Five Easy Steps To Teach Your Dog To Be Home Alone


Number one canine problem behavior is "home alone." Don't panic if someone tells you that your dog suffers from separation anxiety. It's probably not the case. Anxiety is a serious disorder and most dogs don't have any anxiety when left alone. They are either under-stimulated and burn their surplus energy by wrecking the furniture, they're having fun and don't know that it is wrong to destroy human possessions, or the owners have not taught them the desired routines when left home alone. There is a good chance that you can solve the problem with my five steps program.

You're not alone. Problems with dogs that can't be home alone (I call it CHAP=Canine Home Alone Problem) is the most common problem all over the world when we keep dogs as pets. Everybody seems to have a different idea as how to solve the problem. Remember the principle: too many cooks spoil the broth. If you choose to follow some other method, please do it and don't even bother reading the following. If you choose to follow my five steps method, stick to it and don't listen to what others tell you.

 

Teach your dog to be home alone in five steps:

  • DLO means desired learning objective.
  • QC means Quality Control and indicates the number of times in a row (or similar criteria) you must have accomplished your DLO successfully before you move to the next step.

 

1. Teach the dog to associate the bed (crate, blanket, spot, or whatever you have chosen) with positive experiences.  

DLO: The dog likes to lie down on the bed.  

QC: The dog goes often and voluntarily to its bed.

  • Throw a couple of treats on the bed of the dog (without the dog seeing it) whenever there are none left. 
  • Whenever the dog lies on the bed, reinforce it verbally (don't exaggerate, so that the dog gets up).
  • Sometimes, pet the dog when it lies on the bed (calmly).
  • Send the dog to bed with a particular signal, e.g. "bed" 10-20 times daily.
  • Send the dog to its bed often when you watch TV, read the news, do computer work, etc.

 

2. Teach the dog meaning of the word "bed."

DLO: The dog goes to the bed after you say "bed" without any problems.

QC: Ten successive correct behaviors.

  • Send the dog to the bed with the word "bed" by pointing to the bed or throwing a treat on the bed. 
  • Use only the word "bed." Don't say anything else.
  • Reinforce it verbally, calmly so it remains on the bed.

 

3. The dog lies down on the bed even if you walk away. 

DLO: The dog lies down on the bed even if you walk away. 

QC: Ten successive correct behaviors.

  • Send the dog to the bed with the word "bed."
  • Reinforce it verbally, calmly so it remains on the bed.
  • Stop reinforcing it immediately if it should leave within 10 seconds and ignore it for a couple of minutes. (Important: those two minutes must be particularly boring for the dog).
  • Start all over until the dog remains on the bed even if you walk away.

 

4. Teach the dog to stay on the bed.

DLO: The dog lies on the bed for three minutes after you leave the room.

QC: Ten successive correct behaviors.

  • Reinforce the dog verbally as soon as it lies on the bed after you said "bed." Be calm.
  • When the dog lies quietly on the bed, leave the room for two seconds, then come back.
  • Repeat, leaving the room at irregular intervals and for irregular periods, e.g. 5 s, 30 s, 4 s, 1 minute, etc.
  • If the dog remains on the bed, do nothing.
  • Should the dog leave its bed, send it back and start all over.

 

5.  Teach the dog to stay on the bed when you leave the room and close the door.

DLO: You can leave the dog and close the door without any problem.

QC:  Ten successive correct behaviors.

  • As soon as you can leave the room three minutes without the dog leaving its bed, repeat procedures in point 4 but beginning to close the door.
  • The first times, do not close the door, only touch it.
  • The following times, leave the door ajar. 
  • Then, leave the room, close the door for two seconds, open it and enter the room. If all is all right, do not pay attention to the dog. Otherwise, start all over with point 5.
  • Finally, leave the room, close the door, stay out for irregular periods, open it and enter the room. If all is all right, do not pay attention to the dog.

 

Maintaining the good behavior

  • Even when you're home, leave the dog alone sometimes. Do not pay attention to it all the time.
  • Always stimulate the dog properly before leaving. Remember: too little and too much are equally wrong.
  • Give the dog something to do when you leave. You don't even need to invest in expensive toys. A plastic bottle full of treats will keep the dog busy for a while figuring out how to take them out (watch the dog the first couple of times and encourage it, if necessary, to toss the bottle around and not bite it).
  • Place the dog's bed in a central place in the house (living room). Most dogs don't like to feel isolated.
  • Continue using "bed" and continue making the bed attractive with occasional treats, verbal reinforcing and petting (all very calmly).
  • Make sure the bed is not too clean (most dogs don't appreciate our flagrance drenched laundry), nor too dirty and is doggy-comfortable.
  • Pick up your keys often (or put on your shoes, cap or whatever you normally do before you leave) so that the dog disassociates these cues with being left alone.

 

 

Here is some explanation for those of you interested in the principles of these five-steps method:

  • We create a positive association with the bed so that the dog will go often and voluntarily to its bed.
  • We get the dog used to lie on the bed when we are at home either relaxing or doing our home work. After all, the ideal dog is the dog that it quiet at home and active when out.
  • We teach the dog the meaning of the word "bed."
  • We get the dog used to us leaving the room and coming back as a normal routine.
  • We teach the dog to associate the door with a normal routine.
  • We create a routine for the dog that when there's nothing to do at home, the best is to go to bed.

You maximize your chances of speedy success if:

  • The dog sleeps on its bed at night and (even better) if it doesn't sleep in the same room as you.
  • The dog is routinely well stimulated (under-stimulated dogs are more difficult to teach to be home alone)
  • The dog is not hyper-active and over-stimulated (over-stimulated dogs have difficulties in remaining in the same spot for longer periods of time).

Important for you:

  • Be calm no matter what you do.
  • Advance step by step.
  • Be patient.
  • Control your emotions and behavior when you succeed as well as when you fail.
  • If you haven't anything important to say to the dog, be quiet.
  • It's your responsibility alone to understand and implement this five-steps program and to adjust them if needed, not the dog's.
  • If my five steps method don't seem to solve the problem, it may be that your dog shows genuine separation anxiety in which case you must contact a competent specialist.

Enjoy,

R-

 

You're welcome to read my other blogs at http://rogerabrantes.wordpress.com/

Comments

Roger,

You mentioned above "The dog sleeps on its bed at night and (even better) if it doesn't sleep in the same room as you." Is this  only a suggestion? I seem to remember in the  mid 90s  (Narnia)you said for CHAP to work the dog *must* not sleep with anyone in the household, and if there was failure in the program it was because someone (specifically a little girl in your study) in the house had to have the dog sleep with them in thier room. Am I remembering this correctly?

 

Hi Maureen,

Yes, you remember the case correctly. The problem is that if the dog is used to have company all the time, it will be difficult to teach it to be home alone. After a night together, the abrupt departure of the owner (to go to work, for example) will almost certainly create problems. If we teach the dog to be alone during the night, we have better chances that it will also be able to be alone during the day. Of course, everything is subject to the law of averages and no two dogs are equal.

R-

Hi everyone,

Please, see also my latest comment about animal feelings in "Can My Dog Be Sad?" Many dog owners describe the behavior of their dogs when home alone in emotional terms, which is mostly counter-productive. Our analysis of behavior should be simple, registering the observable, measuring the measurable, and checking the effect of the application of the single behavior modification procedures.

Enjoy your day!

R-

A long time ago, I attended your APDT CHAP presentation. The program has been helpful over the years. One important element (not sure if it came from you) is for the owner to go straight to the dog's bed upon returning and greet the dog there. And, to spend several minutes petting and sitting with the dog on the bed until it settles; it's breathing becomes regular and the heart rate is normal... I learned this by noticing that dogs wait for the owner's return at the place where he comes into view. So, I "borrowed" this behavior by making the bed the place of return... so the dog will go there to wait for the owner.  (Owners report that they know the dog was lying on it because its still warm when they sit down on it.) The goal is teach the dog that lying on the bed will bring the owner home. :-)  I also remember your observation that the second depature of the day will often cause distress, and I recommend clients to avoid two departures in a day. Better to come home later, than come home and go out again. 

I don't think it is possible to desensitize a dog to our leaving.  It will quickly discriminate the actual departure signal.  Owners leave on schedules and a pet will tune into that regardless of the owner's attempt to disguise leaving; which is why "set-ups" often don't work. 

A dog home alone is in an isolation chamber and it will, over time, become hyper sensitive to sounds and events outside the home; these stimuli will often become triggers for barking, rushing a door or window, etc., where the resultant frustration will lead to chewing....

The strength of our dog's attachment to us is immeasurable. And being alone not a canine way of being.

Just a few  thoughts,

Bill

Dr. Ian Dunbar Seminars and Workshops on the East Coast