SETTLING IN A NEW RESCUE DOG HOME ALONE TRAINING (Applies to puppies too!)
Rescues can be vulnerable to struggling home alone due to hyper attachment to their ‘rescuer’- which is often the person who was their first contact out of the shelter or their primary handler and carer (the person who does the lion’s share).
Having a multi dog household works in my favour, but does not make Amigo immune to struggling in my absence.
I tried to ensure I had no commitments for 3-4 weeks, or scheduled in any commitments with Nick being home for the first week (he’s now working away).
One 4 hour commitment came up for this coming Saturday, so the pressure was a little on- but I would have sought help from a dog sitter if I felt it was too much too soon.
I allowed Amigo 2 days where I didn’t leave him at all. Nick took Kanita for her evening wee walk.
I let him follow me around the house , bar upstairs which was Kanita’s safe place.
He was given free range as soon as he was safe to be around Mohawk. Generally, barriers are often unhelpful in preventing home alone issues as they can increase anxiety and cause frustration.
He coped well with the stair gate preventing him going upstairs, and when prevented from leaving the lounge (to prevent dog-dog conflict in early days)- but when he vocalised in those first two days I quickly went to him so he was not anxious nor frustrated for long durations.
He doesn’t show any negative response to being behind a closed gate at all now.
When he would follow me I wouldn’t overly interact with him, unless he was staring in my face while I was sat on the toilet. Then we had discussions about privacy and personal space
We continued with our usual routine, which involves two walks a day.
Signs he was ready for things to be ramped up were:
Taking himself off to sleep in the lounge when I worked in the morning and after walks.
One argument for allowing dogs on the sofa and free access around the house is they’ll have opportunity to choose the most comfortable place to rest!
His behaviour suggested he was tuning into our routine.
Following me less, staying where he was, even for a few seconds later (or when he heard kitchen activity )
Demanding less attention (what one might label as ‘needy’).
Being well rested! Sleep lowers stress, so catching up on sleep is massively important for any behaviour modification.
I had to consider all the different variables Amigo would be expected to encounter in this house hold.
Nick leaving the house without me.
Me leaving without Nick.
Us leaving together! (This is by far the hardest for most dogs)
One of the other dogs being taken for a walk.
Both of other dogs being taken for a walk.
Time variables, when would he be left alone:
After morning walk when I tend to see clients or go for a run
Late afternoon/early evening when I go climbing or meet friends for food.
Taking Kanita for her evening wee when Nick is away.
We first introduced these variables with someone remaining home and doing passive supervision.
Nick started to hide away playing on his computer before I left, so Amigo may have forgetten he was home and behaved as he would when alone. If Amigo had struggled then Nick was was ready to make his presence known and help reassure him.
I then started to work on the variables in difficulty order. Starting with short absences after he’d settled for a walk, then trying the evening time. This was when we’d normally be on the sofa together and also when he appeared most active and more likely to follow me around when I moved about the house.
The first total absences were super short- a few back/forth to demonstrate I always come back and help him realise investing energy in following me was pointless.
Then I started to leave for literally a couple of minutes, sometimes repeated in clusters, sometimes as an isolated absence.
Even if I sat at the far end of the garden or on the drive, I made sure to lock the door and make a noise with the garden gate- so he could not differentiate between superficial and real absences.
I always watched live. This was so I could return quickly if needed.
For example, after I walked Amigo I prepped the other two and loaded them into the car. Amigo started jumping and barking at the door- so I returned and calmly prepped lots of Kongs and a snuffle box to help him displace his post walk energy into something as well as be a little distracted at the point of departure and add value to staying home instead of following the other two dogs out.
After these kongs helped him relax. I was sure he’d realise he was tired from a walk- and I wasn’t wrong.
He barked a couple of times, but these were single barks spaced out. What I call question barks! “Hey!!?!?’…….
What I was looking at was what happened next. Whether these barks escalated, or whether the lack of response from me to that single bark prompted him settling down.
He settled – because the silence after huu it’s bark answered his question.
If he showed anxiety in response to the silence, I would have come back quickly!.
Other things to consider:
A good walk often helps, but don’t be mistaken that exhausting your dog is the answer. We are looking for physical and mental satisfaction such as mooching and sniffing, rather than high intensity running that gets the Adrenalin and cortisol levels elevated.
I find it’s important to allow 20-30 mins of settling down time after a walk, rather than whizzing off out the door.
I’m nonchalant about departure and arrival. Research shows ignoring your dog has no bearing on separation anxiety – however- we can rile up anticipation by overly engaging dogs and making our return a high arousal event. So I’m pretty uneventful, maybe a “see you in a bit dogs”
and a “hey guys” on return. More strokes after longer absences!
A full belly and empty bladder helps!
Pre evening absences I make sure they’re toileted (the one time I got this wrong I was punished!) and have had dinner and a chew or training. There’s little reason to want to follow me if they’ve had most your needs met! In the evenings was when he would raid kitchen counters more and be more likely to follow- so this was the time I needed to be most careful with.
I’ve mentioned freedom to move already, but this is important! Amigo likes to mostly wait in the porch with Mohawk while I’m out. Seeing me leave out that door gives him clarity and being close to it helps him relax.
In my experience, confinement is rarely helpful!
After just 11 days I feel we have cracked it. Yesterday he relaxed really quickly when I walked the other two one after the other (each dog had a solo walk in the afternoon) and this was a really tough exercise.
He also relaxed when I went climbing for a very short duration Tuesday afternoon- an activity I would have aborted if he hadn’t coped. For this reason, I got cover for my classes as I needed to monitor him and be ready to leave.
He also returned to his bed as soon as he saw me leave with Kanita for her wee walk last night.
All signs he feels confident I’ll return.
But I’ll continue to film for a while yet to be sure the progress is stable. Plus, we have yet to see how he is with Nick and I leaving together- so we’ll film that in 4 -5 weeks time when he’s home.
This is a huge relief, and I have to acknowledge how greatful I am. For all those with dogs who have SA, I know how tough it makes life.
Please reach out to the specialists if you haven’t already- these guys get the best results! I recommend: . JGBehaviour Separation Anxiety SpecialistJulie Naismith, helping dogs be happy home alone and Ingrid Haskal