Leaving Without Anxiety
Some dogs don't like it when you leave, especially in the early days when they don't know this is "home" yet and that you'll be coming back. This can lead to barking, crying or whining and forays into interior decorating if your dog is left uncrated. The good news, is that if this is all that's happening it's not actual separation anxiety, just naughty behavior because your dog doesn't like that your not there. This is simple to fix using the steps below.
If you dog shows behaviors like excessive drooling (his bed is soaked when you get home), panic panting, or self-destructive behaviors such as badly injuring himself to escape a crate or chewing on himself to the point of injury, that is real separation anxiety and needs medical support along with the training. If your dog is doing any of these things, please ask your veterinarian to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help your dog stay calm during the training stage. Down the road, once he has gone through the training process, you should be able to wean him back off the medication but without this support it will be exceedinly difficult for your dog to stay calm enough to process the training.
Break Your Leaving Routine
Most of us have a routine that signals we are leaving. You may put on your shoes, grab your coat, pick up your keys or purse, and then walk out the door. Dogs are really good at identifying patterns, and will quickly realize that when your shoes go on you're going away. To break this expectation, try to identify when your dog starts to look anxious; is when you brush your hair? Put on your shoes? Pick up your keys? Let's say it
s putting on your shoes. Start putting your shoes on well before you leave. Put on your coat and sit on the couch or love on your dog for a few minutes, Then take off your shoes. Another time, put on your shoes, sit on the couch, then walk out the door and walk right back in. Put your keys in your pocket and go back to eating breakfast. You get the idea. If you don't signal to your dog that you're getting ready to leave, he won't have time to start getting anxious before you leave.
Make Him WANT You to Leave
While this may seem counterintuitive, it's all about making something great happen when you leave so he he's as happy to see you go as he is to see you come back. Make a list of 4-5 things he really likes. Maybe its certain kinds of food, a special toy, a blanket warm from the dryer. Let's say it's a bully stick. You'll give him the bully stick, walk out the door, come back in and take the bully stick away (always trade him the thing you're removing by offering something else, like a yummy treat that he eats quickly. You offer the treat, he drops the bully stick and you take it away while he's eating the treat). He didn't get to finish chewing on the bully stick (or the frozen Kong, or whatever) because now you're back. You can do this exercise whether he's loose or in a crate, and you'll slowly increase the amount of time you're gone (see below). He'll be excited to see you go because it means he gets that special thing that he ONLY gets when you leave.
Crate or No Crate
This exercise can be done wether or not you are using a crate. You may have to make small adjustments if your dog is roaming free so it doesn't run out the door after you.
Do this exercise for no more than 5 minutes for each session. You want to quit before it becomes even a little stressful for your dog as you slowly build him up to you really being gone.
Step 1: If your dog is in his crate (and you've gone through the crate training exercise so he's comfortable in there), calmly walk out the door, out of sight, and then walk right back in. If the crate is in a bedroom, you'll walk out the bedroom door. If the crate is near an outside door, walk out of that door. Your dog should be able to see you walk out the door and disappear for an instant before you reappear and walk back in. Release him from the crate without fanfare. Give him a minute or two, ask him to go into his crate and repeat the process. If your dog barks or whines at any point, do not reappear until he's quiet. If he barks or whines as soon as you walk away, keep walking. We want him to see that the naughty behavior makes you go away and quiet behavior brings you back.
If you're not using a crate, put the dog behind a baby gate so he can't rush to the door but he can see you. If that's not an option, skip to step 2. If you can use a baby gate, follow the above instructions for hte crated dog.
Step 2: Once you can disappear out the door and come right back with no reaction from your dog, and you'd bet $100 that he'll be good every time, up the ante a little. When you go out the door, close it behind you then immediately open it and walk back in AS LONG AS YOUR DOG IS QUIET. If he fusses at all, wait for the quiet before you open the door. It can just be an instant of quiet to start, which may be all you get. Grab it and go, but if he starts to bark again as you walk in, go right back out and wait for the next instant of quiet. Let him out without any fuss. Wait a minute or two and repeat.
Step 3: Once you sure your dog will be calm and quiet when you walk out, close the door, open the door, and walk back in, you're ready to add time. Start by waiting 5 seconds before you open the door. Your dog has to be quiet the whole time. If he starts to bark or whine the clock resets once he's quiet again. If you find that, in the beginning, he can only stay quiet for 3 seconds, then catch the quiet by opening the door at 3 seconds. When that's solid, move to 5 seconds. Teh interval isn't important. What matters is that whatever interval of time you're practicing at you work him at it consistently until you'd bet $100 that he can do it.
Step 4: Once he's good at 5 seconds, start extending the time. You'll go to 10 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes. With some dogs you may have to work up to 15 minutes, but for most 5 minutes will be enough for them to be calm if you're gone for hours. As you extend the time, if your dog can't make the jump from 10 to 30 seconds, or a minutes to 3 minutes, just find the interval you think he can do and work that until he's solid before you extend the time again.
Once he's calm when you're gone for 5 (or with some dogs 15) minutes, have a party. Your dog has learned that you leaving isn't the end of his world and you'll be coming back.
Give Him Something to Do
Don't leave your dog with nothing to do while you're gone. Chances are he's going to sleep most of the time you're away. Dogs sleep way more than we realize, but he will be awake some of the time, especially right after you leave. In addition to the special leaving treat discussed above, make sure he has a favorite toy and something to lick and chew for when he's finished the special treat. Licking and chewing are self-calming mechanisms, so you want to encourage that. In addition to bully sticks, a plain Kong, the beehive-shaped, hard rubber kind is a good option. Put some kibble or treats in the hollow center, seal it with peanut butter and freeze it. You can keep a couple in the freezer so you always have one ready. The put it in the crate just before you ask your dog to crate up. If you don't use a crate you can leave it on his bed. If the Kong is his special leaving treat, only give this to him when you're leaving so he has a happy thing to look forward to when he doesn't have you.