(An online consultation)
As great as it sounds to have your puppy (and, later your dog) free to go where he or she likes, many first-time dog owners learn the hard way that it’s not such a good thing always.
Houses today are often a lot more open-plan than in the past.
Run of the house
Show Cocker Freddie has had the run of the house since they got him. He’s now eight months old.
As a puppy, having a gate or a puppy pen helps with toilet training. Too much space can also encourage wildness, like chasing and nipping.
Freddie’s owners have got through that. However, there are a couple of problems that, had he been used to being separated from the family with some sort of barrier for short periods, may not be troubling them now.
A barrier. A gate
They have two young children, ages three and four. Freddie has nipped the little boy in the face. It was fortunate that it wasn’t a lot worse and I fear it’s an accident waiting to happen.
The child was playing on the floor with a toy (as children do). Freddie then picked up (as dogs do). The child went to Freddie to get his toy back. The outcome is almost predictable.
The father was in the room at the time and often that isn’t enough because we don’t have eyes out of the back of our heads.
A barrier of some kind like a gate, somewhere they can put Freddie when the children are playing on the floor with their toys, would keep them safe.
The second aspect of having never had any boundaries or barrier, is the dog isn’t used to being left. He follow people everywhere.
The lady works from home most of the time but when she has to go out she leaves Freddie with someone or takes him with her. It’s yet another thing in a busy life trying to juggle little children with work, Covid restrictions and a dog!
She has actually already made some progress. Freddie no longer panics when she’s out of sight briefly, so long as he knows where she is. She has accomplished this using the first part of Emma Judson’s ‘Flitting Game’.
With keeping kids safe in mind, being able to walk out of the room without being followed isn’t enough. There are times when Freddie needs to be put behind a barrier and with their house in mind, it seems a gate in their kitchen doorway would be best.
Help and support for five weeks
I am helping the couple and Freddie for five weeks by which time we will have made progress I’m sure. To start with, I have broken things down into initial baby steps.
Freddie isn’t used to any kind of gate or barrier. So, step one is for him to get used to a closed gate. Initially he will be the same side as a family member – either kitchen or living room which leads off the kitchen.
They will teach him to go through the gate upon request, by leading him through themselves, dropping some bits of food and shutting the gate.
He should get to love going through the gate with someone!
Next is to lead him through the gate, drop the food, and then come back out leaving Freddie behind.
Soon they should be able to put him through the gate with something to do when the little children are playing on the floor the other side of the gate.
Working up to leaving him alone
We will be building up from there to his humans being briefly out of sight. He will be given Kongs or chews as their absence gets longer. They will build up a positive association with someone going out of the front door – with the other parent still in sight….and so on.
They will add a signal telling him that they are going out. An object, a bowl perhaps, in a certain place where it’s only put out as they leave. When they return, the bowl disappears.
There will be no creeping out on him. They will get back before he stresses (they have a camera).
Beginning from the beginning
With separation issues, so often people don’t begin from the beginning, Then they don’t remain for long enough on each stage.
Finally, they compromise all their progress by leaving the dog too soon.
So, baby step one is acclimatising to the barrier – a gate.