One of Ray’s obvious issues, which became clear soon after he settled in here in March 2013, was his dependence on our company. He exhibited severe separation anxiety.
It could be said that we did a wonderfully effective job of making him feel at home with us, but being dependent on us was not part of “the plan” and was not fair on either Ray or us.
All dogs with separation issues will potentially behave irrationally if left on their own however German Shepherds, in particular, are known to lose their self-control such that they can severely hurt themselves by either destroying objects; by charging around the home, or by self-mutilation.
Because of the sensitivity of the issue, we have progressed very slowly and methodically but, unfortunately, consistency has not been our strength! Our initial attempts had to be put on hold due to Ray testing positive for heart-worm which dictated a distinct shift in priorities. This effectively delayed separation training for close to a year.
The delay due to his heart-worm treatment program put us back to the very beginning regarding separation training but, once again, we started working on it. Slow progress was being made until it was recommended to us that the anxiety medication that he was on be switched to a more recent formulation that had recently become available.
Transitioning between the two medications was very precise. We had to slowly reduce his current medication to zero, and then allow a couple of weeks of being medication free before slowly introducing his new medication. Given that these medications were to control anxiety issues, we once again had to suspend all separation training for a few months and, once again, it put us right back to the beginning.
With all that behind us, and over the course of the following few months, I was eventually able to leave him alone for 30 minutes! This was orchestrated by giving him a couple of hours to adjust to Carol leaving and going to work, and then wearing him out a little with a long walk. This progress was, yet again, lost when Carol retired and our routines inevitably changed. Of course Ray was ecstatic as he now had both of us around all day!
At that point in time, Ray was occasionally exhibiting a strong dislike for when all three of us were out walking, and one of us entered a store! We just put it down to his herding instincts and thought it must be very frustrating for him to have no control over his “charges”! There were isolated incidents where, upon my coming out of a store, he would jump up in some possible display of frustration.
We have recently started, once again, to try and convince Ray that all will be well when he is on his own, but this time we were both leaving at the same time. Progress, as before, was extremely slow however we have built up his “alone time” from 10 secs …… 30 secs ……….1 min ………. 1-1/2 min……. up to (as at today) 5 minutes!
What has happened however is his “jumping up” trait has become an additional factor to resolve! He recently jumped up and “mouthed” my arm, which I just put down to over exuberance (he was pleased to see me?). More recently he greeted Carol in a similar manner, but left some bruising, so now that behavior has to be addressed.
Why is he doing it? We have a couple of thoughts, although both are academic as the behavior is unacceptable regardless of the explanation.
One is that it is simply an over exuberance which turns into a “let’s play” mouthing routine. This has a degree of credibility in that when he is in a playful mood in the garden he will often start a “mouthing” action. He has however always checked himself in the past so would seem to know that it was not appreciated.
A rather contrasting theory is that he is really frustrated at his “herd” continually making it impossible for him to do his job, and it is more an anger based gesture. We then have to consider how much of this latter explanation is exacerbated by his separation issues!
The current status is that we can avoid the jumping if the “delinquent member of the herd” (usually me) returns slowly and waits for Ray to get into a sit position before coming within reach of him. Any bad timing on our part, which allows a jump on his part, will always result in a reprimand. We must now continue with his separation training and who knows, we may well resolve his desire to jump and “mouth” us at the same time?