Obedience and Crate Training Helps a Pair of Dogs Get Over their Separation Anxiety

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 8, 2016


Samadhi (left) is a ten-year-old male Border Collie mix who has Separation Anxiety (destroys things when left alone). He lives with a six-year-old Dalmatian mix named Husker who is dog aggressive, gets excited, jumps up, doesn’t come on command, pulls the leash and also suffers from Separation Anxiety.

Because the dogs live out of town and I am just too busy to make a road trip, their guardian arranged to have this dog obedience training session at her mother’s apartment in Omaha.

When I arrived for the session, the guardian instructed both dogs to stay and wait several feet away from the door. They stayed for a few seconds after I walked in the door, but then Samadhi broke the stay command first and Husker followed shortly after.

The Stay is probably one of the most underrated commands out there. If the dog truly knows how to stay, then they should remain in that position until they are given their release command from the guardian.

I recommended that the guardian start teaching the Stay command with both dogs every day. I like to teach the stay in three parts; first practicing for duration, then for distance and then finally for distractions. Here is an excellent YouTube video that breaks down the Stay into those three components.

I recommended that the guardian start putting the dogs into a sit / stay when she gets up to go to the bathroom, grab a glass of water, fix some food etc. This will help the dog practice doing something that requires self-control and also practice being outside of the direct view of their guardian. This will help with the dog’s Separation Anxiety.

Unlike most of my clients, the dog’s guardian had incorporated a number of rules into their daily lives. This kind of structure can go a long ways towards helping a dog see the humans as being the authority figures. However, rules are not the only things that can lead a dog to that conclusion. I have found that adding some structure to every day activities that are related over and over is equally powerful.

As I was discussing the importance of rules and structure with the dog’s guardian, I noticed that anytime either dog got near her, she instinctively reached over and started to pet the dog. Over time this can lead the dogs into thinking that they have more authority than humans because when they tell the humans what to do, they always comply.

To help the guardian start to incorporate a little bit of structure to rewarding the dogs, I went through something I like to call petting with a purpose.

Due to a technical snafu, the above Petting with a purpose video got interrupted in the middle.

We finish up the strategy in the following video.

It will take the guardian a little bit of time to get into a habit of only petting her dogs after they do something for her. But once the guardian makes this transition, she will be engaging in a mini dog obedience training session every time she pets her dogs.

Next we turned to the primary issue the guardian wanted help with; getting her dogs to stop displaying the signs of separation anxiety when left alone.

If I have a client who’s dog suffers from Separation Anxiety, I often suggest we include a kennel when the dogs are left alone to make sure they stay safe.

The guardian does have kennels for the dogs, but had given up on using them because the dogs panicked and either scratched their face or paws up when trying to escape. This is usually the case when someone does not teach the dog how to be alone in a kennel calmly. This is why Kennel or Crate training needs to be done using positive reinforcement. Regular readers will know I am all about positive dog training.

We did not have an appropriately sized kennel available at the guardian’s mothers’ home so I had to demonstrate this technique without one.

As articulated in the above video, the first thing you need to do is make sure that the dog does not have a negative perception of the kennel. This is why it’s so important that we do not use the kennel as a punishment zone or force the dog in the crate.

Once the dog is comfortable going in and out of the kennel without any hesitation, then the guardian will be ready to move to the next stage which I discuss in the following video.

By asking the dogs to stay inside of the kennel with the door wide open, we are helping them develop self-control while simultaneously making it easier for the dog to stay inside. Because the door is open, there is nothing for the dog to fight against. Instead they have to control themselves.

Once the dog understands that they must stay in the kennel until they are giving a release by the human during this exercise, then the guardian is ready for the next step.

Essentially what this exercise does is help the dog practice being in the kennel while in a calm state of mind. Once we can achieve that, the next steps are to help the dog practice being in the kennel for progressively longer periods of time and under progressively more difficult scenarios.

This processed certainly does take time and patience. However when done properly, it eliminates the dog’s fear of the kennel for good as they develop new neuropathways in their brain. Once established, then the dog continues with the new behavior.

Combined with mastering the stay exercise, these will allow the dog’s guardian to be able to help the dogs develop more self-control.

Next I went through a Focus exercise that I learned from reading my mentor Karen London’s book FEISTY FIDO – HELP FOR THE LEASH REACTIVE DOG“.

This exercise will help Husker learn to develop more self control and give the guardian the ability to redirect her attention when out for walks or encountering unknown dogs.

Just like any other skill, it’s important that we practice and learn the basics of the Focus exercise in the easiest setting possible. In these dog’s case, that location is going to be inside their home in a quiet setting.

Once Samadhi and Husker can sit and give the guardian their full attention immediately upon receiving the Focus command, then the dog will be ready to take the next step. I detail them in the next video.

By helping the dog practice the focus exercise amongst progressively more distracting situations, they will learn how to refocus or give the human their attention amongst more challenging scenarios.

But the ultimate goal for the focus exercise is to be able to use it when other dogs are nearby. I spend the next few minutes discussing how to use this exercise to accomplish just that in the next video.

Just like the kennel exercise, teaching the dog to focus will take a little bit of time and effort. But if done properly and at the dog’s pace, the guardian will be able to utilize this new tool to redirect her dog and stop any outburst from happening before they occur.

Next I ran through an exercise that teaches the dogs to keep a respectable distance from the door when a guest arrives. The dog’s guardian and her mother took turns playing the part of a guest so that we could practice this door answering ritual.

As we were wrapping up the door exercise, the dog’s guardians’ mother asked as to if it would be OK for her to go get her dog who was in daycare so that she could practice the same door answering technique with her own dog.

Because of their dog reactivity, her mother’s dog had not interacted with Samadhi or Husker, the humans had kept them in separate rooms up till now. When the mother returned with her Westie, it was in a very excited state.

I didn’t realize how excitable the Westie was when she came inside. I knew there may be a potential danger due to Husker’s reactivity, so I had placed her on a leash before we actually opened the door. But that safeguard only works if the other dog doesn’t approach the dog you have on a leash. But the mother’s dog ran right up to Husker and gave her a play bow to tell her she wanted to play.

Husker was very anxious seeing this other dog who’s scent she had been smelling for the last several hours but not meeting in person. She was visibly shaking or quivering while staring at this Westie who darted around the room. I had to correct her on the leash a few times to snap her out of a hunting mode.

Eventually Husker settled down to such an extent that I was able to allow the other dog to play with her. Husker and Samadhi’s guardian was so joyous seeing her dog interacting with her mother’s dog without the aggressive behavior she grabbed my phone and started to film the interaction herself.

Not only did Husker tolerate the Westie, she laid down when she came close and actually played with her a bit. According to her guardian, this was the first time Husker didn’t act aggressively around a dog she didn’t know.

Having the visiting dogs in a home where they can smell another dog without interacting with it may have helped in this situation. Dogs are scent creatures so getting familiar with the Westie’s scent first likely helped them accept her when they met her in person later.

Now as an experienced dog handler, this scenario went better than it could have due to the timing of my interruptions and corrections. I recommended that the guardian not try to re-create this kind of situation until she has taught her dogs to stay properly, mastered the focus exercise and ensured that all of the dogs had been properly exercised prior to meeting.

But once Husker learns to stop acting aggressively around other dogs, socializing her with calm and balanced dogs will be an important part of her rehabilitation.

It was great to end the session seeing a dog aggressive dog laying down on the floor to play with a much smaller dog. Husker and Samadhi both are going to need plenty of practice at the different techniques and exercises we introduced in the session. But if the guardian takes her time and is consistent, there is every indication that this is a problem Husker can get past. I look forward to getting updates from their guardian.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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