We’ve all been there. We’re getting ready to leave the house and our dogs get frantic. They bark, whine and become Velcro dogs. They know you’re going to be leaving and their stress levels skyrocket. When their stress ratchets up so does yours; then what you have is a household on edge.
Take a breath. Step back. Regroup. Make a plan for those times you are leaving your dogs home alone. You need to ignore those puppy-dog eyes you’re getting when you grab your coffee, your keys and get ready to leave. That look is hard to resist, but resist you must.
If your puppy or dog shows signs of distress when you leave him home alone, it’s up to you to help the transition go more smoothly. If your dog is calm when you leave, you will have peace of mind when he’s home alone.
Then you hug your dog or make a big deal of it when you leave, you’re showing him, “They’re leaving! They’re stressed out! I need to feel frantic!” You don’t want your dog to feel frantic when you leave. You want him to be relaxed.
He knows you will return home to him and he needs to know the separation is only temporary.
Ignore Your Dogs When You Leave The House
Here is how you should leave in order to leave your dog in a relaxed state.
This step should be done over the course of a couple of weeks. Every time you leave the house, make sure you get into the car and leave in the car (if that is your usual routine). You may not be leaving the neighborhood, but your dog needs to equate the car leaving with you leaving.
Before you head off and leave your pup home alone for several hours, you should practice just leaving the house for a few minutes. Doing this shows your dog you will return, regardless of how long the duration.
Practice your regular routine of leaving the house:
- Grab your keys
- Put your jacket on
- Grab your purse or briefcase
- Get into the car and drive away
Your dog will recognize these signs as, “Oh, no my humans are leaving!” But, if your routine becomes just that – routine – he won’t feel stress or anxiety when he’s following you around the house as you bustle around to get out the door. Putting on your jacket and grabbing your keys could become anxiety triggers unless you put a positive spin on them. Let him sniff your jacket. Pet him when you’re jangling the keys. Praise and reward him with a small treat (a piece of carrot or apple, for example) so he connects your leaving with positive actions.
When you’re practicing leaving him home alone, do so for brief times – five minutes, then ten then fifteen. Work up to longer periods until eventually he will view your leaving the house as part of his every day life.
Prior to your leaving the house, ignore your dog for about one minute. Once you’ve calmly gathered your supplies, pat him on the head and calmly tell him good-bye. Our dogs look to us for guidance on how to react; if you’re calm and collected when you leave, he will pick up on that and realize it’s no big deal that you’re leaving. This may take some time to get him to this point. Be patient.
Reinforce good behavior
When you’re practicing leaving, make sure your car leaves the driveway. Your dog is smart. He will know the car is still there and may whine and scratch at the door because he knows you’re not too far away.
Drive out of the driveway, park around the corner then walk back to the house. Make sure your dog doesn’t see or hear you. Wait outside the door until he stops barking, whining or scratching the door before you go back inside. You can either just go into the house or you can get back into the car and drive back home.
If you go back into the house when he is still frantic, you’re reinforcing the idea that, “If I whine and bark and scratch, my human will come back.” You want to reinforce the idea that, “I’m calm and now my human is back.”
When you come home, take a few moments to remove your jacket, take care of your keys and other items before you pay attention to your dog. If you walk in the door and start petting and hugging and speaking to him in a voice that is anything other than calm, he will pick up on that excitement and translate it into anxiety. He will think, “My human is frantic, I need to be frantic when she comes home, too!” That is not the behavior you want to reinforce.
Lavish your pup with praise and a small treat once you’ve gotten yourself situated upon your return. We know it will be difficult to act so calmly when you’re leaving and coming home, but you will be helping your dog not develop separation anxiety issues.
When your dog comes to recognize that even though you’re leaving you will be back home and that return home will result in praise when he’s calm it will become part of his everyday routine.
How do you help your dogs stay calm and entertained when you’re away?
I’d love to hear from you!
Leave a comment below and join the conversation!