Some dogs suffer from separation anxiety, (Sep Anx) from this point. This is where a dog becomes distressed so badly when you leave them alone, whether this is when you leave the house or simply go and sit in another room, When the dog cannot see you or sense your presence whether this is through sound or smell become anxious, this psychological behaviour can be very destructive, they can resort to chewing the furniture, shredding the cushions, defecating all over the place. This is also very bad for the dog’s health Hormones secrete Cortizol which floods the body and shuts down the immune system.
Causes of Sep Anx can be genetic as well as epigenetic, AKA Nature and Nurture.
Genetically, if mom was stressed during pregnancy, the chemical reactions in her body will have been passed to her offspring and they are likely to be sensitive to stress, e.g. highly strung and ready for a disaster which may never come. (Sounds very much like me)! It is the same thing for humans also; if mom is stressed then certain psychological traits will be handed down through the generations. When the Pups are born, eventually mom should be able to go to her safe place, away from the pups to take time out, if this does not happen, maybe mom is on a puppy farm where she is not well looked after and is unable to leave her pups and take time out, Those pups are very likely once removed from mom, say they are sold and they have never been separate from mom or other siblings, they are likely to be very anxious, this will likely lead to sep anx. Can you imagine, if you had never ever in your early life spent any time on your own, how scary that would be!
So we have a puppy that has just been sold and the family concerned has picked the puppy up on a Friday so they can spend the weekend with him, getting him settled in before work on Monday, Sounds Good, Until Monday comes, first of all, the new family, or at least one member of it, is probably as concerned as the pup is, as to why everyone is rushing around and some people are leaving the house, others getting ready to leave, and that family member is fussing around the pup, lets say New Mommy, is as worried as the pup, about being apart for a length of time, The pup knows something is wrong. I want to add at this point, the Dog could also be a rescue, who is suddenly wondering why New Mommy is panicking so much about leaving the house, even without sep anx, this could start off the actual behaviour.
The one thing that must never be done to a dog with sep anx, is they must NEVER be put in a crate, in order to stop destructive behaviour; this will make matters so much worse. One method I have come across on You Tube was by John Rogerson, named Monday Lecture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7WK1gJEvRU
I did like his experience of how to help some dogs with sep anx which included leaving the room, placing a recently worn item of clothing next to the door and maybe a recording of the vacuum cleaner, exit quietly, also he had a great technique for training you dog not to be destructive by simply taking one of those bone shaped treats, the ones that are hollow and fill it with paste, (dog food/Cheese) and place it where he can find it, but do not give it to him. When he finds it and starts to chew, you can walk in and say, whose done this and remove the bone, that can be left out when you are absent from the house, and he should associate you coming back in the room if he chews this bone, this save him chewing the furniture. Obviously not all dogs react the same, some times desensitising them is necessary, by using sit and stay, leaving the room and immediately coming back in with praise and a treat, use different rooms/doors, and over time making the absence longer and longer. It’s all about making them feel safe and secure and letting them always know that you WILL come back.
Positive reinforcement gives the dog an opportunity to make his own decision by enforcing something good like food, toys or praise for doing a specific behaviour.
With Positive Reinforcement the idea is to add something good, The dog will learn that a good consequence will come from performing the desired behaviour you are trying to achieve and will be more likely to perform it. If you are asking your dog to sit down he will be motivated to achieve the correct response if he knows he will be rewarded. Richer Food Treats can be used for more complex tasks where you need to keep the focus for a longer period of time. The dog will need to be motivated to do so and his normal food treats may not suffice.
Positive reinforcement will increase the likelihood of the behaviour in the future.
Knowing your dogs favourite reward is key to this, most dogs are food motivated, certainly Labradors, who act like they are never fed. Others like a Cocker Spaniel who I walk, has no interest in food but would do anything for you to throw his ball. Others like a French BullDog I know adores cuddles and will do whatever you ask as long as you are offering cuddles and kisses.
So to first sit down we would take the treat over the dogs head and back towards its tail until his bum hits the floor, and then forward in front of him on the ground, guiding the dog so he lies down, this will work well with timid dogs who do not have much confidence as it will build a trust that a treat will be received and no harm will happen.
Using a clicker in conjunction with a treat will help mark the behaviour. with a clicker you click then give a treat and repeat this each time, click then treat, the dog will come to associate the click with something good, so you would ask the dog first, to sit, click immediately when the dogs bum hits the ground then produce a treat, you can also add a cue word after the click “sit” then treat.
Next you would use the treat in order to make the dog lie down, this will take practise. But on each successful move in the correct direction a click and a treat can be given until the dog lies down.
This can be improved upon by only giving the dog a treat at the end of the whole movement, so if you ask him to lie down, the click and treat will only come when the dog has lied down, not if he has sat down first.
We must not reward any other offered behaviours, like paw lifting, extra behaviours should be ignored.
Your rewards can be varied and motivated with a click only, this will keep the dog listening and wondering when the next treat will come. Randomly offer treats after the click, try not to form any patterns as the dog may start to respond to habits and body language. When the behaviour is being performed comfortably then we should vary the environment to proof the behaviour by slowing introducing distractions. A higher/Tastier treat should be offered here to keep your dog motivated and focused on the task at hand so the new behaviours can be generalised in different environments