Rocky, a 17-week-old Cocker Spaniel puppy, lives with a couple and their son, 9.

While Rocky’s doing really well with toilet training and basic cues, their main concern is that they can’t leave him by himself.

When someone leaves the room

Whenever someone leaves the room, even if someone else is present, Rocky panics.

Someone has to just begin to stand up and he instantly alerts. It can be anyone in the house, not only a family member.

When he stays with a dog sitter, he’s fine. He just needs company, any company.

To address his fear of being left, they’re working on associating someone leaving the room with more positive experiences.

Associating walking away with positive things

Step one is when someone simply stands up. Already Rocky is on high alert. So this is where the work starts, with people standing up and sitting down again. Then with one person sitting and the other walking slowly around the room. Meanwhile, the sitting person could throw food each time they walk away from Rocky rather than towards him.

Instead of food, they could use a game like tug. Maybe the person in the room can play ‘find-it’ with him as the other walks out of the door.

Then one person alone in the room with no second person. They can get up and walk slowly about – dropping food when they walk away but not towards Rocky.

They can even try walking away from him backwards!

They can scatter his dinner outside in the garden while the person with him walks slowly around the garden. They may briefly go back in through the open door while he’s reinforced with the food foraging.

Barking for attention

As most puppies will, he sometimes barks for attention. If the lady turns away he jumps at her legs and nips them, possibly because of the walking away issue. Eventually he gets the attention he wants.

I would normally suggest she immediately walks away or out out of the room in order for barking to get the opposite result. But we can’t do that. Rocky must associate all walking away or out with good things only now.

So two suggestions: first to initiate the attention before he starts to bark. The other is…clicker training.


I taught them to teach Rocky to come to a hand touch using clicker. This is a good way to teach both dog and human to be clicker savvy. They can use the word ‘Yes’ instead of the clicker.

Now they have the means to show Rocky what they DO want. If he barks, they can look away and simply wait. As soon as he stops, click and drop some food.

They will need to increase the durations of the silence before clicking. Before the clever pup learns to bark and then stop for a click!

Going back to the strategies for helping Rocky with his separation problems, it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. Various little things will add up.

The problem isn’t so much about actually being alone.

It’s about people walking out on him. He sleeps downstairs in his crate at night with no fuss so long as the man leaves him in a certain way which, to Rocky, isn’t like being walked out on.

Little changes will add up. They take him out into the garden to toilet on lead. This of course keeps him near to them when he may otherwise learn to be a little bit independent.

In fact, if he doesn’t follow, that’s great! Forget about recall practice in the garden – he can’t escape.

A few moments choosing to be by himself has to be a good thing.

For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rocky. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. See here for details or to book a call.