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Progressive steps – How to help our dogs learn to be happy alone

First a quick note on how our dogs learn

You may have heard of a method in dealing where you change or alter your leaving routine in an attempt to disrupt the association and learning your dog has already formed in your build up to leaving. This is an attempt to desensitize a dog however this is highly likely to be unsuccessful because as soon as you leave the fear and anxiety starts. 

We have to actually address the fear and anxiety response to make progress.

Counter Conditioning

Counter = Opposite.

If we have an emotional response of fear our goal is t change this emotion to a positive one. By working at the base level of where your dog is ablet o cope with being separated from you, you will be able to build new, positive memories.

Memories don’t go away over time. The brain has two sets of memories to choose from:

  1. Panic
  2. Calmness and Pleasure

We need to make old memories weaker (1. Panic) and the new memories strong (2. Calmness and pleasure) so that it is easier for the brain to choose the strong pathway.

Before beginning this training, please read Speaking Your Dogs Language so that you can recognize if your dog is showing early signs of stress. Do not move on unless your dog is showing no signs of stress at all.

Planning your training

You will need a different kit entirely that you use just for separation training. That includes all items in your Exploration Zone.

Choose a new area to start your new separation training that you can use to eventually leave your dog.

Step 1.

Equipment: Baby Gate

Aim: To slowly introduce your dog to being on the other side of the gate and build calm, relaxed isolation.

  1. Set up Exploration Zone beyond the gate, allow your dog in. Leave the gate open and stay in the room with your dog
  2. Several weeks of Exploration Zone while you move around the room but ensure you are accessible to your dog at all times
  3. All good stuff happens in the area on the other side of the baby gate (we’ll call this the happy area)
  4. Ensure that a really comfortable (safe) bed or den is available in the happy area. 
  5. Encourage Voluntary settle on the bed (see separate guide)

Step 2

  1. All good stuff happens in the happy area. Over multiple Exploration Zone sessions, start to move further towards the gate until you are on the other side of the gate (still right near the gate and always in sight) Always return before exploration is finished.
  2. All good stuff in the happy area, start to close the gate but remain the other side of the gate in full sight.
  3. Close the gate and move away from the gate for very short periods (seconds) but still in sight, then return – calmly interact if your dog seeks attention.
  4. As above and build up duration but stay in sight
  5. Ask for above but introduce very short out of sight movement
  6. Slowly build up duration of being out of sight, still always returning before the exploration has finished.

Step 3

  1. As step 6 above but now returning just after the exploration has finished.
  2. Build duration between exploration and you returning

Step 4

  1. This next part will depend on your leaving routine and set up of your home, but you need to plan the gradual steps you can take to be able to leave the house. 
  2. Move at the same slow pace as you did in steps 1-3

If at any point your dog starts to show signs of stress, go back to the last point that they were comfortable and build up again gradually. Training rarely occurs in a straight line; we often have to take a step backwards to go forwards.