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Imagine putting on your shoes, gathering your keys, waving goodbye to your Husky, and walking out your front door. You stay away for an hour and return to find... nothing different.
Not what you were expecting to hear? You might find that situation rather boring, but that is exactly the point. Wouldn't you love for your departures and returns to be boring? If your dog struggles with being alone, departures and returns might be anything but boring right now. They might be anxiety filled, frustrating, emotional, and costly.
Many dogs who do not know how to act properly when they are alone resort to destructive behaviors while on their own. Some dogs impale themselves trying to escape, others eliminate on your rug, and others destroy your property. Some dogs do this because of true separation anxiety, but most do it because of boredom and lack of supervision. Your dog simply figured out that shredding your pillow up was a great way to entertain himself and nobody was there to tell him otherwise or to enforce the rules.
Having a dog that can be alone is vital to life in Western culture. Chances are that your dog cannot go everywhere with you. If you live in the city or in the suburbs, close to other people, then noise and destructiveness from your dog can be an especially big problem, especially if you rent your home. Teaching your dog how to handle being alone not only makes fulfilling essential life requirements, like going to work, not getting kicked out of your rental apartment, and not replacing your couch thirty times, more possible, but it also saves your dog from a lot of stress and future confinement.
Teaching your dog how to be alone is not always a quick process. If you are teaching your dog before he has had the chance to develop any bad habits or separation anxiety, then the process will go much quicker and be much easier. Expect this to take at least two months, and possibly six months or longer if your dog has been struggling with being left alone for a while. Unlike a command such as 'sit', the progress with this will likely be gradual, opposed to instant. Remember to watch for signs of gradual improvement, so that you do not get discouraged while your dog is still learning. Any improvement in this area is worth celebrating and should provide encouragement for continuing the training.
The goals for most of the methods are to teach your dog: how to self-entertain better, how to be more independent, how to remain calm, and how to relax. Your dog also might need more confinement in order to prevent destructiveness and to learn appropriate ways to pass his time. The issue could be anxiety based or boredom based. In either case, Fido would benefit from you providing him with appropriate things to do while you are gone, such as safe food puzzle toys, and food stuffed hollow chew toys.
If your dog already struggles with being alone, and the training is not purely preventative, then you may want to utilize more than one method for teaching him how to be alone. For example, you can teach him how to relax and handle being alone in the crate using 'The Crate Method', while also working on teaching him more independence and self-control using 'The Obedience Method'.
To get started you will need lots of small, tasty treats. If your dog is very food motivated, then you can use his own dry dog food if your wish. If you are using 'The Crate Method', then you will need a crate that is large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down. You will also need a Kong or other hollow chew toy, that can be stuffed with kibble and is safe for your dog to have when he is alone.
If you are using 'The Obedience Method', then you will also need a long leash, between twenty and fifty feet long. You will also need a resource, such as Wag! Walking's Training Guides page, for how to train obedience commands such as 'stay', 'sit', 'down', 'place', and 'out'. Another good option is a local obedience class that you can attend, where those commands are covered. You might also need an assistant to help you train your dog how to do the distance commands, such as 'down-stay'.
If you are using 'The In and Out Method' then you will also need a camera that will transmit live video feed to your phone, tablet, or other device, as well as a device to view the transmission on. Good options might include: video baby monitors with both a camera monitor and a viewer monitor, video security camera that can be viewed remotely from a smartphone or other portable device, a GoPro and GoPro live viewing application on a smartphone or tablet device, or two tablets or smartphones that can transmit and receive video feed on the mute setting on an application such as Skype or Facetime. You will also need a source of entertainment for your dog while you are away. Good sources of entertainment can include food stuffed hollow chew toys, such as Kongs, durable food filled puzzle toys, and automatic, computerized kibble dispensing machines, that are programmed to reward your dog for quiet and calm behaviors. With all of the methods, you will need patience, perseverance, relaxed body language, and a calm and confident attitude.
The Crate Method
To begin, you will need to get your pup used to the crate. Feed him his meals in the crate with the door open. Place treats into the open crate for him to find. Whenever you catch him in the crate looking for treats, go over to him and drop treats into the crate while he is inside.
Close the door
When your dog is comfortable going into the crate, then stuff a Kong or other hollow chew toy with food, such as kibble, peanut butter, and treats. Encourage your dog to go into the crate, and when he is inside, give him the food stuffed Kong to chew on, close the door to the crate, and walk out of the room for three minutes. Be sure to read the ingredient label on any human food, such as peanut butter, and make sure that it does NOT contain xylitol or any other substance that is toxic to dogs.
After three minutes have passed, when your dog is quiet for at least two seconds, then walk back into the room and open the door to the crate. If he chooses to stay in the crate with his toy, then drop another treat into the crate for him every five minutes that he remains inside. If he wishes to leave the crate, then let him, but do not let him take the Kong out of the crate. The Kong is a special toy reserved only for the crate.
Gradually increase the amount of time that your dog must stay in the crate for, only freeing him from the crate while he is being quiet. Reward and encourage calm behavior by occasionally dropping treats inside the crate and by placing a food stuffed hollow chew toy inside the crate with him. Gradually increase the amount of time until you reach one hour.
Crate while present
Crate Fido when you are at home for thirty minutes at a time, so that being crated will not be associated only with your departure and long periods of time.
Work on crate training as early as possible. If your Husky is still a puppy, then introduce the crate in a fun way as early as possible. If your dog is older or is a recent rescue, then begin to work on crate training now. That way your dog will be comfortable being in his crate by the time you need to leave him in it for long periods of time. If your dog is new, this will also help him to learn balance between being with you and being by himself, while he is still getting attached to you and used to his surroundings.
The Obedience Method
Teach basic obedience
To begin, teach your dog basic obedience commands, such as 'stay', 'heel', 'down', 'sit', 'place', and 'out'.
Purchase a long leash
Purchase a long leash, between twenty and fifty feet long. Go somewhere calm, with lots of space, and secure objects that you can attach your long leash to, such as trees, secure fence posts, or poles. You can also have an assistant hold the leash instead of attaching it to something.
Work on distance commands
Attach the end of your dog's leash to a secure object or have your assistant hold it. Practice 'down stays' and 'sit stays' with your dog from a distance.
After you have taught the 'place' command, have your dog stay in his place while you move about your home without him. Gradually increase the amount of time that he must stay in his place for, until you have worked up to one hour. Practice this at least once a day, so that he will become comfortable being by himself in your home, while you are also at home.
After you have taught your dog the 'out' command, which simply means that he has to leave the area, tell him "out" whenever he is being pushy or clingy. Do not pet him if he is pawing at you, whining for attention, nudging your hands, sitting on top of you, or generally being demanding. When he is being calm and polite, if you wish to pet him, then call him over so that you are the one initiating the interaction. When you are done petting him, end the interaction by telling him "out" or "place", and enforcing the command by making him leave or go to his place.
The In and Out Method
To begin, evaluate whether or not your dog is a danger to himself when left alone. If your dog is not likely to do something dangerous, such as chew on a power cord or ingest inedible objects, then move onto the next step. If your dog is a danger to himself when left alone for any length of time, choose a different method .
Hide a camera
Hide a camera somewhere in your home that will allow you to spy on your dog while you are gone. Good camera options for this are: GoPro cameras, video security cameras, video baby monitors with good ranges, or tablets or smartphones with a video application such as Skype or Facetime, that can be used on mute and viewed from another phone or device.
With your your dog loose in your home, and your camera in place, casually gather your things and walk out your front door. When you get outside, stand or sit somewhere where your dog cannot see or hear you, then watch your dog on the camera from your smartphone app or other viewing device.
Go back inside
Wait outside for five minutes. After five minutes, when your dog is calm for at least three seconds, then walk back inside while he is being calm. When you walk back inside, ignore your dog for awhile, and act as if nothing happened.
Gradually increase time
Over time, as your dog improves, gradually increase the amount of time that you leave for. The goal is to make your departures and returns extremely boring and non-eventful. You want your dog to believe that your coming and going is extremely normal, non-eventful, and often short. Increase the amount of time that you leave for, until you have reached two hours or more, and your dog can remain calm while you are gone for that amount of time.
When you leave your pup for thirty minutes or longer, give her something interesting and safe to do while you are gone. Things that can provide entertainment for her include: food stuffed Kongs and other hollow chew toys, durable kibble filled puzzle toys, or automatic computerized food dispensers that are programmed to reward your dog intermittently for quiet and calm behaviors.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 03/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021