A Newly Adopted German Shepherd in Hollywood Learns to Stay Calm When Left Alone

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 12, 2017

Ella is a four-year-old female German Shepherd who was just rescued into a forever home in Hollywood a few days ago. Her new guardian set up a dog behavior training session with me to address a few issues including anxiety when left alone.

When you bring a mature dog into your home, its not unusual for them to behave differently for the first week or two. As they grow more comfortable in their new situation, you start to see more of their personality and energy emerge.

Ella was very well behaved when I arrived for the session. She met me at the door showing good confidence. While she came in close to give me a good sniff, she wasn’t over excited about it.

Over the first few days, the guardian had seen Ella’s behavior change; in good ways and in ways he wasn’t wild about like mouthing him assertively when she wants to play and he was otherwise engaged. Some of the unwanted dog behaviors had started to diminish but others were getting more intense.

I spent a good portion of the session showing the guardian how to add in rules, boundaries and structure. Often new adopters like to remove all boundaries and limits to help the dog feel more at home. While the intent is good, this is also setting a standard of what is and is not acceptable behavior.

Because dogs go through life probing to determine where boundaries and limits are, a lack of structure can lead the dog into thinking there is no clear leader in place. This can cause a dog to fail to develop respect for the human as the authority figure and subsequently try to take over this position themselves or push more than they normally would. This often results in a dog who does not listen when the human tries to disagree or correct them.

I recommended some rules and boundaries, showed the guardian how to add structure and the best way to use positive reinforcement to help the dog adopt more of a follower’s mindset. If a dog identifies as a follower, they feel less responsible for contributing which can reduce their stress levels quite a bit. They also have more of an ask outlook instead of one where they think its ok to tell the humans what to do.

After wrapping up the section on providing structure and discipline to help the dog see and respect the human as the authority figure, I showed him a few dog training obedience exercises to help him redirect Ella. Being able to redirect a dog’s attention before they get into trouble is often the difference between a dog who complies and one who continues doing the unwanted behavior.

After practicing these exercises, we recreated a leaving the house scenario so that the guardian could keep the dog calm and away from the door as he leaves.

Its going to be important for the guardian to practice the exercises a few times a day so the dog gets so good at them she does so without thinking. This, combined with consistent enforcement of the new rules and boundaries will be important. These are the things that will help Ella learn the behavior her guardian wants her to engage in throughout various situations.

To address Ella’s distress when left home alone, I recommended the guardian increase her daily exercise and also to practice leaving the apartment for progressively longer and longer periods of time.

At first, the guardian should practice so that Ella stays on the dog bed as he steps outside the door as detailed in the above video. Once she consistently stays in place and stops trying to follow him, the next step will be to take a second step outside, but keep the door open. Once she is consistent with this step, then he can add a third and continue the process until he can walk to the bottom of the steps without the dog getting up to follow him.

The next step will be to close the door while he remains right outside the door. After waiting literally only a few seconds, he should come back in and resume his day without any fanfare. After a few practices at this step, then he can start to add in a few additional seconds each trip.

The key to this process is to only add seconds in a very progressive manner. We want the dog to practice being alone and calm for gradually longer and longer periods of time. Its best to practice these exercises many times throughout the day. But each time, the guardian needs to grab all his things (keys, ph, sunglasses, etc) so its as close to a real departure as possible.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Introduce rules and boundaries and consistently enforce them.
  • Get into a habit or rewarding or disagreeing with the dog within 3 seconds.
  • Do not pet Ella when she is over excited.
  • Start petting Ella with a purpose instead of when she demands it or for no reason (until she is behaving well all the time).
  • Use passive training to reward Ella for engaging in desired actions and behaviors.
  • Toss treats onto the dog bed as shown to help assign a command word to that action.
  • Come up with a naughty dog name and use that when correcting or reprimanding the dog.
  • Practice leashing up Ella multiple times a day; stopping as soon as she moves in front or shows excitement.
  • Use the special twist of leash to the Martingale collar and a short leash on walks to help Ella stay out of trouble. Once her major behavior issues have been handled, training her to not pull on the leash and training her to heel will be very beneficial.
  • Get into a habit of walking through Ella when she is in the way at home to help her learn she needs to defer (a follower’s mindset).
  • Use the Escalating Consequences to disagree with unwanted behaviors like barking at a window, jumping up, getting too close when eating, etc.
  • Practice the Focus exercise at least twice a day. Once she is good at the exercise, start adding an extra second to the second movement until she can focus for 20 seconds.
  • Once she can focus for 20 seconds inside, start asking for a focus while walking. Only do this when no other dogs or distractions are present at first. At first, give the treat after only one second but practice this so that she will focus on his face for multiple steps.
  • Practice the hand targeting exercise a few times a day (7-14 treats each practice) in different parts of the house.
  • Practice the leaving ritual as detailed above while gradually adding in time outside.
  • Once Ella is calm throughout the leaving process as defined above, try to spend a few minutes each day outside the apartment to help Ella practice being home alone.
  • Add structure to meal time; eating before giving her permission to eat food waiting in her bowl. Any remaining food should be dumped out of the bowl back into the bag once she walks away and the bowl replaced to the floor until the next meal.
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