Teaching a Rescue Dog to Stay to Help it Get Over Separation Anxiety

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 27, 2018

For this Los Angeles dog training session, we help 2 year-old Terrier mix Ghost (Adopted through Wags and Walks) by sharing tips to stop his separation anxiety.

Ghost was a little bit uneasy when I first arrived for the session, so I refrained from reaching out, giving direct eye contact or talking directly to her. When it comes to dogs who are a little bit insecure, being passive or aloof and waiting for them to come to you is always a wise approach.

I sat down with the guardian to discuss the situation and determine what kind of rules and structure in place. When you have a dog that is suffering from separation anxiety, one of the first places to start is their day-to-day routine.

I learned that Ghost didn’t really have any boundaries or limits and was also able to tell the guardians when she wanted them to pet her. Making things worse, the guardians would pet Ghost anytime she was insecure, fearful or in other unbalanced states of mind.

For humans, consoling through contact, attention and kind words can be comforting. But anything a dog is doing when you pet it is what you were specifically rewarding, amplifying and reinforcing. Ghost’s guardians had been unintentionally amplifying her insecurities each time they petted her when she was in a needy state of mind.

I shared my petting with a purpose philosophy and strongly recommended that they start exclusively petting the dog for doing things that were desirable. This wall positively impact Ghost in multiple ways. First off, they will stop petting the dog when she is feeling anxious or insecure which will stop things from getting worse. Secondly, by asking the dog to do something to earn it’s affection, the guardians can help give Ghost a self-esteem boost which will help improve her confidence and reduce her separation anxiety.

I also discussed the importance of rules and structure. Dogs that have separation anxiety often feel that they are responsible for their humans due to the human’s failing to provide structure. This confuses the dog into thinking that humans need the dog to take care of them. But when the dog communicates or tells the humans it’s not safe to leave without her, and they do so anyways, this causes the dog to stress out.

When you are helping a dog get over a case of separation anxiety, I have found that teaching them to stay can be a very powerful tool. Dogs with separation anxiety are insecure when left alone, usually because they have no practice doing so.

I handed my camera to the guardian so that I could show her how to teach a dog to stay. You can learn this positive dog training technique by watching the free dog training video below.

Once the guardians have taught Ghost to stay for duration (up to five minutes) and started practicing for distance, they will be in a position to help Ghost start practicing being alone, even if it’s only on the other side of the room.

Eventually the guardians should ask Ghost to stay for progressively longer and longer periods of time. This will give Ghost the ability to practice being alone without the world ending.

Eventually the guardians will be able to transition this confidence of being without direct visual or physical contact with the humans into leaving the home for very short periods of time that get progressively longer as the dog gets more comfortable.

I also showed the guardians how to train Ghost to focus on command as this is a great way to redirect dog’s attention. Additionally, the way that I teach dogs to focus has an added benefit of stopping the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. This will go along ways towards helping Ghost feel more comfortable and relaxed in general.

We finished up the session by doing some counter conditioning to stop Ghost from barking when people knock or ring the doorbell or make noises outside of her home.

To help the guardians remember the bounty of dog behavior tips I shared with them in this in-home dog training session, we shot a roadmap to success video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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