OBJECTIVE: To teach your dog that it is safe to be left alone.
Dogs are social animals and actively seek out our companionship. They can quickly become accustomed to being part of a group 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whenever a new dog is brought into a home, especially a young playful puppy, people have a tendency to interact with them constantly. While this interaction is a very important part of socialization and bonding, you need to make sure that you are not setting your puppy up for a big disappointment when you must leave him at home alone. Including some “alone training” right from the beginning will be beneficial to both your puppy and you.
Older dogs, depending on their previous circumstances, might also need to learn how to cope with being alone. For example, a dog that was housed in a shelter or kennel situation where other dogs and people were always around may have trouble coping being by themselves.
If you have not already done so, start leaving your puppy/dog alone for brief duration’s throughout the day. He needs to learn that 1) people are not always around and 2) you will come back. When leaving your puppy/dog alone, put him in his crate or in a puppy proof room. Be sure to give him some of his favorite chew toys so he can have some fun while he awaits your return. Do not make a big deal out of leaving. Just pop the puppy/dog in his area and leave.
Your puppy/dog may start to whine or bark when you leave. This is very normal. Your first impulse may be return to the puppy/dog and try to calm him, however, that is the worst thing you can do. If you want him to stop whining, you must make sure you do not reward the puppy/dog for whining .Do not pay any attention to your puppy/dog and do not let him out until there is a lull in the whining. Reward him for being calm and quiet.
Leaving your puppy/dog at home, at the veterinarians, at the groomers or at a boarding kennel should also be a very low-key, non-emotional event. Likewise, the same applies when returning to your puppy/dog. If you make leaving or returning into a big event, with lots of cuddling and petting, your puppy/dog is more likely to be stressed by your arrivals and departures. You can, and we hope you do, miss your puppy/dog when he is not with you. We just do not want to let him know that.
Start your alone training by building time slowly. Five to ten minutes is a good place to start if your puppy/dog has never been out of your site for that length of time. Like all training, we want to work in small achievable increments that the dog can handle. Continue leaving your puppy/dog alone for longer and longer periods of time.
If this behavior does not improve after a few days, or if your dog exhibits destructive behaviors such as digging, scratching or chewing on themselves, house soiling, destructions of objects, extreme vocalization, constant pacing, digging and scratching at exits such as doors and windows in an attempt to reach you, and following you excessively, never letting you out of sight then you should immediately discuss this situation with your veterinarian. These are also symptoms of separation anxiety which many need to be treated with appropriate medications and a behavior modification program specific to separation anxiety. Your veterinarian will probably refer you to a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) to develop a behavior modification plan for your dog and your family. Resolving separation anxiety will typically involve changes in your family’s behavior in addition to your dogs. This is typically not an easy problem to resolve and becomes more difficult to resolve the longer it goes on.
Things you should start doing immediately:
- Make an appointment to discuss this issue with your veterinarian. If your veterinarian suggests medications follow their advice.
- Contact and work with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant to develop a behavior modification plan for your dog. They may also suggest additional things you can try such as Adaptil/DAP and Bach Rescue Remedy.
- Leave your dog home alone as little as possible until you have successfully modified their behavior. This is the hard part and can take weeks and even months; however, it is essential if you wish this problem to resolve. Consider it from your dog’s perspective, they are living in extreme fear. Every time your dog causes through this process of your leaving and there becoming anxious makes this behavior more likely and decreases the probability of resolving the behavior. You also need to consider the serious damage a dog can do to your home and belongings and themselves. I have colleagues that have worked with families where the dog has done thousands of dollars of damage to themselves and to their surroundings in less than 30 minutes. If you yourself cannot stay home you have some alternatives. Perhaps a friend or family member can stay with your dog while you are gone. Doggie daycare or day boarding may also be an option. However these alternatives do not always work if the dog is very attached to you.
- Do NOT make a big deal about your leaving and returning. No attention for the dog until they settle.
- Look for cues you may be giving your dog that suggest your leaving is imminent. This can be things like; picking up keys, closing a brief case, putting on shoes, putting on a coat, packing a lunch, etc. Start offering these keys at times when you are not leaving so they are no longer predictors of being alone.
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