Shutting the door on your puppy, with his big, questioning eyes is one of the hardest things about having a dog. Especially if he becomes upset or distressed when you leave. Fortunately, you can train your dog to not only accept that you’re leaving, but to be happy about it too.
Simulate your leaving routine. Put on your jacket, grab your keys and leave the house. Act normally. Your pup is smart and will have learned that the keys and the jacket mean only one thing: you’re leaving. He will have therefore built negative associations with these actions and will begin to become distressed at seeing them, even before you’ve left. The jacket and the keys are called triggers. These are initially what cause the anxiety and distress.
Play with your pup. Jangle the keys, let him smell your jacket.
Give him a treat. This allows him to form positive associations with your leaving routine.
Repeat the simulated leaving routine once a day for two weeks, or as long as it takes for your pup to change his attitude toward the stimuli. By removing the negative associations your dog has with these triggers, you neutralize their influence on his behavior.
Perform your leaving routine. Include in this routine playing with the pup and giving a treat as you did before, but this time actually leave the house, but don’t go far. Make sure you’re far enough away that he can’t see you or smell you. Also, be sure to make it convincing. If there’s a gate outside, shut it. This way your dog hears the same set of sounds he hears every day when you do actually leave for work. Make sure there is a period of about one minute, just before you leave, where you ignore the dog. He looks to you for guidance on how to handle certain things. If you're totally cool and relaxed, he'll be reassured. It's business as usual today!
Wait one minute before returning. If you hear crying or barking, don’t go back in. Wait until he is calm before returning. Enter the house, take a minute to situate yourself, remove your jacket and put the keys back. Then lavish your pup with praise and give him a treat when you return. This shows him that even though you’ve left the house, you always return and that when you return, good things happen. It also teaches him that the calmer he is, the quicker you return. Be sure to leave a gap between returning and giving praise. By acting casually around him, you show him that your coming and going is totally normal.
Repeat the simulation five more times, each time extending your absence by two minutes.
Avoid eye contact with your dog if he whines, barks or howls as you are leaving. It’s hard to do, but by looking at him, you’re giving him what he wants and that’s attention.
Praise him the second he stops barking. He’ll soon learn that calmness has a positive outcome. Combined with his understanding that you always return and that when you do, his immediate environment is improved by treats and praise, he’ll learn to accept your leaving as part of his daily routine.
- Leave your dog with an item that carries your scent so he can smell you when he's gone.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.