Many of my clients go for months not realizing a problem is brewing with their dog.
Then I get the call and hear, “I’m a prisoner in my own house!” My dog is jumping between me and the door, growling and snapping, to keep me home. My dog will not let me leave.
Why Can’t Your Dog Be Left Alone?
Let’s answer this question so you can find the solution to your dog’s behavior problem.
We’re going to have to get really honest with each other.
Many things can create insecurity and lack of confidence in your dog.
The biggest thing is the bond you have created with your dog. If you’ve always had a strong bond with your dog, perhaps it’s just too strong.
You’ve over-bonded to a fault.
You may question the importance of this logic.
Stop and think. The main reason that most of us get a dog (love, affection or companionship) is often the cause of most of our dog problems like separation anxiety.
If you’ve spent a good deal of time idly petting your dog (bonding), imagine how lonely, abandoned and frustrated he must feel when you are away. It’s almost as if you have been feeding his anxious energy.
The contrast between your presence at home and absence is too great. Tension results. That tension must be relieved. Your dog relieves his tension by chewing up things that either smell of something you recently touched or symbolically represent you such as shoes or articles of clothing that hold your scent much longer.
Your Dog Can’t Cope Without You Being There
When you leave, your dog feels like he no longer has control over his environment. In other words, what happens to him is a function of what he does.
- With you at home he can nudge (what he does) and you pet (what he gets you to do).
- He can jump into your lap and he gets love and affection.
- He barks and you feed or throw a ball. And the list goes on.
- His coping skills are limited to getting reinforcement from you all the time.
- But the minute you leave, his coping skills no longer work.
He has no strategy for dealing with time alone.
How Do You Train Your Dog to Be Okay By Himself
It’s not an easy task to overcome a history of expectations your dog has come to love each and every day.
It’s a tall order but you have to start somewhere.
Here are 5 things you can do to begin training your dog to be left alone.
- Throttle way back on love and affection and only briefly pet after you ask your dog to sit. Loving on your dog now must be done in moderation.
- Begin to create physical distance from your dog in 15 minute increments.
- First, require him to stay away from you at a barely stressful distance (tether if necessary) until he can relax and tolerate being away from you but in the same room.
- Next, hide from view. Tether him as before but where he can’t see you. Do this in 15 minute increments until he can relax and tolerate being away from you and not seeing you.
- Next, you could leave him in a room behind a closed door but only for a tolerable length of time. Open the door and ask for a sit, briefly pet and praise.
Additional things to include:
- Exercise your dog aerobically (brisk walks) for 30 minutes, twice daily. Exercise is a known stress-buffer for dogs and humans.
- Obedience training builds confidence and will give your dog a sense of working for you rather than you following his lead of “nudge-pet.”
- Teach him that he can be successful in controlling his environment with what he does.
Example: place a food dispensing toy on the floor so that he figures out that by making it move around, food comes out. Your dog just learned that he could do something (roll the toy around) and the food comes out. He just rewarded his work. You could also reward him each time he does something you like.
It is important to promote independence and confidence in your dog in all the ways mentioned above.
This helps your dog from becoming frustrated and feeling helpless.
All of these things together can improve your dog’s life generally and will likely contribute to furthering your cause of training your dog to tolerate your leaving.
This is by no means a complete fix to teaching your dog to be okay being alone.
There is also working on desensitizing your dog to departure cues and building your time away from home. But, depending on the severity of your dog’s problem, completing all of the above should be a big improvement both for you and your dog.
Together We Can Raise A Happy and Obedient Dog
Jim Burwell is Houston’s most respected dog trainer for 30 years, serving over 11,000 clients. Jim works with you and your entire family in helping your dog be the best dog ever.