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First steps of training – Introducing activities to promote independence

Read and implement the chapter on removing and reducing stress.

You must not leave your dog longer than they can tolerate without showing signs of anxiety or stress – this may mean no time at all would potentially be your starting.

If you are unable to leave your dog alone without them coping then you will need to rely on family, friends or a dog sitter. Having someone pop in to check on your dog will not be a solution.

Building Independence

The starting point is to subtly build independence with your dog.

Independent Eating

  • Exploration Zone
  • Snuffle Mats
  • Likimats
  • Ling lasting chews
  • Zogoflex Toppl etc

Independent eating gives your dog control of their actions and puts positive associations to other actions, rather than just being with you.

  • The above activities are NOT to be used as distraction techniques so you can go out without them noticing.
  • The intention is to gradually introduce and expose your dog to distance and changing focus whilst you are present.
  • Your dog still has the choice to access you and come to find you should they wish
  • Independent eating is for ‘extras’ rather than main meals which can remain ‘social’ with you present.

Exercises with Distance and Duration

Training exercises that involve your dog moving away from you or being comfortable holding their position while you move away from them can help create happy independence:

  • Bear
  • Scout
  • Goat
  • Cache
  • Down – stay
  • Settle mat training

Training and Communication

By increasing and developing clear communication channels with your dog it can help them prepare for being left alone.

Introducing a visual ‘predictor’ for a reward for calm behaviour can help support your dog.

An example of this is the wear something specific such as an orange blossom scarf whilst you do separation training. By doing this consistently the ‘predictor’ can eventually trigger the involuntary production of calm chemistry so that your dog is in a pleasurable psychological state.

Another example of a dog forming a visual association similar to this is a working dog who learns that when they wear a harness they are working (such as Guide Dogs or Police Search Dogs) and when they are out of harness they can relax.

What if there is an emergency or a reason that I just have to go out?

Unfortunately, these situations will impact on the progress of your training.

If you have introduced a visual ‘predictor’ avoid using it away from the training. This will preserve the positive association you have been working on during your training.

Consider where you will leave your dog as again if you use your training area it may impact on the progress you have made.

Ideally see if you can ask a family member or friend to be with your dog for company.

A note about Crates

Many dogs are happy in their crates but dogs with separation anxiety may have formed negative associations with one.

The reason for this could be frustration of physical restriction and lack of choices. Frustration can cause a drop in dopamine which can trigger fear responses in the brain.

The anxiety may relate to confinement, rather than separation so understanding the reasons for your dogs’ separation is important when looking at a plan to work on improving it.