How Teaching a Dog to Stay and Develop Self Control Can Eliminate Separation Anxiety

Indie is a seven-year-old Boxer who lives in Omaha. Her guardians set up a dog behavior training appointment to address his Separation Anxiety, charging the door, has a fear of the kennel and overall anxiety.

Indie was pretty well behaved when we arrived for the session. This was a good sign as usually dogs with a bad case of Separation Anxiety have real difficulty maintaining control when guests arrive.

I sat down with the guardians and Indie to chat about his Separation Anxiety and get a little more information on his day to day routine. Often dogs who suffer from Separation Anxiety have few rules and are over petted by their guardians at times that cause the dog to get a mixed or confusing message.

Any time you are petting your dog, you are nurturing whatever action they are engaged in or the state of mind they are in at the time. So if you have a dog that is nervous, and you pet it, over time you will create insecurity in your dog.

When you are rehabilitating a dog who suffers from Separation Anxiety, you need to help them develop self control while simultaneously building up the dog’s confidence to help them avoid going into a panic state when left alone.

As I was explaining this to Indie’s guardian, she escorted me over to the door to the garage to show me an example of what happens when Indie is left home alone.

While this isn’t the worst case of Separation Anxiety I have ever seen, obviously Indie is in distress when he is left home alone. I knew that I needed to show the humans how to provide him with structure and discipline to help him be confident about being left home alone.

We returned to the living room where I recommend the guardians introduce some rules and boundaries to start shrinking Indie’s world. Dogs without rules and boundaries often start to think of themselves as authority figures. When this is the case, they can start to feel a burden of responsibility which is a contributing factor for dogs with Separation Anxiety.

After suggesting some rules that will help Indie start to identify as a follower, I went over non verbal ways to enforce them.

I made sure to point out that because dogs learn through association, its important to correct or reward the dog within 3 seconds for them to connect the correction or reward with the action.

I also went over ways to add structure to petting him, how to reward him for desired behaviors through passive training and communication mistakes many people make with their dogs. I never want to say petting a dog is a bad thing, but do ing it consistently at the wrong times can have a negative impact and I suspect some of that was contributing to Indie’s anxiety.

A great way to deal with an anxious dog is to build up their self esteem and develop their ability to control themselves. Often I recommend training the dog with new commands and tricks for the former. But some commands can help in both categories. A perfect example is training a dog to stay.

Once Indie has learned to stay through duration, distance and distractions, then the guardians can start utilizing this command whenever they leave the room to get a glass of water, use the bathroom or do some other short timed event.

Each time the humans ask Indie to stay while they leave the room, they are helping him practice being alone without panicking. Now by itself a few stays like this aren’t going to solve his issue, but by teaching a dog to stay when they leave the room, over time they will help Indie practice being alone. This is crucial when it comes to rehabilitating a dog with separation anxiety.

Because we spent so much time on a solid foundation of structure, I didn’t get a chance to show the guardians how to help Indie practice staying in his kennel. Kennel training is something many people don’t even realize they need to do, but its unfair for a dog to think being secured in a crate is ok unless we help introduce it in a positive way.

A few weeks ago I worked with a dog in Santa Monica that also suffered from Separation Anxiety. That dog’s guardians paid me to do an extended write up that included crate training so Im sharing it here as there are a number of techniques and dog behavior tips and tricks included in that case study that can help Indie.

Once Indie gets used to the new structure and his humans get used to Petting with a purpose, practicing the stay and enforcing the new rules consistently, then they will be ready to practice leaving him home alone.

At first his guardians should only leave for a second. They should go through all the steps that lead up to them leaving; putting on shoes, grabbing purse, wallet, keys, sunglasses, etc. These are often triggers that cause a dog to start to associate with the humans leaving. We want to recreate the leaving experience as closely as possible when we are training a dog to be home alone.

Each time the human practices leaving through the door they normally depart, they should stay outside for progressively longer periods of time. Each practice departure should only be slightly longer than the previous one.  The idea is to help the dog practice the human leaving, but for such a short time they don’t get a chance to get anxious before the human returns.

The humans need to make sure they do not pet or interact with indie when they do return home unless he is calm and balanced. Developing and rewarding self control will be an important part of Indie’s rehabilitation.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Stop petting Indie when he is over excited, nervous or in any other unbalanced state of mind.
  • Start petting Indie with a purpose to help him feel like he is earning praise to boost his confidence.
  • Use passive training to reward Indie for desired actions and behaviors.
  • Introduce rules and boundaries and consistently enforce them for the next 3 weeks to help Indie get into a new habit of following and respecting them,
  • Use the Escalating Consequences to disagree with Indie any time he breaks the rules or engages in an undesired behavior.
  • Practice the Stay exercise multiple times a day while progressively adding more time or distance until Indie has mastered this skill.
  • Once Indie can stay, his family members should use that skill multiple times a day so Indie gets lots of practice staying in a room alone.
  • Practice the Focus exercise multiple times a day in short 1-2 minute sessions while gradually extending the time of the second movement until Indie will stay focused for 20 seconds.
  • Other members of the family should practice the focus or stay exercise with Indie any time the family;s mother leaves the room.
  • Practice claiming the area around the door by having friend and family members pretend to be guests at the door.
  • Once the Focus and Stay commands are mastered, and Indie is following the new rules on his own, start practicing leaving the home for progressively longer periods of time.
  • Get ingestible chew items like Bully Sticks, cow’s ears, etc and leave one with Indie when they have progressed up to to leaving the home for longer than 5 minutes.
  • Practice sending Indie to the dog bed using he command word “draft” when he touches the treat with his lips.
  • Add structure to meal time with the humans eating first, then giving indie permission to eat food waiting in his bowl.
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