Separation Anxiety Update -- My beagle is smart

February 18, 2021

(Archived post from April 2016)

Emma the Beagle Separation Anxiety Update:

Things were looking bleak again for the past couple of weeks. We were back to Emma running to the mudroom, pacing, whining, and barking as soon as we pulled out of the garage. Forget 40 minute absences. She couldn’t even handle 40 seconds.

Thankfully, I continue to enter the details of every training session into a spreadsheet, and I found a pattern. To kick off each session, we do a series of warm-up absences. Because we’re priming Emma to handle our exiting through the mudroom and into the garage, our warm-ups included a series of steps such as walking in and out of the mudroom and opening and closing the garage door.

When she appeared good and relaxed on the couch, we would head out for the BIG ABSENCE.

But as soon as we’d get in the car, pull out of the garage, and drive away, Ems would jolt up, run to the mudroom, pace around, bark, whine, and yowl in terror. My heart hurts thinking about it.

Have you figured out the root of the problem? I’ll give you a moment to mull it over…

Yes. The problem was that the only time we actually got into the car and pulled away was when we left for the big absence. So we could take the trash out to the garage or get the mail, because Ems had no worries about us walking in and out of the back door, but get in the car and drive away? That was the big tip-off that the thing Emma dreads the most — being left alone without the people she loves — was about to happen.

For those interested in understanding how dog learn, Emma’s behavior is CLASSIC classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov discovered in the 20th century that animals learn about the relationship between two events. His famous experiment was pairing a bell with food. Ring the bell, feed the dog, ring the bell, feed the dog, ring the bell, feed the dog. Eventually, the dog starts to salivate when he hears the bell.

The bell is a tip-off that food is coming.

So that’s what’s going on with Emma the Too-Smart-For-Her-Own-Good Beagle. We walk through the mudroom and come back in, we walk through the mudroom and come back in, we walk through the mudroom and come back in… Eventually, Emma learns that nothing of interest happens when we walk through the mudroom.

But, we get in the car, pull out of the garage, and then disappear for 20, 30, or 40 minutes and do that many days in a row? Emma learns that the sound of the car driving away means PANIC!

Early last week after I figured this out, I changed up Emma’s warm-ups. Now almost every time I walk through the mudroom door, I also open the garage door, turn on the car, pull out, come back in, or some combination of those things.

Today Emma lay perfectly relaxed on the couch for 12 minutes. THIS. IS. HUGE. I was so at ease watching her lie on the couch in total comfort that I even listened to Sirius Hits One while observing her. (Are Kate Hudson and JJ Watt really dating? What a cute couple!!!) Normally I jack up the volume on my cell phone to listen for the tiniest hint that Emma is upset. Didn’t have to do that today. Her body language told the whole beautiful story.

While I type up this tale to you, Emma is next to me, stretched out asleep, snoring like a drunken sailor. She’s THAT relaxed. And I left her alone for nearly 15 minutes.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty durned happy right now. It’s the little things in life.

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