Preventing Puppy Dog Separation Anxiety - Part 4
Updated: Feb 14
Preventing Puppy Dog Separation Anxiety - Part 4
This is Part 4 of the series Preventing Puppy Dog Separation Anxiety. It was written during the corona virus quarantine but is applicable for any time. It and it deals with training your dog. Please read my post on Dog Separation Anxiety for a description and understanding of what separation anxiety is.
This a brief description of the three parts to the training. I am writing a book which gives more details. Please email me at caryl@DoggieManners.com so I can let you know when it is published.
Setting up a Safe Spot
Training to be alone in his Safe Spot
Training Obedience Exercises
What is a Safe Spot?
It’s a place where you will leave your puppy dog when you are not with him. You’ll want to train him to be comfortable so he will enjoy being that spot.
Before calling me, my clients have assumed that their dogs like the laundry room or a crate because they have read that “crates are good because dogs like dens and crates are similar to dens.” Well, that’s similar to saying humans like to be confined in their bathrooms 24/7. Dogs need to know that a Safe Spot is a safe spot, not a jail cell.
You want your dog get used to his Safe Spot first, then stay in his Safe Spot while you are home, and then get used to being there while you are gone.
Don’t make the mistake of putting him in his Safe Spot and then leaving without doing Departure Exercises.
Creating Safe Spot for your Puppy Dog
Your dog may already have a place that he prefers – such as on his bed or someplace where he hangs out during the day. If you can, use that space as his Safe Spot. If not, then set one up.
I like wire exercise pens aka Xpens because they are portable and you can configure them to different shapes to accommodate just about any area.
Choose an area for the Xpen that is
familiar with and comfortable in such as the family room or kitchen
away from loud noises or something that could cause him to bark such as seeing other dogs or people out of the window
Setting up the Safe Spot for your Puppy Dog
The Safe Spot should contain
chew stick, stuffed Kong, or other long-term chew toy
something with your smell on it such as a dirty T-shirt or towel
Getting your Puppy Dog used to his Safe Spot
In order for your dog to be relaxed and secure in his Safe Spot when he is alone, he needs to be relaxed there while you are home. Exercise him before you begin the training so he is not all wired or excited, and make sure he has pottied.
Encourage him to stay there by feeding his meals there and putting his water dish, bed, and toys there while you are home.
Leave the radio or TV on so he hears “white noise” to prevent him from barking at every sound.
Leave the Safe Spot open and let him choose when he wants to enter.
Praise him while he is in his Safe Spot
Training your Puppy Dog to be Alone in his Safe Spot – Departure Exercises
Train him to be in his Safe Spot while you are home so he doesn’t immediately associate the Safe Spot with your leaving.
During this training, he will see you leave and come back multiple times so he knows you will return.
Practice leaving him alone in his Safe Spot for short periods of time while you are in the room and he can see you.
Get further away from him.
Leave the room for a few seconds where you are out of sight but still in the house.
Practice frequent separations while you are home.
Leave the house for short periods (starting at 10 seconds), gradually lengthening the time you are gone.
Practice frequent separations when you leave.
Then replicate your routine when you go back to work. including picking up your keys, putting on your coat, wearing perfume, etc. all while he is in his Safe Spot. Leave for short periods of time and return.
Training Obedience Exercises
The most important obedience exercises for separation anxiety are the Sit, Down, and Stay. Please teach him in that order. Since the Stay is the most difficult exercise for dogs with separation anxiety, you want to give your dog a solid foundation before teaching him the Stay.
Human equivalent – you learned addition and subtraction before learning multiplication and division.
It’s easier on your dog if you are predictable, so here’s a specific training sequence. Use this sequence during training and during everyday life even after he has learned the exercises.
Say your dog’s name once.
Give him the command/cue once.
Show him what to do by luring him with a treat. (After he has learned what the command/cue is, you don’t need to lure him – just say the command/cue word.)
Wait for him to do it.
Praise and treat him while he is doing the exercise.
Release him from the command/cue. Please don’t use the word “okay” to release him. He will associate that word as his release cue whenever he hears it. I personally know of a woman who used “okay” as her Release Word. She, her son, and her dog on a curb waiting for traffic to clear. She turned to her son and said, “After this car, it will be okay.” Her dog didn’t understand the context. He only heard the word “okay.” Her dog went into traffic and was killed.
Choose a different Release Word such as “Finished,” “Release,” “All Done,” “Break,” etc.
Hints on Teaching the Sit
Put a treat on his nose while he is standing. Slowly move the treat back towards his tail, keeping the treat parallel to the floor. His head should raise up, causing his rear to go down. (If he backs up, train him in a corner so if he backs up, he can’t go anywhere.)
Say “Yes” and give him the treat the instant his rear end touches the ground and release him with your Release Word.
Gradually increase the length of the Sit by giving him treats during the Sit and then releasing him.
Hints on Teaching the Down
Put a treat on his nose while he is standing. Slowly move the treat in an L shape – straight down from his nose to the ground. When he begins to lie down, move the treat along the ground away from his body towards his front feet.
Say “Yes” and then give him the treat the instant his belly touches the ground and then release him with your Release Word.
Gradually increase the length of the Down by giving him treats during the Down and then releasing him with your Release Word.
Hints on Teaching the Stay
Teach the Stay in this order, and always give him treats and praise while he is Staying, not after you have released him.
To me, the Sit and the Stay are different. Even though he is not supposed to move until he is released, his position in relation to me is different. I teach the Sit while I’m facing my dog. I teach the Stay while my dog is next to me and we are facing the same way. (After he learns both Sit and Stay, it’s okay interchange them because he knows not to move.)
Teach him to Stay next to you for 3 seconds, giving him a treat every second. Then lengthen the Stay. Release him with your Release Word.
Teach him to Stay away from you by gradually increasing the distance between you and him. Return to him before you release him. Then lengthen the Stay. Release him with your Release Word.
Teach him to Stay out of sight. Teach this in your house at a corner where two walls meet with your dog along one wall and you “disappear” next to the other wall. Then come back to him to give him the treat and release him with your Release Word. Then lengthen the Stay, always releasing him with your Release Word.
The Stay Out of Sight is the most important part of the training for separation anxiety because it teaches your dog that you are coming back. Everything you have been teaching him is preparing him for this.
The next article in Preventing Puppy Dog Separation Anxiety gives you an overview of the books and products I recommend for separation anxiety training. There are more specific products that I recommend which are geared to you and your dog when we have our lessons. Please call (310) 804-2392 or email caryl@DoggieManners.com to schedule a lesson.
Wishing that you stay healthy, stay safe – and stay home.
Please continue to Part 5 - Resources to help prevent separation anxiety.
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Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.
If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to caryl@DoggieManners.com . We look forward to working with you.