Mike's Q&A

An interactive question and answer forum with expert dog trainer Michael Wombacher for all of your most pressing dog behavior and dog training-related questions.

Anxious Doberman

Question: I have a three year old Doberman who reacts with anxiety to me and behaves well with the men in my family. He will not sit outside the coffee shop for me without barking and pulling at his lead, he jumps incessantly when I come home, he insists on sitting in my room when I am working at my desk and he follows me around the house from room to room when I am home. My adult son can take him to the safeway and he will sit politely and wait for him to return even if it is an hour. What have I done to create this mess? 

Answer: I think the main issue here is not that the dog is generally anxious around you but specifically that he has separation anxiety with respect to you and experiences intense emotional distress at the thought of you not being around once you are nearby.

The main thing to do in situations like this is to tone down the emotional nature of your interactions with him. When you come home ignore him for the first ten or fifteen minutes and once you begin to engage with him keep it all low key. No long periods of hugging and baby talk and emotional over-indulgence. At this point, with respect to his emotional condition around you, this is poison. It’s like feeding drugs to the addict to keep him happy. We have to break the addiction and then build a new kind of relationship around that. When you are home working and he wants to follow you around, don’t let him. Tether him at certain places, make sure he’s got a comfy bed there and if you leave your desk to get a drink from the fridge, make him just wait there. If you tie him out at a coffee shop and he acts up, give him a spritz on the nose with a water bottle and in a firm tone tell him “quiet.”

Also, doing some solid obedience work with him without treats would help him develop an appropriate hierarchical relationship with you which will help with all sorts of things including this. It will give him a stable, predictable context for his relationship with you that’s more structured and comprehensible to your dog than purely an emotionally based relationship of attachment.

Hope this helps. Please check out the section on separation anxiety on this site as well. Good luck!