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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am struggling with my 11-month old female lab.

Whenever we let her outside, if she doesn't take care of business, she immediately turns around and whines at the door or the window where she knows we are. The funny thing is: she has her own way of letting us know they wants to go out, too, so it's not that we are forcing her to go when she doesn't want to. It has got to the point where we will open the door for her, she will take a half step and then look for you to follow. If you are not visible in process of walking out the door, she takes a step back and sits at the open door. If she knows you are not coming with her, she won't go out.

She is potty-trained. When she was a much younger pup, we used to walk around the yard with her and reward her with positive reinforcement and treats. She gets plenty of time in the yard with our children. She plays with them and explores. But it seems as if no one is out there with her, then she has absolutely no interest in it.

Even though she is potty trained, she has on rare occasion got so worked up about being left outside by herself that she forgets to go potty and then has an accident in the house.

I know this comment may not be well received, but I am firm of the belief that she is mature enough to be let out by herself and should be able to be left outside for a "reasonable" amount of time (10 minutes) without having a coronary.

I don't know if she developed any trauma as a pup? We picked her up at 8-weeks from a loving family. She was born on a farm and spent an even split of time between inside the house, the yard, and out in a heated garage.

Is this classic separation anxiety, or does she have a fear of something? My wife insists she is a pup and I need to be more understanding, but I am getting frustrated.
 

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Does she show stress when the family leaves her alone in the house? If she's fine home alone, then no, probably not separation anxiety.

Is your yard fenced? Physical or electric? Has she always been this way, or is this recent? If it's recent I would guess she was frightened by something out there and is now wanting to be with the family for comfort when outside.

It's also possible it's just a dumb puppy thing. I know she looks like an adult, but the truth is most dogs aren't really considered fully mature until around 2-3 years old, depending on breed. Labs are one of the breeds that seem to take a bit longer to mature.

My approach to this would be starting by going outside with her on potty trips. Go as far as you need so she's comfortable and does her business. Go back inside with her (I'm assuming she'll follow you right away). Slowly decrease the distance you are from the house, but only go as quickly as she can tolerate. Your last steps should be opening the door and standing in the door while she does her thing, then standing inside the house with the door open, and lastly closing the door.
 

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I agree with @Lillith. I'll also add that some dogs really want to be in the middle of everything. It's not separation anxiety, because they are fine being left alone when you leave. But, if you close a door between them and you, they get mad because you may be doing something fun without them.

My Tornado-dog is like this. If I go run errands, he's fine. If I close the bedroom door between us, or put him outside, he is miserable.

He is almost 10 months old and this is how I've been handling it:

First, he has a sister dog who is with him so that helps. But they don't play that much outside, so she really just goes about her own way, following scents and barking at the neighbor dogs. He will follow her some of the time, but is getting more and more independent.

Second, for his "important" potty breaks (right before bedtime, first trip in the morning, etc), I still go out and sit on the back patio and make sure he does all his business. And I just sit and ignore him and will stay out for 5-20 minutes like that. It gets him used to exploring and roaming the yard on his own while knowing I am right there.

Third, for other breaks, I may simply let the dogs out and shut the screen door. He will sit at the door watching me, but after a minute or so will go explore the yard a bit. When he barks once, I let them in. His bark is his way of saying he's not having fun anymore, so I take it to heart.

Fourth, I just close the screen door when I go out to get the mail, etc. He can watch me and see that I am not doing anything fun without him.

At first, he barely lasted a few seconds with me on the other side of the door. Now, he can go between one and ten minutes. He may not always go poop at those times, so I always make sure to go out and watch at least three times a day to prevent accidents.

We will see how he does if I shut the main door for a few minutes as the weather cools. Through it all, I will abide by the "a bark means I'm done". This keeps him from feeling abandoned or frustrated. He determines the amount of time outside.

And sometimes, he and his sister will just come and stand at the back door. When they do that, I give him tons of kudos and let him in.
 
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Does she show stress when the family leaves her alone in the house? If she's fine home alone, then no, probably not separation anxiety.

Is your yard fenced? Physical or electric? Has she always been this way, or is this recent? If it's recent I would guess she was frightened by something out there and is now wanting to be with the family for comfort when outside.

It's also possible it's just a dumb puppy thing. I know she looks like an adult, but the truth is most dogs aren't really considered fully mature until around 2-3 years old, depending on breed. Labs are one of the breeds that seem to take a bit longer to mature.

My approach to this would be starting by going outside with her on potty trips. Go as far as you need so she's comfortable and does her business. Go back inside with her (I'm assuming she'll follow you right away). Slowly decrease the distance you are from the house, but only go as quickly as she can tolerate. Your last steps should be opening the door and standing in the door while she does her thing, then standing inside the house with the door open, and lastly closing the door.
She does not have any issues when we leave her alone in the house. She is kennel trained and does very well in it. We leave her in the kennel while we are gone.. no issues whatsoever. She does seem to be our shadow in the house, however. She is constantly under foot, and she will move around to make sure she is always within sight of somoene.

Our yard is big and fenced. Almost a full 2 acres fenced in, not electric. She has always been this way. She has no issue being in the yard, exploring, running around the perimeter when we are in the yard or on the outside of the fence.

I understand your approach. But my frustration with that is that we've BEEN doing it exactly as you mention without any improvement. She is SO fixated on not being left alone that sometimes, I will sneak back in and I will close the door loudly (so that it's obvious to her). She will make a bee-line to the door like nobody's business.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I agree with @Lillith. I'll also add that some dogs really want to be in the middle of everything. It's not separation anxiety, because they are fine being left alone when you leave. But, if you close a door between them and you, they get mad because you may be doing something fun without them.

My Tornado-dog is like this. If I go run errands, he's fine. If I close the bedroom door between us, or put him outside, he is miserable.

He is almost 10 months old and this is how I've been handling it:

First, he has a sister dog who is with him so that helps. But they don't play that much outside, so she really just goes about her own way, following scents and barking at the neighbor dogs. He will follow her some of the time, but is getting more and more independent.

Second, for his "important" potty breaks (right before bedtime, first trip in the morning, etc), I still go out and sit on the back patio and make sure he does all his business. And I just sit and ignore him and will stay out for 5-20 minutes like that. It gets him used to exploring and roaming the yard on his own while knowing I am right there.

Third, for other breaks, I may simply let the dogs out and shut the screen door. He will sit at the door watching me, but after a minute or so will go explore the yard a bit. When he barks once, I let them in. His bark is his way of saying he's not having fun anymore, so I take it to heart.

Fourth, I just close the screen door when I go out to get the mail, etc. He can watch me and see that I am not doing anything fun without him.

At first, he barely lasted a few seconds with me on the other side of the door. Now, he can go between one and ten minutes. He may not always go poop at those times, so I always make sure to go out and watch at least three times a day to prevent accidents.

We will see how he does if I shut the main door for a few minutes as the weather cools. Through it all, I will abide by the "a bark means I'm done". This keeps him from feeling abandoned or frustrated. He determines the amount of time outside.

And sometimes, he and his sister will just come and stand at the back door. When they do that, I give him tons of kudos and let him in.
I think you have a great approach. We have gradually been weaning her this way as well. I guess I'm just getting impatient. I feel like I should be able to open the door and let her go for a few minutes.
 

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She does not have any issues when we leave her alone in the house. She is kennel trained and does very well in it. We leave her in the kennel while we are gone.. no issues whatsoever. She does seem to be our shadow in the house, however. She is constantly under foot, and she will move around to make sure she is always within sight of somoene.

Our yard is big and fenced. Almost a full 2 acres fenced in, not electric. She has always been this way. She has no issue being in the yard, exploring, running around the perimeter when we are in the yard or on the outside of the fence.

I understand your approach. But my frustration with that is that we've BEEN doing it exactly as you mention without any improvement. She is SO fixated on not being left alone that sometimes, I will sneak back in and I will close the door loudly (so that it's obvious to her). She will make a bee-line to the door like nobody's business.
Then it's probably not separation anxiety, and it takes time. Sneaking away from her might be causing some backslide, if not having exactly the opposite effect of what you want! Hiding from your dog is actually one of the ways many say to teach your dog to pay attention to you, especially when training good off leash manners and recall, so you might accidentally be teaching her to be hyper vigilant to your whereabouts at all times!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Here's another example of her behavior that may shed some clues. My office window is literally right next to the door I often let her out through. When I let her out and she comes to the window, I will open the window to pet her and sooth her. Despite that fact that I am physically there, petting her and talking to her, which I thought would help, but she still cries.
 

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Think about it. When you were a kid and your mom said "go outside and play" and you had no friends outside to play with, how long would it be before you came back inside? Being alone is boring.

Labs really love interactive play, they're bred to run off and come right back to their owner, so leaving her outside alone just goes against that instinct.

You might find ways to entertain her without you being there that mimic interaction. I will turn on a sprinkler for Tornado-dog - he loves playing with the hose but I don't always want to participate. The sprinkler solves that. You will often see videos of dogs (labs and JRTs and border collies most often) playing with an electronic ball thrower. You put the ball in the thrower and turn it on and go inside. The ball gets thrown, the dog chases and catches it and then puts it back in the thrower so it can be thrown again.

You might even try something as simple as a tether ball-like device that the dog can jump and hit at the ball and have it come back at her.
 
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Well, I did figure out something that seems to be working, at least a little. When I put her outside, I've started opening my office window (which is right next to the door where I let her out). When she comes up to it, I pet her and talk to her through the window. It seems like this little bit of contact has made her more comfortable in being outside by herself. Normally she would just stand at the door and frantically go from the door to the window, now she seems to be more at ease and less anxious. She also seems to be more curious with things in the vicinity and she is even laying down in the yard, chewing on her toys. Previously, she would just go back and forth between the door and window. I will take this as a win.
 

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That sounds like a win to me, and glad y ou discovered it. And I also think you are right in that you need to be more patient with her. she will definitely get there, but sometimes you have to let the dog get to where you want them to be on their own time table in order for it to be a lasting change. this seems like one of those times, especially because this is not a behavior problem, it is a problem of her anxiety or boredom or whatever it is that makes her not want to be out there alone. Given enough time to learn that the whole family will not all vanish while she is outside for a while, and that she can find something to do while out there on her won, she will learn to be OK about it.
 
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