The unconditional love of a dog is a wonderful thing, but when they get so attached that they can't bear to see you leave then they need your help. Ben Randall explains how to stop a dog getting upset when you leave the house.
Having a strong, happy bond with your dog is one of the most wonderful things about pet ownership. But the love between you and your canine friend can sometimes mean that dogs — just like humans — can find it difficult being parted from their owners.
It’s something I started to see a lot of with my Beggarbush clients after lockdown ended. We spent so much time at home with our dogs, and they got used to it — as did we. But even dogs who were born after the pandemic aren’t immune, as this week’s reader has discovered.
Dear Ben, our dog — a two-year-old Jack Russell — is generally calm and well-behaved, right up until the moment we have to leave the house. That sets him off barking, despite our attempts to soothe him, and he carries on barking for a good while after we’ve gone. He doesn’t get overexcited or stressed other than that — in fact, he’s even very calm when we get back home, where I know a lot of owners have dogs who go crazy when they walk back through the door. What can we do to help him with this? — L.G., Northamptonshire
This can be an awkward one to diagnose. There are SO many massive factors — and if you’ve been asking friends and fellow dog owners, you’ll probably have found that there are so many people out there with so many views on it. Separation anxiety in dogs can come in many different forms.
The good news, though, is that while you won’t necessarily be able to read your dog’s mind to find out exactly what’s going on, by keeping this simple and following a few straightforward steps, you’ll be able to keep your dog calm even when leaving your house for hours at a time.
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How to handle a dog who gets upset or barks when you leave the house
1. Understand that you and your dog can be happy spending time apart
Underlying all the steps here is this one key thing: your dog has become used to being around you all the time, and therefore isn’t getting comfortable being alone. That’s what we’re going to change here: we need to get your dog used to being apart from you for respite during the day, and in the evening. The dog will trust us that being apart isn’t bad: it just means that they’re having their time, and you’re having your time.
2. Find something that will keep your dog happy and occupied while he’s alone
I like to give the dog some sort of chew bone to suit the breed. I’m a big fan of the Kong ball for this: it’s an indestructible rubber ball that can be filled with a treat inside — kibble, peanut butter, pretty much anything your dog loves — inside it. It creates a real wow factor for the dog, since they get to chew away at something and get the treat out. Ask your dog to go to its safe space — probably its dog crate or dog bed — and give them this special toy only when he or she is there.
After a week or so, once or twice a day, the dog will start to look forward to time away with its Kong. Once the dog is happy and enjoying itself with the new training regime with you in the next room, or perhaps upstairs, we can then go to the next step: start leaving the dog alone while you step out of the house.
3. Set your phone up to record your dog, and leave him or her alone
This simple trick works really well: set up your phone to record the area where your dog is having their alone time and leave the house. Start with just one minute, then five minutes, then 10. Don’t go anywhere at this point, but you can sit in the car and check a few emails or listen to a podcast, just to get your dog gradually used to you not being there.
When you come back in, you can listen back — or watch, if you’ve videoed — to see how long the dog has lasted before getting upset. If your dog makes it barely 10 seconds before its bored of the toy or treat, you’ll have to find something else that can last him or her much longer. Make sure that whatever they have will give enough enrichment to keep them occupied for a long enough period of time.
4. Keep practising before leaving the house for real
Always remember: it’s your house, your front door. You can practice and simulate this training by stepping out of the house, even if you’re not actually going out for a long period of time. Keep increasing, if you can, the amount of time that you leave your canine friend alone, making sure you’re close by but not actually in the house. This is important: you don’t want everyone to get things right inside, and then just go to work.
5. Take your dog for a walk, or a play, before leaving it for a longer period
If I’m going out for a while, I’ll always take my dog out for a quick walk, or spend time with it, before I leave. Often you’ll find that when you’ve gone for a walk and returned, your dog is more relaxed — it’s been out, exercised, now it’s chilled out.
6. Work patiently towards the goal
The end scenario is this: we’re going out for a couple of hours, the dog sees us getting coat and shoes on, and automatically goes to its place and is ready for its Kong or similar reward. He or she will then stay there happily while you go out. At that point, you’ll have cracked it.
But this won’t happen overnight: it’s a process, a job to do, steps to follow. Breaking everything down like this will help hugely, and it’s worth sticking with patiently: keep on going in and out as much as you could possibly want until they’re right. If that means spending the odd half an hour in the car doing your emails, or getting on with a chore in the shed or the garage, it’s a small price to pay.
For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk. For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit www.gundog.app/trial
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