Desensitizing A Dog To Being Left Alone

Desensitizing A Dog To Being Left Alone article featured image shows a sad pug dog being left alone.

When it comes to desensitizing a dog to being left alone one must understand what is going on with the dog. Separation anxiety is a specific syndrome that includes a constellation of behaviors that occur only when the dog is left alone.  These behaviors include destruction, vocalization, and elimination. Often it is the exits and entrances to the home that the dog targets for destruction.  There may be intense drooling, constant barking, whining, howling, or pacing.

This progression was written out for a client whose dog became destructive and howled when she went to work, so all the indicators that are mentioned (keys, purse, briefcase, etc.) were specific to her situation.  Each person will have to adapt the program to the specific stimuli that trigger anticipatory anxiety for each particular dog.

The most important step and the one that most people forget is to make certain the dog is highly invested in the Kong before stepping away and to return before the dog loses interest in it and starts to worry about where you are.  If you don’t wait for this to occur, you will simply teach the dog to dislike the stuffed Kong because it signals your departure.

The process teaches the dog to look forward to being left alone!  This is contrary to the nature of dogs as pack animals.  So, it must be done slowly, paying careful attention to the dog’s behavior.  To be successful, it must be gradual enough that the dog displays no anxiety throughout the progression.

The same sequence may be used with dogs who do not have full-fledged separation anxiety, but merely seem to be uncomfortable when you leave.  In those cases, the progression usually goes much more quickly. 

Try this sequence of steps when you are not leaving the house:

  1. Hand him the stuffed Kong, wait for him to get into it, and walk 5 steps away from him.  Return immediately and take the Kong back.  Repeat 5 times.
  2. Hand him the Kong and walk 10 steps away from him.  Return immediately and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  3. Hand him the Kong and walk to the next room, out of his sight.  Return immediately and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  4. Hand him the Kong and walk to the next room, out of his sight.  Wait 10 seconds and then return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  5. Hand him the Kong and walk to the next room.  Wait 30 seconds, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  6. Hand him the Kong, pick up your keys, purse, briefcase, whatever you usually do before leaving, return immediately, take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  7. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk 5 steps away, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  8. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk 10 steps away, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  9. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the next room, return immediately, take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  10. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the next room, wait 10 seconds, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  11. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the next room, wait 30 seconds, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  12. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, return, take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  13. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, wait 10 seconds, return, take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  14. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, open the door, return, take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  15. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, wait 10 seconds, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  16. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, wait 30 seconds, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  17. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, step outside, return immediately and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  18. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, step outside, wait 10 seconds, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  19. Hand him the Kong, pick up your stuff, walk to the front door, turn the doorknob, step outside, wait 30 seconds, return and take the Kong.  Repeat 5 times.
  20. Repeat the same sequence, increasing the time to 45 seconds.  Repeat 5 times.
  21. Repeat the same sequence, increasing the time to 1 minute.  Repeat 5 times.
  22. Repeat the same sequence, increasing the time to 1 and a half minutes.  Repeat 5 times.
  23. Repeat the same sequence, increasing the time to 5 minutes.  Repeat 5 times.
  24. Repeat the same sequence, increasing the time to 10 minutes.  Repeat 5 times over several different training sessions.
  25. Repeat the same sequence, increasing the time to 15 minutes.  Repeat 5 times over several different training sessions.

Thus, each numbered step represents a distinct training session.  Please don’t attempt to go through the sequence in a few sessions!  However, you can do as many as three sessions in a day, with several hours in between each.  Do no more than 5 repetitions of each step in the same session.  Be sure that the dog is calm at each level before progressing to the next step.

Finally, calm departures and arrivals, as well as regularly scheduled periods of interaction when your dog can count on attention from you, will go a long way to helping you solve the problem, too. If you still have questions understanding how this type of training works please contact us or follow us. Also, check out our last month’s article post featuring changing a dog’s behavior using science instead of myth.

2 Comments

  1. Linda G. Backus on July 11, 2021 at 7:20 pm

    I just got a rehomef puppy. He is 9 months. I can’t get him to stop barking/screaming at people/other dogs. Can you give me any ideas to help? Ive tried but to no avail. Thank you.

    • Sandy Lacy on July 13, 2021 at 1:52 pm

      Hi Linda,
      Sorry for the delay in responding. I had to have help from my computer people to log in and see your message.

      Your new dog needs to learn basic obedience and manners. Training him will build a lasting bond with him and he will learn to trust you. My classes start out as Private Lessons to give you a chance to learn how to communicate effectively with him and for him to learn some good behaviors. If he is doing well by week 6 you can then join a group class.

      8 sessions, 1 hour a week here for $260. With private lessons, scheduling is easy. Just find a day and time that works for you. If you can’t come that day/time anymore just text me and we will find you a new day/time.

      For more information you can call/text me at 254-394-6968.

      I would love to help you with your new dog!

      Sandy

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