Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series addressing separation anxiety in dogs. Read part one here.
After determining how much exercise and how often it needs to happen — remember a set schedule is calming and comforting to dogs — the next step is to help your dog start practicing being alone.
When a dog is literally in your lap or at your feet, they are as close as they can be. This is wonderful for the dog in the moment, but it can lead to separation anxiety since the dog has no practice or experience being apart from you.
After working with hundreds of dogs with separation anxiety, I have had great success in teaching a dog to stay so the humans can help the dog practice being apart from them. Most people teach dogs a wait command when they actually think they are teaching the stay command. The wait command means wait until the next command — like come, release, sit, etc. The stay command means stay in the same location until the dog hears the release word and nothing else.
When teaching stay, many people do it three times as hard as needs be. The stay command really has three components — staying for duration, staying for distance and, finally, staying among distractions.
To start, I want you to focus on duration only. This video covers how to teach your dog to stay for duration. Don't step away from the dog at all until your dog can stay for three minutes five times in a row. Moving away from the dog before he or she can reliably stay for duration means you will be building on an unstable base and all the following work will be compromised.
When teaching a dog to stay, you need to always count in your head or use a watch so you know where you were when the dog moved away. We call this an auto release and you want to avoid that at all costs. That’s why we ask people to wait to add in "staying for distance." Also be sure to avoid keeping constant eye contact. If you do, you will see good results for now, but once we start moving away, the dog will break the stay. So every once in a while, look around.
Make sure to practice a few times a day every day and conduct your practice in different rooms in your house. Dogs don't generalize well, so practicing in multiple locations is key. Keep your practices short at first — under a minute or two. As your dog gets better, the practice sessions can get longer. Finally, always end on a good repetition. Your dog will remember the last rep, so make it a good one.
Next week we will discuss how to start adding in distance. Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest:
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest
These are the very good dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest. All are up for adoption as of March 10. For more information on the adoption process and to see all dogs available for adoption, visit nehumanesociety.org/adopt.