Why aren’t puppies, right from the start, taught to be independent – to be alone for short periods?
85% of dogs!
This seems a no-brainer considering the statistics. The TV series Dogs, Their Secret Lives on Channel 4 in 2013, discovered that a huge 85% of dogs show signs of not coping to some extent when left alone. In many cases their owners aren’t even aware of it.
Why isn’t independence given the same priority in preparing puppy for the world as socialisation and toilet training?
With their constant attention and adoration, the don’t encourage divine little Piper to be independent. The opposite in fact. She craves attention and they love giving it to her.
It’s understandable how a dog becomes over-dependent upon company and interaction. If a puppy is acclimatised from the start to being left her to own devices more often, separation wouldn’t be such a difficult issue to treat. It possibly wouldn’t be an issue at all.
Their worlds revolve around their little dog.
Piper is constantly with someone until they have to go out. The two young daughters dote on her.
In a way, being so central to their lives puts pressure on the little Border Terrier. Had she learnt to be independent and to amuse herself more, two years ago as a puppy, the disappearance of her humans wouldn’t be so devastating.
Human attention is both addictive and sometimes stressful for her. She repeatedly brings them a ball to throw her or deliberately loses it under something so that someone then has to get it out for her! If ignored she is very persistent.
Learning to be more independent comes first
Over time Piper will need to learn to stand better on her own four feet if our incremental and systematic separation work is to be successful.
Teaching her to be a little more independent needs to be done gradually. It will be hard for both the family and for Piper to get into different habits. For instance, now if someone leaves the room for just a couple of minutes (leaving Piper with company), they greet her when they return.
With so much focus on her, they are unintentionally making her vulnerable. In fact, I suspect it goes two ways. Over her two years, the humans also are dependent upon Piper – the focus, fun, cuddles and happiness she brings to their lives.
I suggest they spend our first couple of weeks in helping Piper to be just a little more independent of them. People can walk out and shut doors on her while there is still someone with her.
The root of the problem
Piper is over-reliant on interaction with her family and this is where her separation problems mainly stem from.
A useful exercise will be simply teach her to lie down and to stay, retreating a few paces only. Currently she never stays anywhere with someone backing away – she always follows. They can work slowly towards retreating further.
They will work on an incremental, systematic plan of gradually increasing the time they are out of sight. The family will associate all departures with something she loves.
Currently Piper is beside herself with ecstasy when they come home. Her family members are likewise with her. While their coming home is such a major event, she will surely wait in some sort of eager anticipation all the time they are out.
Returns should now be casual non-events. (People come. People go. Shrug).
Piper is the sweetest-natured, gentlest little dog. She is funny and clever. They have socialised her wonderfully.
For her own sake she needs to be able to relax more. When her ‘stress bucket‘ (or maybe ‘arousal-bucket’ would be a better term) is full, she becomes more and more demanding.
Calming her down and teaching her to be independent will require less human attention and more natural dog-enrichment activities. Instead of throwing her ball, they will give her more sniffing, hunting, exploring and foraging. More of the things that a young dog would naturally do if happily left to her own devices. She got stuck into the yak chew I gave her.
Everything the family can do to lower her arousal levels will help in the end. There are lots of small things that individually will make little difference, but when added together should bring results.
Their first priority should be to begin disentangling themselves so she becomes less needy of them.