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Crating might help with mastiff's separation anxiety

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By John Ross
Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dear Dog Talk: I could use some advice regarding separation anxiety.

Three weeks ago, we adopted a Neapolitan mastiff named Wednesday. She is 6 years old. Our first Neo died a few months ago. Wednesday was rescued from New York less than two years ago and has been fostered by the woman we adopted her from. The woman lived alone but has been out of work for several months, so she was home around the clock. She had a few other dogs and cats, as well.

Ever since we brought her into our home, Wednesday has done her business in the house when we aren't home. Even if she goes outside before we leave and even if we are gone for only an hour, she goes in the house. She never did this in her previous home, so we thought it was just an adjustment to the new home and new schedule. When we are home, she never goes in the house, and she might not go out for hours.

My husband was going to give her two weeks, and then said we would have to give her back. I talked him into one more week, but our time is wasting away.

We spend a lot of time with her when we aren't at work and even took her with us to a party. Ever since we took her to the party, she seems to have even more separation anxiety when we leave. She wants to go out the door with us. She has never been destructive, but yesterday she gouged the trim around our front door after we left for a short while.

At this point, I thought she would be accustomed to us and our schedule. However, the more we bond, the more anxiety she has.

We tried baby-gating her into the kitchen, which is a smaller space. A trainer told me over the phone to go back to square one, like a puppy being house trained for the first time. They told me not to let her have the run of the house. The problem is that she weighs 120 pounds and is too strong for baby gates. I don't know whether we should crate her. She probably never has been crated, and I am afraid she will have major anxiety.

At this point, I don't know what to do. Please help.

Dear Hate to See You Go: If Wednesday were my dog, I would try crating her. When no one is at home with her, she needs to be left in an environment where her only options are to sleep or chew on a safe dog toy, which you leave for her.

If she is left free, she will continue to go to the bathroom in the house and/or chew things. The fact that she is 6 years old makes the problem even more difficult.

Physical exercise also is important. Tired dogs spend more time sleeping and less time worrying. A long leash walk before you crate her will help tremendously. Wednesday should not be kept in the crate during waking hours for more than four hours at a time without at least a half-hour reprieve.

Remember, never reprimand or punish Wednesday "after the fact" of finding a mess. Doing so only intensifies her anxiety.

In the new edition of my book, "Puppy Preschool," I have added a chapter about separation anxiety. I go into more detail than I can here. The separation anxiety chapter is written to help people with young puppies avoid problems. However, there might be insight to dealing with this issue with adult dogs.

Dear Dog Talk: I have an 11-week-old Yorkie. We have been together for one week. I read in many books that their brains are not going to understand discipline until they get to be 15 weeks or older. Is this true?

Dear Well Read: Don't believe everything you read, particularly about dogs.

Mother Dog starts disciplining her puppies as early as 6 weeks old. As they get older and more rambunctious, she disciplines more when needed. Mother Dog disciplines with growls, lip curls and nips.

The only correction that your 11-week-old Yorkie needs from you is an occasional growl. "Nhaa!"

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