach the point where the owner is actually able to leave the house with the dog lying calmly in its bed. His departure should first of all be extremely brief; in fact, he should begin by opening the door immediately after he has closed it. If the dog is still in its basket when he opens the door, he should praise & reward it in its basket, not allowing it to run & greet him excitedly at the door.
  • The length of departures should be gradually built up, but should be slightly irregular, so that the dog cannot absolutely predict when the owner will return. A typical sequence of departure times within a training session, might be one minute, 3 minutes, 2 minutes and so on. If, during a training session the dog becomes progressively more excited every time the owner returns, he should leave a longer interval between each departure to allow it to calm down.
  • The owner must return in a quiet, calm manner & matter of factly greet the dog, ignoring its over-excited manner. If it helps the owner should walk in backwards & only turn to face the dog once it has calmed down, thus rewarding its calm behaviour with the visual & sensual contact it craves.
  • The dog will be less excited if it is well exercised & fed prior to the owner’s departure.
  • A radio left playing may not greatly assist the problem but will do no harm & may help some dog feel they are not alone.
  • Treatment will have a much better chance of success if the dog is not left alone over the period of treatment. Many owners find this difficult to arrange, but if they are convinced of its importance, they can often make arrangements to leave the dog with someone or carry out the treatment during holiday time.

Additional factors

Tape recorders can be used to find out how long it takes for the problem to begin & to identify if there are any instigating factors such as postmen, telephone, doorbells or noises outside. If relevant instigating factors can be treated as one would for most phobias.

A dog which whines or barks when left is only trying to maintain contact with its owner, to call him back. It is just like a pup calling for its mother. The only answer is to desensitize the dog to the departure of its owner, which must be undertaken calmly & in the knowledge that it is time consuming business. It is repetitive, boring work – but ultimately very rewarding.


Intervention with drugs can be dramatically successful in initially assisting with some cases. Particularly when the problem is so severe that the owner is distressed beyond the point where long term but inevitably slow improvements have much appeal. (ACP, Diazepam, Selgian, Clomipramine.)

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