Hello Dog forum.
I am posting this as sort of a blog and reminder to myself as we train our new rescue dog to feel okay when home alone. I am a novice dog owner (although this isn't my first dog in my life.)
The background. "Noggin" is an abandoned year and half old whippet boxer mutt. He's a delight, is learning things fairly quickly and has been close to an ideal guy. His leash pulling is subsiding with a lot of diligence and patience. We are committed to a 99% positive training program. The 1% we use is essentially being a strong pack leader philosophy. We do not punish.
Noggin's separation issues is either separation distress, or fairly mild Separation Anxiety. An additional issue is that I work at home half the time, which is good and bad. Good that I can work with him, bad that the consistency is a bit punctuated by inconsistency!
We are using mostly McConnell's advice from "I'll be home soon" booklet and a touch of Cesar Millan exercise, rules and leadership. I love his internet video on SA, where he says SA is a primal problem and requires a primal solution, by letting the dog know the leaders expects him to chill on his bed when things are quiet.
We have had Noggin for 4 weeks. We noticed he has some separation issues when we went out for dinner and set-up an sound activated recording while we were out (Audacity 2.0). We went out for about 2 hours and he barked and howled for 4 minutes. We are not sure at what point he was vocalizing.
Once, last week, when my wife went out to do the laundry while I was at work, he had a real SA episode, urinated on the rug, and destroyed a roll of poop bags. Not too bad, really, but very stressful for everyone. He made 10 minutes of vocalizing in an hour.
I've been reading up a lot on De-conditioning SA and we have now just begun the serious work.
We exercise him vigorously in the morning with a 45 minute 3-4 mile rollerblading session, at a brisk (~8-10mph) to galloping speed (~12-16mph), everyday. Midday, 5 times a week, my wife takes him on a 3 mile run, which is a slow trot speed for him (5-6 mph).
1) He's been a "velcro dog", following us around where ever we go. My wife and I agree he has set the 'pack leader' title on me but will follow my wife around in my absence. What we have now begun to do, is to gently but firmly direct him to his bed when the house needs to be calm and in "rest mode". We do this calmly, non-verbally (at first and later added, "Go Lay Down"), and often repeatedly until he settles to stay there and stops following us. He has pizzle chews and Kong's. The idea here is to get his accustomed to simply being alone and independent in the apartment while we are home. If he persists in following us, we either accept him being in another room or put a door between us. Either way, he must be out of sight. Closing the door generally will have him go to his bed properly, or camp by the door. We do not want to reward his moving away from the bed too much by commanding him back, but we want him to know, we expect him to chill on his bed when the house is not in action mode and become accustomed to being alone. Personally, I love that he wants to be with us, but that level of dependency is a part of how he will need to adjust for the short term. Am I far off here?
2) After 4 weeks, last night I moved his crate 10' away, from the foot of our bed. He happily slept last night after the change. He can still see our feet from where he is and accepted this new place without any complaint. In a few weeks, I will move the crate a few more feet where he will not be able to see us any longer. Is this too gradual? I do not want to squander the trust we are building.
3) We have 2 kinds of treats he goes bananas for: Boiled chicken, and frozen tortellini(!). We stuff some in a Kong and place is by the door as we step out. Wait a few seconds, come back and take the Kong away. I did this 5 times today, and the last time, he saw me leave, abandoned the Kong and cried by the door for 30 seconds, yelped once and returned to the Kong (Progress!!!!)
My wife and I will repeat this for the next week or more.
We tried this before, but he would clear the Kong and get anxious again. I think we were leaving him too long, and that was before we started "de-velcroing" his constant need to have us in sight. It seems clear how the stress could get worse by moving too fast.
4) I made a recording of my wife and I talking over our coffee, and mixed it in with a human heartbeat sample, some bird song, and playing a little guitar. It's been too soon for this ploy to work, but maybe it will help as he develops some comfort at not seeing us and make a lone-time less stressful once he settles in more.
5) After the dinner walk, we are all together in the den, playing, tugging, brushing, name game, and sometimes a little in-lap snuggling as the night gets late.
It seems that progress will be gradual, but our little mutt has been doing extremely well learning to live with us. Due to a bout of giardia, we can't properly socialize him at the dog runs until his second run of medication is done in a few weeks, so his leash problems and his dog meeting over-excitement will take more time to sort out.
His separation issues appear mild in that he doesn't freak out at the sound of keys or putting our shoes on etc., but his problem is when we actually step out the door. I think this could easily escalate if we don't start addressing it soon. Whe in foster, he destoyed a wire crate he was kept in too long, and injured himself (nicks and scratches and a limp!) McConnell suggests that this is why he only gets the super special treats AS WE ARE LEAVING so he conditions to enjoy when we leave
, and afterward, he can adjust to the greater issue of being alone, which we are working on by building up his confidence and establishing the house rules and alone time when we're home.
Hopefully, he's just adjusting after a long and hard stray-to-shelter-to-foster-to-US experience., and this SA stuff will be a thing of the past (and we can go see a movie or have dinner again!)
I intend to post back as things progress and I hopefully share some great progress and field experience! If you read this far, congrats!