Any breed of dog may display social anxiety, and although the cavapoo is not generally a nervous dog, he may be showing signs of stress. Unfortunately, these may manifest as behaviour that seems to stem from the mischievousness of a puppy or the wilfulness of an adult, and so it is vital to recognise the signs.
You have probably chosen your cavapoo because the breed is regarded as suitable for urban or rural life, is good with children, sociable, lively and friendly: an antidote to the incessant torrent of Rotten News from the radio and TV during Lockdown. Indeed, you may even have introduced him into your household to bring joy and a reason to head out to that park or hillside for exercise. He is a dog, therefore he will not lie awake wondering whether the R number has risen in your area, or your company faces bankruptcy. He lives in the moment, for the moment, and if you are meeting his needs for food and shelter, toys and cuddles, surely he will be a bundle of cheer?
Well, not necessarily. We need to look at behaviours that should alert us to possible anxiety and see what can be done to help your cavapoo.
Do cavapoos get separation anxiety?
Cavapoos can be susceptible to separation anxiety. The very characteristics that make them such attractive pets are also the ones that predispose them to be anxious when their owner is absent. They are sociable dogs and do not thrive if left alone.
Unfortunately, there are people who have bought cavapoos and other puppies during Lockdown to meet their own needs but have paid little attention to what would happen if and when they returned to work. The two breeds that have given the cavapoo its genetic make-up, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel and the poodle, are devoted to their owners and need constant interaction and attention.
Boredom may result in the chewing of woodwork, bedding and the toys you have so considerably bought for your cavapoo, but the motivation could also be anxiety. More obvious signs include howling and barking when you leave the house. We all need to leave our dogs at home to attend part-time work, to shop where they are not allowed and to keep appointments. This is reasonable, but even with an adult, four hours away is enough. Limit this to two hours in the case of a puppy and make sure that he is in a crate with toys he cannot destroy and access to water. In order to prepare him, leave him for a few minutes whilst he is young and gradually lengthen the time away (if this is possible).
If you work full-time and there is no-one at home for him, either place your cavapoo with a dog minder for the day or defer having a dog until you have the time at home. For all the dogs one sees in YouTube footage banging the piano keys and howling along while the owner is out, there are many more in distress.
Object phobias are reasonably easy to detect. As a pteronophobic, I was surprised to learn just how many dogs fear feathers as much as I do and will either circle warily around them, bark wildly at them, launch an attack or back away, whining or howling. Now, unless you are a calligrapher with quill pens or Big Chief Leatherlead, who sports a headdress of eagle feathers, the sensible course of action is to remove your dog from their presence. If, however, the object is encountered daily, try desensitisation, in which you expose your dog to the feared object at a comfortable distance and offer high-quality treats or a game with a favourite toy. As the dog relaxes, move a little closer, taking the encounter at a pace which suits your dog. Do not become impatient and try to force the pace as you may undo all your groundwork. Consider consulting a behaviourist if the phobia is harder to overcome.
Noise anxiety is common and understandable. As I write, we have been subjected to a volley of bangs from a neighbouring garden – a birthday celebration, perhaps? The advice given in the past was to ignore your dog, but whilst you need to remain calm and assure him that this is “normal”, I see nothing wrong with allowing him to press close to you, sit between your legs or shelter in his safe space. And by all means, fuss him to reassure him. A possible measure to take in advance of Bonfire Night or New Year is to play the sound of fireworks and gradually increase the volume. This technique can be used with thunderstorms. Play him the sound of a storm at a volume that he can tolerate and gradually increase the sound. Some owners swear by the thundershirt, a tight-fitting dog coat in jersey material designed to give the dog a reassuring embrace. As I have used the thundershirt on one of my dogs for other problems, I cannot comment on its effectiveness.
Social anxiety manifests itself in much the same way, although the feared object, in this case, is either other dogs or people. The dog may back away, bark or attack – and an attack is a far more serious matter than it would be against an object as it is now classified as aggression. Unfortunately, some dogs interpret the lively behaviour of children as a threat. Children may scream, wave their arms and bear down upon the dog, unaware that the warning signs (curling upper lip, red eyes, growling, stiff posture) are the prelude to snapping or biting.
Cavapoos are usually very affectionate and make excellent family pets. They respond to children and understand the difference between a child’s enthusiastic overtures and aggressive or violent behaviour which will endanger them. However, depending upon its experiences, any breed may become hostile when it feels threatened. Educate your child to ask the owner’s permission before approaching a strange dog and to offer the clenched fist rather than the open hand, just in case the dog snaps. Be alert to warning signs that your own puppy or dog has had enough of being pulled apart and is tired and cross – and, of course, remember that the friendliest dog may behave out of character if hurt in an accident or in pain with arthritis. If your dog shows hostility to particular people or age groups, it may be worth asking those people to approach him cautiously with his favourite treats or his regular food, but “cautiously” is the word, and you, the owner, should supervise the encounter. A dog which cannot settle around certain people and is unlikely to change should have his own enclosed space whenever they visit and needs to be left in peace. Really disturbed dogs need to be muzzled in public or – where they are a risk to anyone in your household – rehomed. My parents gave a home to one of the most affectionate dogs we have ever owned because she had become nervous and aggressive towards the young children in her own household. She associated their arrival in the kitchen with being scolded, and never felt comfortable with anyone under twelve.
Likewise, your cavapoo might have had a bad experience with other dogs. No matter how friendly the demeanour of cavapoos as a breed, the individual dog is still capable of reacting with nervous aggression or downright fear. Fear poses a danger to your cavapoo, especially if you are anywhere near a road. When two friendly but rather large Old English sheepdogs pursued one of my dogs years ago, their size intimidated her and she bolted across two fields and a busy main road to get home. Nervous aggression brings different problems. I had a reactive dog who never used her teeth or caused any injury, but nevertheless upset dog owners by rushing at their dogs and snarling as if she meant violence. Feeling horribly guilty, I placed her in a basket muzzle, but she soon alleviated my guilt by using it as a kind of lacrosse racket and scooping up the ball! When other dogs approached, I placed her on a lead. There are fluorescent leads with such words as “Reactive Dog”, which can help as other people will give your dog a wide berth. Bear in mind that the law is stricter than it was some years ago if your dog attacks another. You do not want to be accused of having a dog dangerously out of control.
Cavapoo puppy’s life without anxiety
If you are buying a cavapoo pup, take steps to ensure that he is no younger than eight weeks old before being removed from his litter siblings. He needs socialisation between the ages of four and twelve months. Lockdown is not the greatest time for dog opportunities as puppy classes are no longer running and other dog owners in the parks and fields may be wary of letting their dog socialise with yours in case Covid is lurking in its fur. However, many owners are happy to let their dogs play with yours, as long as the humans involved maintain their distance, and this is about the best you can manage.
Remember that your puppy will remain needy all his life, although his needs will change. With the best handling in the world, he may still have a bad encounter that leaves him nervous or a change in circumstances that makes him urinate on the floor after being clean all his adult life. If you are as close to your dog as you should be, you will notice signs of stress and deal with them before Fido ever needs to spend hours and money on that psychoanalyst’s couch.