He was initially stirred up because, over-excited when people visit anyway, he is usually made to stay on his bed until the person goes over to him, and because I didn’t want him ‘controlled’ – wanting to see what he was really like – the break in routine may have unsettled him. Now, fully fired up, he was jumping about and chasing the cat. The cat teases him.
During the evening we worked on coming away from the cat using clicker and also worked on teaching him to self-calm, again using the clicker. Only when we put the clicker away did he start again to walk about panting, yawning and stressing. Eventually a time-out break in the kitchen did the trick.
Ever since they had him as a puppy they have had to work on both separation and toileting issues. They are extremely switched-on, having done a lot of online research. The downside of this is that there is so much conflicting advice and it’s not tailored to their own situation.
They both go out to work, so Louis has to be left alone. Someone comes home for half an hour at lunch time but then he’s alone again until the man comes home from work.
His barking when alone used to be so bad that the neighbour complained. As he’s got older things are a lot better but the toileting indoors still continues – but now only when they are out. The crying and barking continues, but strangely doesn’t start until late afternoon – and this is a regular pattern.
They have already tried all the obvious usual things. They video Louis each day when they are out to see if there is any trend.
I would say that Louis is a dog of routine. In the morning he is only settled if the lady goes to work first and the man follows about twenty minutes later. She is usually in a rush but the man takes it calmly which could have something to do with it. After that he is quiet and settled all morning. If they break this routine as they will at the weekend when they leave together, he starts barking almost immediately.
In the afternoon he may toilet as soon as he is left. Then, either through boredom or maybe some sound (I wondered whether it may even be the neighbour’s central heating coming on as dogs have fantastic hearing), he starts to bark at around 4pm. He then will bark until someone gets home. He has doubtless learnt that it’s his barking which has brought them back.
It may well be the same with the toileting. Since he was a puppy toileting has brought his humans to him – to clear it up.
So, a couple of my suggestions were that they don’t go straight to him when they come home in the evening, but wait for him to quieten down first. I also suggested they don’t clear up any mess until the dog is somewhere else. Give him no feedback for either barking or for mess. I suggested that when they want to go out at the weekend they copy their weekday leaving rituals. With further strategies they can slowly and gradually change these rituals until they are able to leave together – but it will take time.
With a bit of lateral thinking we thought of a few more ideas to try that may help them through the toileting and separation problems, including sprinkling food around the area he’s left in when they are out in the hope that he won’t want to soil where he eats.
They have worked extremely hard with Louis and he can do all sorts of training tricks. I now feel he needs to learn to de-stress, to be better equipped to handle exciting or stressful situations like the arrival of people to his house. Sometimes commands can amount to pressure, so helping him to work things out for himself will be great exercise for his brain and have a calming effect. Clicker training is perfect for this.
I would say to anyone reading this that it’s not a question of just picking up a clicker and then having a magic tool. It’s not the clicker itself – it’s the technique and ideally people need help with this from someone who themselves has been trained in its use.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Louis, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).