About being destructive, angry neighbors, and a guilty conscience.
A dog that can’t stay home alone presents us owners with a huge challenge. Suddenly we are very tied to our home and have to think of tactics to take care of the dog and ourselves without leaving him alone and if he does have to be, we not only have a panicked dog but also a lot of guilty consciences.
Not to mention angry neighbors because the dog has been barking for hours, or a destroyed apartment, possibly even with feces decorating the floors.
This is really no fun.
The good thing?
We’re not alone in this.
Especially after the pandemic, when our dogs didn’t have to be alone and significantly more animals moved into our homes, we’re seeing a strong trend.
It also allows us to get the dog used to a safety zone, something we might not have thought of without the problem.
But first, let’s look at how separation anxiety actually occurs.
The dog is a highly social creature that is completely dependent on us. Without us, there is no food, no toilet, no contact with conspecifics, no affection, and so on.
So it is completely normal that such an animal does not cope very well with separation from the caregiver.
In addition, many dogs suffer not only from separation anxiety but also from frustration when they can not reach the caregiver (for example, because a baby gate is installed).
That is why it is important to teach a dog to stay alone step by step.
To do this, we must first notice that our dog suffers from separation problems.
For this purpose, a camera that records during the alone-time is suitable.
Some might think “well if he has a problem, the neighbors will tell me anyway”.
But not every dog is extroverted in his panic (this is the basic emotion behind all this). Some dogs silently stare at the door in suffering.
You don’t hear these dogs, they don’t break anything, and they often go unnoticed for years.
Behavioral problems often show up elsewhere, as they have extremely elevated stress levels due to tension and too little sleep (normally, separation time would be for rest and sleep). Furthermore, there are often additional health problems after years of chronic stress.
So checking once to be sure and then training definitely pays off.
To get good results in training, we first need management.
That means, as long as the dog cannot stay home alone, we must avoid it completely.
So we need solutions how to prevent the dog from being left alone.
If the dog also suffers from barrier frustration (i.e. he gets very frustrated if he is prevented from going to the caregiver by, for example, a door), more measures are needed than in the case of pure separation anxiety.
In this case, even a closed toilet door can be an unbearable challenge.
So we have to look at the dog individually, what is ok for him and what is not.
If he remains completely relaxed (video evidence) while the caregiver goes to the restroom, we do not need to leave the door open.
However, if he stands in front of it, scratches, whines, or stares at it worriedly, even that is too difficult.
Now at home, it is not so difficult to prevent separation completely.
But when we have to run an errand or have a doctor’s appointment, we are faced with a challenge.
If the dog is fine with another person without a caregiver, or if there is a person with whom the dog has already established a relationship (e.g., a sitter), we could have him cared for.
Some dogs can also stay alone well in the car.
So if it’s not so hot or cold, he can come along and wait in the car.
Some dogs can also just be taken everywhere with us.
That makes things a lot easier.
I once had a case with a dog that could neither ride in the car, nor come with us, nor stay home alone and we lived so far away from any civilization that getting a sitter was almost impossible.
That was a different kind of challenge.
In such a case, we should quickly consult a behavior vet for possible medication for support.
Once the management is arranged, we get to the training.
Here the dog learns to have a zone where he feels safe and comfortable, where he can retreat when stressed and where he has everything he needs.
This place must be adapted to the needs of the dog and must be following animal welfare requirements (a closed crate is not advised!).
Then this area is associated with relaxation so that the dog is automatically reminded of a relaxed state when he sees the area or stays in it.
Only then does the actual training on separation situations begin.
In addition to the actual training, I also always recommend working on the dog’s confidence.
A confident dog that handles itself well and feels secure will have no problem staying alone.
There is a huge variety of exercises and they are a lot of fun.
So there is definitely something for everyone.
And now, if you are motivated to change your pup’s life, check out this course.
It includes everything about the training with a small-stepped plan and a lot of info on the topic.
And if you prefer to get tips and tricks for free regularly, subscribe to the Secrets of Dog Training and Behavior here