Your dog was probably thrilled to have your company during lockdown, but now normal(ish) life has resumed, he could be missing you more than you realise. Trainer and Behaviourist Carolyn Menteith, offers this advice …
For a dog that doesn’t have the coping skills to deal with being ‘home alone’, life can be anything from an occasional misery to a constant state of anxiety and stress. This isn’t them being disobedient or punishing you for leaving them. It is like a human panic attack – involuntary and highly distressing. Every instinct in their body tells them that being alone is a source of fear because they’ve never been taught that it is ‘safe’ and simply part of life. Unfortunately, teaching a dog home-alone coping skills is something owners often neglect in their desire to create a strong bond with their dog.
Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, spend as much time working on this as you do on your exercise, training and interactive enrichment to ensure your dog is as happy as he can be.
8 WAYS TO TEACH YOUR DOG HOME ALONE SKILLS
- The aim of teaching your dog that being on his own is ‘safe’ and even enjoyable, is to ensure that when you leave them, they have something tasty or fun to do. You don’t want them spending their time desperate for you to return!
- Start from the very beginning of your life together if you can. If you haven’t already been doing this, start now.
- Use stair gates in doorways so you can prevent your dog constantly following you around.
- While he’s eating his dinner, leave the room for a minute. (Use a stair gate so he can’t follow you.) It’ll help him learn that good things can happen while you are not there. Gradually build up the time you are away to take in his entire dinner time. Remember, a puppy will need to go out to the toilet immediately after he’s eaten!
- If you have a secure garden, scatter-feed your dog’s kibble in the grass for him to hunt out. Once he understands this new feeding game, you can scatter it a bit wider – and leave him for a few minutes while he hunts it out.
- Feed your dog using an interactive toy (like a Kong) leaving him the other side of a stair gate. He’ll enjoy the natural chewing and gnawing which can be a stress reliever. Start by making the toy easy to empty so he succeeds easily, and then you can gradually make it harder. Keep checking in – even if from a distance – to ensure the toy is durable and safe.
- Once you know your dog is happy being left for a few minutes, very slowly build up the length of time you leave him. If you go too quickly, you’ll only teach him that you keep vanishing for ages and it’s scary!
- If you are worried your dog is not happy in your absence, set up a webcam and if they show any signs of separation-related behaviours (vocalisation, pacing, panting, salivating, scratching at doors, destruction or chewing, loss of toilet training, inability to eat when alone, aggression on your return, on leaving, or generally), consult an accredited behaviour professional for help. These problems do not go away on their own – and usually get worse