Why has my dog replaced her playmate with our neighbour?
(Q) My 10-year-old Miniature Schnauzer is recovering from the recent death of her lifelong playmate and companion. Over the years she has also become very attached to our next-door neighbour. She frets when he goes out and will sit for hours worrying until he comes home. Unfortunately he is moving house soon, and I dread the effect this will have on my dog.
(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: Losing a companion can impact on many areas of a dog's life. Where the lost friend was relied upon for most social interaction, play, and activity, the absence leaves these roles to be filled by an owner, another pet, or another individual who regularly interacts with her. It is possible that a dog can become over-attached or over-reliant upon this alternative friend, and might become agitated at any suggestion that they are disappearing too.
It is important that you work hard on transferring some of your dog's attachments that are currently focused on the neighbour over to you, or another activity that you can provide at home. This will involve increasing the time you spend interacting with her, walking, playing, and, if she likes it, stroking. It is important that your dog learns that she can turn to you for the interactions she currently craves from your neighbour (even if this is perhaps just the offering of a yummy biscuit that the neighbour typically feeds her).
Even though it is hard to do, it would be sensible to begin cutting back on the contact your dog has with the neighbour so that the moving day does not bring about a sudden change. When he does go out, try to offer your dog a tempting activity to draw her attention away from that fact - perhaps a Kong filled with her favourite treats. Pick something that she loves to do but is incompatible with the activity of sitting at the window, pining.