I was at a Home Dog Training session last Tuesday in Kennesaw working with a Springer Spaniel named Max. My clients were sick and tired of him jumping on anyone coming in the front door, stealing food from the table and kitchen counter, and nipping anyone who would not instantly give him attention when he barked.
I took care of those things pretty quickly by teaching my clients “how to be the one in charge of the room”. Max promptly understood that he could not give orders and had to focus on my clients to understand what he was allowed to do. Once Max was giving my clients the focus and respect they deserved, we continued with obedience commands that included Come, Sit, Stay, and Walk. Max quickly demonstrated that he could be a great dog and my clients were ecstatic that they regained control of their home.
As we were finishing up, I asked my “at the end of every training session” question. “So, is there anything else we haven’t covered that you would like to review?” They thought about it for a moment and then remembered that they only had Max since May. There has always been family members home with Max since they have had him.
Now that the kids are getting ready to go back to school and that he and his wife’s work was requiring more of their time outside of the home, Max was going to be home alone for long stretches of time. He had never experienced this and my clients wondered if this was something that should concern them.
I told my clients that is it often natural for a dog’s life to be “thrown for a loop” at the end of Summer Vacation. Dogs, like many of “us humans”, do not like sudden changes in lifestyle. Having the kids return to school is a very large and impactful schedule change for Max and the entire family. This change can easily introduce a large amount of anxiety with Max.
Although “school and work happen” and we can’t change them for our dog, we need to find a way to minimize the impact and prepare our dog for the situation they are about to experience. I continued by giving my clients some suggestions on how to prepare Max for the start of school and a much quieter house.
The first thing you must consider, and address is how to minimize your dog’s separation anxiety during this period. Separation anxiety can quickly escalate and lead to destructive behavior, incessant barking, and other inappropriate behaviors.
Begin to show less attention towards your dog – Start this about a week or so before school actually begins. Ignore your dog at random times during the day for thirty to forty-five minutes at a time. Do this every day. Increase the time of these “I am not paying attention to you” periods until your dog can calmly be alone for several hours. The reason for this activity is to get your dog used to you being away for a long period of time. You start out with short periods of time so that your absence is barely noticeable and slowly increase the time to finally coincide with the time you will actually be away.
Set up the process as soon as possible – It is critical that you start this process as soon as possible before school gets back into session. This permits you to slowly introduce and acclimate your dog to the new, quieter environment. More slow steps in training are always more productive than fewer, larger steps.
Practice leaving the house by going out the front door – Do all the things you would normally do when getting ready to leave the house and walk out the front door. Stay outside, out of sight from any window, and remain very quiet. After about fifteen to twenty seconds, come back inside. Do this multiple times every day and slowly extend the time you remain outside. Your continued action will slowly have your dog disassociate your leaving the house with an “I am leaving for a long time” event. This action will no longer be important to him and he will no longer focus on it. This will make your leaving a “non-anxiety” event.
Stay calm and be the boss – Humans always like to coddle and reassure. When we leave the house, we almost always tell our dog “Oh Max, it is ok. Mommy will be home soon.” in a high, sweet voice. Unlike humans, this reassuring (human) voice often creates anxiety in dogs. Since you are the boss, you need to be “large and in charge”. Ignore your dog for about ten minutes before you leave. When you leave, don’t say a word. Remember, you are the boss, and you are leaving on your terms. You don’t need Max’s permission, nor do you have to give him your itinerary.
Toys can be a great, calming distraction – Make sure that you have given your dog his favorite toys before you leave. This helps redirect his focus from your departure and places his focus on his “wonderful toys”. Give him the same toys at different times when you are home. This assures that he does not associate the presentation of toys as a unique step in your leaving.
Even though these actions appear easy to do, you often forget to perform them because you are too busy with your “summer stuff”. It may be best to create a daily check-off list of “things to do with Max” as the first day of school approaches. That will help you to “remember” and for Max to “be prepared”. If you enact these simple steps, you will be a long way in making sure that transition from summer vacation to school days is a simple and pleasant experience for Max; and that is a good thing.
Now, all you have to worry about is making sure your kids don’t miss the morning school bus.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.