Conditioning the dog to your absence:
- Condition dog to absences by leaving for very short periods of time and coming back. Slowly build up to longer absences (see reference articles for details and trouble-shooting)
- Low key comings and goings – make your return less exciting to the dog. This includes refraining from yelling at the dog if you find accidents or destruction when you return home. Disciplining when you get home can make your absence even more anxiety-producing for the dog.
- Wait until the dog is quiet before you get him out or go say hi to him. If you get the dog out of the crate or pen while it is barking, you may inadvertently teach the dog that barking will get you to return and let him out.
- Create a “safe place” (eg, crate or puppy pen). Work on making this a fun place for the dog to go, even when you are home. Susan Garrett’s “Crate Games” are wonderful for this.
- Give dog something to keep themselves occupied when you are gone – a special treat they only get at this time (eg, a kong filled with peanut butter)
- Give the dog some alone time even when you are home. With a dog that has separation anxiety, this may even mean having the dog in the room with you, but not on your lap. For example, the dog is in a puppy pen –and can see you, but is not right next to you. Work up to having the dog is another room.
- Improve the dog’s self confidence
- Use positive reinforcement to teach the dog as many things as possible. Learning behaviors with positive methods builds confidence.
- Teaching the dog to think for himself and improve his problem-solving skills will show him that he has some control over his environment and improve his self-confidence. Clicker training, a positive training method where the dog has to learn to think for himself rather than being shown what to do (www.clickertraining.com), is ideal for this. I find this method also works wonders in reactive dogs and dogs that are hyper-active and don’t know how to calm themselves. Basically, a marker is used to let the dog know when he is performing the desired behavior. After he hears the marker, he receives a treat. He learns that offering the desired behavior gets him a reward. The marker allows the trainer to communicate quickly and clearly to the dog exactly which behavior is desired. This methods can be used to incrementally teach complicated behaviors (eg, put away your toys) or to capture simple behaviors such as sit or down. I know there are others on this list that use clicker training. If you are not familiar with clicker training and want to learn more I can cover that in a separate post, or maybe post some videos that illustrate the process. It sounds complicated, but it’s really pretty simple. This would actually be a really fun hands-on session at a National.
- Puzzle toys – the dog needs to figure out how to get the food
- Nosework – Nosework classes are being offered in many cities or it can be done on your own. Basically, the dog learns to use his nose to find scents. Many trainers have had great success using this method to improve a dog’s overall confidence level.
- Agility or other activities that the dog enjoys
- Socialization and conditioning to a variety of environments and types of people
- Structure – add structure and set routines so that the dog knows what to expect and when. Dogs coming into foster care are dealing with a huge change in their life. Adding predictability to their daily life will help them deal with the transition and decrease their overall stress level.
- Set times for walks, feeding, play, training
- Rules – have set rules and consistently enforce them. These can be very easy rules, for example, sit and wait while I open the door for you to leave your crate or go outside, sit before you get your dinner, do something before you get a treat. Consistency is the key here. The dog will gain confidence if he knows what to expect.
Build a more resilient dog by increasing the dog’s confidence and independence. Having a “Velcro dog” can be emotionally fulfilling to the pet owner; however, a dog that constantly needs to be with a person is more likely to have separation issues. Helping a dog to develop more independence won’t make it less snuggly or loving. Here are some ways to do this:
- "I'll be home soon! How to prevent and treat separation anxiety" by Patricia McConnell.
- Managing Your Dog's Separation Anxiety by Aidan Bindoff http://www.clickertraining.com/node/1556
- When Are You Coming Home? How to Ease Separation Anxiety by Irith Bloom http://www.clickertraining.com/node/3291
Prepared by Gail Czarnecki, Havanese Rescue volunteer