April 06, 2010 06:43 PM

Dear Ethel,

I share custody of my dog, a 3-year-old miniature pinscher named Rocco, with my ex. Every two months, he shuttles between our homes. While it works for us, it’s not working out so much for my roommate’s dog, a 6-year-old Husky mix named Laika, who feels a little depressed and out of sorts when he is gone. She’s normally pretty shy, but she becomes even more reclusive, and doesn’t greet me like she would when Rocco’s around. She acts apprehensive about new people and goes into a corner of the room.

My roommate has thought about taking Laika to daycare, since she stays in the apartment most of the day by herself, but she hasn’t done it yet. We’d like advice on how to help Laika cope with her separation anxiety!

–Rooming with a Recluse

Dear RWAR,

I sometimes feel like a wallflower at the party. I know. Can you believe it? Ethel feels like a big loner sometimes. It’s not really a surprise, seeing as how my previous owner never left my side and always had me in a bag with her everywhere she went. How was I supposed to know how to be a dog?

You and your roommate have built Laika a hermit house, and it just gets more desolate when Rocco, her one and only dog friend, goes away. She’s already 6, and pretty set in her hermit-like ways. But! Before Laika gets to Emily Dickinson levels of reclusiveness, let’s try to coax her out of her shell.

Kate Perry, a dog trainer who was voted the best in New York City by New York Magazine, is certain your Laika is under-socialized. She needs to get out there! Live life! Be among dogs and humanity!

So first thing, take her outside more. She’s a Husky mix. She needs to be walked. She needs to go to the dog park. She should go to doggie daycare (Perry likes that there’s control and supervision in the daycare environment).

It won’t be solved in one hour-long session at the dog run – that might even be too much stimulation. Laika needs to be introduced to the idea of a bigger world, in small, regular spurts, and be given little treats when she’s getting those new stimuli so she likes what she’s experiencing.

“Short and sweet meet-and-greets on the street,” Perry says. “People think it’s an all-or-nothing pendulum with dogs, but that’s not it.”

Next, even though you’re not Laika’s #1 mommy, you want her to be happy when you come home, so you’ll have to create new, positive ideas that are associated with … you. Have treats or toys with you to give her when you greet her, and take turns with your roommate being the person to feed her. She’ll think, “Oh! Cool! RWAR means food! RWAR means toys!”

And don’t stop working with her when Rocco’s around. Laika needs to get used to the whole of her new life, with and without her best friend.


Got a thorny pet (any pet!) problem that you can’t figure out? Try Ethel – she’ll do her best to help. Send your questions to helin@peoplepets.com or send us a message on Twitter or Facebook.

Previously in Ask Ethel:
Ask Ethel: Cat Has Stopped Using His Litter Box!
Ask Ethel: My Brat Is Out of Control!

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