Teaching Pippin to be happy left alone involves more than just gradually leaving him

Published by Theo Stewart on

Cocker Spaniel Pippin, like many other ‘lockdown’ pups isn’t used to being left all alone. He’s now sic months old.

The young couple work from home and seldom have any need to leave him alone. However, they would like more freedom and realise that if he can’t be left it makes him vulnerable.

They have left him alone a few short times and his reaction has varied. They have a camera.

They have left him in his crate. On a couple of occasions he has cried and on another occasions he has slept.

You might think that now all they need to do is to have a plan of gradually increasing the length of time they leave him alone.

There is more to it.

What in Pippin’s life could hinder progress?

Before working on a plan, I like to put things into context.

I discovered that every night he is shut in his crate and goes in happily. At about 2am every morning he barks and the man comes down and takes him out. He usually manages a pee, but not always.

Of late he has been barking two or more times during the night. He probably doesn’t want to be alone. Each time the man has come down.

So, Pippin, in his crate, has learnt that to get company he just needs to bark.

They did leave him to bark once and he cried for an hour and a half. Leaving him go cry is much more likely to result in an insecure dog that could panic when left alone, so is not helpful.

He barks and they come

Each morning at about 6am Pippin barks again. They take him up to their bed for a cuddle.

I suggest they can get around all this now by simply having him in their bedroom during the night (which they are happy with).

When Pippin is all alone, he should no longer be taught that all he has to do to get them back is to bark.

The other thing influencing their progress in leaving Pippin happy alone is a peaceful state of mind. For best success, he needs to be settled, comfortable and not recently hyped up with play or excitement.

They will cut out activities that may be over-arousing prior to separation work.

If they leave him in his crate they have already built up expectations that they will come when he barks, so I suggest they leave him free in the room instead.

Step by step plan for being happy alone

Now it’s a question of having a step-by-step plan. We break it down into increments along these lines:

  • Walking out, shutting the door, returning (dropping food to associate departures with the good stuff and being boring when walking back in).
  • Do this first with one of the couple staying with him. Then the other.
  • Next one out of the room already when second person leaves. Still for only a couple of seconds to build positive emotions around the door shutting on him.
  • Now both walk out together.
  • Build duration alone
  • Let him hear you open the front door……

And so on.

Return before any sign of anxiety.

As they go for duration, they should keep watching on the camera and always come back before Pippin shows any sign of stress.

When they are out for a few minutes or more, instead of leaving a treat they can leave him something that takes longer to work on – a Kong or chew.

Their returns should be no big deal.

Getting a dog to be happy all alone is very individual to the particular dog and to his particular humans.

It’s only with diagnosis and asking lots of questions about context when working out a plan that we can establish the best plan for this particular dog.

A week later: “Things are going well with Pippin thank you. We have been leaving him more in the kitchen whilst we do jobs around the house for short periods and he’s been fine (no barking). He has a special treat pot and different treats for ‘back soons’ and a heart which gets hung up whilst we’re away (something we worked out between us). He’s been on his own in the house for half an hour was fine (we checked camera), he had eaten his chew and then sat patiently waiting for us to come back.

We found the meeting very good, it really helped us with ideas and to understand things better from Pippin’s perspective.”

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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