What to do if your dog is afraid to be left alone
Symptoms may be: howling, barking after leaving the owner’s house, and then every now and then at fairly regular intervals, scratching doors and windows, bringing down the owner’s clothes to the bed, throwing himself at the door – where the owner disappeared, biting furniture, carpets, even the floor, taking care of himself in the house, also peeing on the owner’s bed, refusing to eat and drink.
If your dog is behaving this way, it may be a symptom of problems with being alone.
This is not a training problem, but a behavioral problem. Therefore, enrolling your dog in an obedience class will not solve this issue. It depends only on the owner’s work if and how quickly he can convince the dog to stay calmly at home in his absence. Obedience exercises will be helpful as an adjunct because they will stimulate the dog’s cerebral cortex, keep him occupied with tasks that are strenuous, and therefore calming. They can also increase the dog’s self-confidence, which will help it to tolerate parting.
Separation problems can result from, for example. neglect in puppyhood, m.in. improper socialization. Proverb „What Johnny can’t learn, John won’t be able to do" also applies to dogs. The nerve cells in the cortical layer of the brain develop in the first ten weeks or so. That is why it is so important what we give your dog when he is accustomed to it. This also applies to being left without a caretaker.
You can teach a dog to stay calm without us, but progress is slow and sometimes almost imperceptible. So before you start therapy you need to answer the question: do I want to give my dog as much time as he will need. If not, it’s better to give the dog away. You must not press for an effect, because this must come as a result of the dog’s decision and not a human.
One of the ways is desensitization. It involves successively exposing the dog to a stimulus to which he responds with fear at an intensity he can bear.
The desensitization process for separation problems is like watching a painted wall dry – for a long time nothing happens, until suddenly it appears that the wall is dry and ready for use! But if you touch the wall with your fingers too soon, you will spoil the whole effect, because your hand will reflect on it and you will have to paint the wall all over again.
Desensitization is a slow process and requires a lot of work from the owner.
If at any stage the dog shows nervousness, anxiety, or reactions other than expected, it is a sign that the next stage has been started too soon.
Then go back to those exercises where the dog was calm. It is the dog who decides when the desensitization process is over, not the human.
The trick is to make it a positive process at every stage.
1. Set a place for your dog in the house – it has to be comfortable, safe and big enough for him to stretch out on. The best place is one where you can see most of the house, but also one where the dog feels safe, i.e. sheltered on at least two sides. The corners of rooms are ideal for this – natural, from the walls, or created by arranging furniture.
2. When the dog can’t see, put some yummy treats on the spot – not dry cookies, but fragrant pieces of cooked meat, etc. Provoke your dog to go to his spot, and when he gets on it, click and give the command 'Azorres to the spot'. The reward will be the treats that the dog finds there. Repeat this exercise multiple times throughout the day. Try to get your dog interested in something that works on him so that he stays in place for as long as possible. While you’re there, click and let the treats come out. If the treats previously scattered on the spot have run out, give another one from your hand, after each click, for when the dog is still on the spot.
3. Watch your dog and when, during the day, he voluntarily goes to his spot, click, praise him effusively and reward him with a tasty morsel, which you give so that the dog eats it while still in place.
4. After a couple of days, try to get the dog to react by giving the command 'Azorres to the place' when the dog is in another part of the apartment. If he goes to a place, click when he gets there and give a reward. If he procrastinates, it’s a sign that you want to get to this stage too quickly. In this situation, repeat the tasks in point. 2 and catch your dog coming up/lying down on his own as often as possible (ptk.3) and of course click it and reward it.
5. Set a time when you are at home but not available to your dog. Do not allow your dog to follow you everywhere, lie by your feet, etc. If, for example. your dog will follow you to the bathroom, give him the command 'come out' but do not close the door. Let the dog leave the bathroom for the time you are there, but let him sit in front of the threshold and observe. With time, but only when the dog no longer follows you into the bathroom, close the door for a while. Open the door when he is calm, not squealing, not demanding to be let inside, click and reward the dog.
6. Change the rituals. What you do before you leave the house reassures your dog that you want to leave him. You have already taught him that when you put on your jacket it means that you are about to leave the house. Dogs have a great sense of observation and learn by repetition, so if you have prepared yourself in the same order 20 times before leaving the house, the dog knows that you will leave the moment you do the second of the fifteen preceding actions. This increases the dog’s anxiety and amplifies the stress. So, at a time when you’re not going to leave the house at all, put on your shoes, grab your bag or keys (or do whatever it is you usually do before you leave) and. do nothing. Just walk in/out of the house, sit on the couch and say absolutely nothing to the dog. Don’t react to any squealing, nervousness, panting or licking more than usual. Repeat this exercise until the dog stops reacting completely to you gathering to leave.
7. Leave the house for a while leaving something yummy for the dog to chew on, come back quickly but don’t greet the dog right away. It is best not to pay attention to him until he calms down, only then call him, pet him and say hello.
8. Gradually increase the amount of time out of the house, but make sure that each time before you go out you send the dog away and there give him something very attractive to chew on, e.g. cooked calf bone with meat. He will start biting it, maybe move it to another place, don’t pay attention to it. Gather up and leave without a word, without looking at the dog. When you return, do not greet your dog effusively until he has calmed down.
Don’t make an event out of going out and coming back. Let it be natural and obvious. Support your dog by leaving various toys or congoes stuffed with scented treats in different areas of the house, so that your absence is associated with great attractions for your dog that are not present when you are at home.
Aneta Awtoniuk, behaviourist, animal behaviour therapist, Azorres dog training instructor