Life Skills: Independence Training

Independence training helps to produce an emotional state in a dog, where he is completely relaxed in his environment.  He trusts his people and is capable of consistently engaging in calm, quiet activities – without soliciting participation from his humans. 

As soon as possible, puppies and young dogs can learn to balance their social natures with the requirement to enjoy their own company at times.  It is neither sustainable nor healthy for human and dog to be co-dependent.  Life is busy, and the dog can’t always be involved in every aspect of it.

Home alone issues are very difficult to change and/or manage.  Independence training helps to avoid these complicated behavior patterns.  Diligent behavior management, in general, can set up independence training practices.  Boundary setting plays a large part.   Everyone’s goal is to raise a well-adjusted, relaxed and happy dog:  a fun and easy companion.

Avoid Home Alone Issues (Among Others)

Insecure dogs are more likely to need independence training and to display signs of distress when their people are absent. Separation anxiety is a broad label with various symptoms that require appropriate treatment protocols. Home alone distress behaviors often appear during adolescence and early adulthood.  The best time to begin independence training is puppyhood or as soon as your re-homed dog arrives. 

Owners who constructively channel the dog’s mental capabilities, as early as possible, set up for building her confidence.  Teaching a handful of reliable basic obedience cues and providing environmental enrichment activities are roads to confidence-building.  Another essential piece of the puzzle is—-

Behavior Management

A major difference in positive punishment vs. positive reinforcement training methods involves behavior management.  With positive punishment, one allows the dog many opportunities to choose activities and behaviors.  Because he’s a dog in a human home environment, he’s likely to make many mistakes.  The owner responds by adding an aversive that is a form of punishment.

With positive reinforcement, one sets up for success:  the dog’s choices of activities and behaviors are limited to what the owner wants from him.  The owner can respond to those behaviors by adding a form of reward instead. 

Dogs’ behaviors change through phases of life, so management and independence training should continue until adulthood at age 2 or 3 years (depending on breed).  Crate training helps develop independence by limiting your dog’s options.  When crate training is started early, most dogs not only adapt to time in that space, but enjoy it.  Adolescents and adults may need a re-introduction to the crate, but the lifelong benefits are worth the effort. 

Dogs do what works for them.   Reinforced behaviors that are cute during puppyhood may not be desirable ones in adulthood.  Set boundaries and disallow behaviors that you don’t want to stick.  As natural as it may be to shout “no” at the dog, this is not an example of setting boundaries.  A better strategy is to re-direct undesirable behaviors onto acceptable activities and ask your dog to comply with learn obedience cues to obtain what he wants. 

Steps to Achieve Independence Training

Independence training results in well-adjusted dogs, emotionally equipped to cope with life situations that eventually unfold.  Setting boundaries and providing consistent structure for the dog within your daily routines are parts of an effective puppy-raising plan.  It works to change behaviors in adolescent and adult dogs, too.

Provide plenty of environmental enrichment and mental stimulation activities.  Your dog can learn to occupy his mind without constant human intervention.  Food-foraging toys and natural chews are great options to this end.

Few obedience cues build confidence as solidly as a well-practiced down and stay.  These are very structured exercises that require focus on the part of the dog and a competent level of handling skills on the part of the owner.   Incorporating duration, distance, and distraction criteria gradually increases difficulty, while achieving success.  Confidence all around!

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2017 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC