Home alone Cockapoos
by Anne Rogers.
Anne is a founding member of APDT Ireland and is CAP2 certified (with distinctions).
She works with a large canine welfare organisation, A Dog's Life, as a training/behaviour consultant and board member through which she sees hundreds of dogs and their people every year.
Cockapoos like many other dogs are fun-loving family pets and when we, the fun providers, are not around our dogs are likely to be a little upset. And some Cockapoos may be more upset than others.
There are a few different levels of separation related behavioural issues categorised depending on the severity and how being separation affects the dog’s quality of life.
Separation distress - this is by far the most commonly seen separation related behaviour in pet dogs
Signs of separation distress include: destruction, escape attempts and possible damage to exit routes like doors, vocalisation, salivation (drooling), and elimination (inappropriate and/or excessive toileting) while alone or in the absence of their person.
‘Velcro’ dog behaviour – often follows their person from room to room, may solicit and seek attention persistently, find it difficult to settle especially if their person hasn’t ‘settled’, they may show distress upon their person beginning their departure routines and may show over-excitement upon their persons return
Separation anxiety - is terribly over ‘diagnosed’ and as with all anxiety disorders is quite serious and will require help from a behaviour professional as well as from the pet’s veterinary team
Dogs suffering separation anxiety will show many if not all of the signs of separation distress but will do so at a greater intensity and are known to injure themselves and/or become quite ill as a result of separation. Very often their separation related anxiety will cause problems with other aspects of their behaviour and health.
Separation fun - this is a secret third option that dogs don’t think we know about – some dogs love when their people leave as this is when they get down to some serious mischief! These dogs will often carry out behaviours that they wouldn’t normally do in-front of their people especially if these are behaviours that they are often told off for.
Preventing Separation Related Behaviour Issues in Puppies
Given that, with our busy lifestyles, it is likely that our pet dogs will be expected to spend some time alone at some stage in their life. So how can we make sure that puppies and new dogs don’t develop separation issues?
Puppies under 12 weeks of age are still pretty much clean slates so alone training must form an important part of socialisation for puppy.
New older or adult dogs may have a history of separation problems- it’s important to remember that one of the most common reasons cited for surrendering or otherwise getting rid of a dog are separation related behaviours. And the entire process of being given up by one family and taken on by another may indeed be enough to cause the development of separation issues in their new home.
So preventing separation related behaviours is important and must begin from day one in their new home:
• start by having a new dog or puppy or a dog with separation issues sleep in a crate by your bed at night and as they become happier with that gradually move them further and further from the bed
• regularly confine puppy or a new dog to a safe puppy-proof area throughout the day making sure to provide something for them to work on such as a stuffed chew toy – only leave them for period of time with which they can cope and very gradually build on that second by second
• reward calm greetings from puppy or new dog and ignore crazy dog behaviour
Top Tips for Helping Home Alone Cockapoos
• video your pet when he or she is home alone for at least the first hour – make sure you have sound too; if you are concerned about your pet review this recording with qualified behaviour professional
• talk to your vet and have your veterinary team carry out a full check up on your pet
• create a safe, secure refuge for your pet that acts as a conditioned relaxer and pleasant place to be especially during separation – this may also be helpful as a safe confinement area will also protect your belongings, furnishings and home
• the best solution to the above tip is to crate train properly – if you don’t want to crate train confinement training can be carried out in pretty much the same way
• always, always, always make sure to give your pet things to do when home alone – otherwise your pet will come up with his or her own entertainment which may not be to your liking!
- instead of feeding meals from a food bowl take handfuls of dry kibble and scatter it around the alone time area
- hide kibble and food treats around the area, upping the challenge as your pet gets better at finding the hidden stashes
- instead of feeding meals from a food bowl stuff food dispensing toys such as Kongs with kibble – insert a little teaser of cheese or other yummy to block the holes at the top and bottom
- for the real hardcore chewers mix regular dry food with some water, stock, gravy, a little yoghurt or cottage cheese, stuff into a food dispensing toy and freeze for a couple of hours or even over night
- if you feed a wet or fresh food these too can be hidden, scattered and stuffed
- make sure to provide only safe chews and toys, especially in your absence so choose wisely
• exercise your pet before you leave – make sure that exercise ends at least 30 minutes before you leave so your pet has time to calm down after the excitement of walkies
• gradually wean your dog off your presence over about thirty minutes before your depart
• use calmatives such as Rescue Remedy (liquid only) or DAP – introduce these at calmer times rather than only using them during separation
• the same goes for leaving radios or other music on during separation – make sure to introduce this at calmer times first
• record household sounds and play these beyond a closed door so that it sounds as if the house if full of activity
• leave your dog with an old towel, blanket or t-shirt of yours for comfort
• during alone training avoid causing your pet distress during separation so it may be advisable to start training during holidays or weekends
• teach your dog how to settle in your presence first and then gradually move further away from your pet while settled
• introduce crate training so as to teach your pet that his/her crate is a conditioned relaxer – alone training can be combined with crate training
• desensitise your pet to your normal departure routines – several times a day as part of alone training go about business as if you were about to leave (e.g. get your keys, put on your coat and so on) and then just sit down, read a book, watch TV
• introduce a safe leaving cue (such as “see ya soon”) that means you will always be back – during alone training introduce this cue as you leave only for a two-count and then return
• when you return keep greetings low key; bring puppies or dogs working on toilet training straight outside to toilet and greet calmly – reward your pet’s calm greeting behaviour and ignore over the top hellos
• if you expect your dog to spent time alone regularly consider hiring a dog walker, pet sitter or doggie daycare; perhaps you have dog loving neighbour, friend or relative who would come visit your pet while you are out
• never never use aversives (things your pet finds unpleasant such as telling off, ‘corrections’ etc.) in relation to alone training even if your pet has made a mess – take responsibility, get alone training and don’t tell your pet off for acting on his or her distress
More more information on alone training, crate training and general calming exercises check out this blog series on Calming Your Crazy Canine : http://pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com/crazy-canines/
ADPT Trainer & Behaviour consultant
Please read more about Anne and follow her training blog www.pawsitivedawgs.wordpress.com
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