Coping With Home Alone Issues

Social animals can adapt to alone time. Dogs are, naturally, more comfortable in the company of their people. Puppies and re-homed adolescent and adult dogs must learn to cope with home alone time. Here is a plan to get started.
Teaching your dog to relax when the family is out-of-sight can start shortly after arrival into the household. For puppies, the crate plays an integral part in this process. As a routine place for puppy to rest and contentedly chew, he learns to calm and soothe himself without constant owner presence. There is no specific relevance attached to the crate, such as home alone or bedtime. Puppy learns to remain settled and relaxed with the owner visible or out-of-sight, home with him or away.
Adolescent and adult re-homed dogs can present with home alone distress. Here are distress symptoms to observe: soiling when the dog is truly housetrained, excessive chewing, vocalization, chewing/raking around home exit points, evidence of escape attempts, potentially resulting in damage to the home or injury to the dog, excessive panting/salivation, sustained elevated pulse rate, dilated pupils, trembling/restlessness, and destructive behaviors.
Separation anxiety is a broad label. Symptoms vary along with severity and treatment plans. It is important to correctly identify stressors and threshold levels. In extreme cases, medication may be helpful, so consult your vet.
As part of obedience training, teach your dog to “go to place” and “stay”. The “place” can be a dog bed, mat, blanket, or any designated area where your dog can lie down comfortably. It’s best to choose a spot where family members can remain visible as well as go out of the dog’s sight.
The “stay” cue is progressive using duration, distance, and distractions as your dog comes to understand what is asked of him. Practice directing your dog to his “place” to lie down and “stay”. Remember that “stay” means your dog isn’t permitted to move from that spot or change his position until he hears a verbal release from you. Typical release words are “OK” or “all done”. If you ask your dog to “sit/stay”, and he lies down, you must communicate that this is incorrect and set up again. Working with a trainer can help you provide clearer signals and feedback as well as more effective reinforcement schedules. These elements yield gradual favorable results and reliability.
Only when you achieve a level of success with distance during the “stay”, you can try stepping out-of-sight. Initial disappearance should be brief and always end with success. Adjust the criteria as necessary. For increasing out-of-sight time, provide your dog with something to chew for engagement. Keep a log of duration and out-of-sight trials if that helps to identify your dog’s thresholds.
There are cases when your veterinarian may recommend medication. If your dog regularly experiences uber-stress, behavioral treatment plans are likely to fail. Talk to your vet and provide as many details as possible regarding symptoms and home alone strategies that you have tried. He/she can explain medication options and which ones would be the most appropriate for your dog.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2015 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC