An exercise to help a dog cope with being alone

help a dog cope with being alone

It’s important to treat separation anxiety in dogs as early as possible.   While dealing with separation anxiety requires a suite of treatments tailored to your individual situation and dog, this exercise can help a dog cope with being alone and forms just one part of your total indepedence training program.

The three step approach

1. The first step of this exercise to help a dog cope with being alone is to take  exercise your dog for a good walk, at least 20 minutes before you go out to release some pent-up energy.

2. The second is to give them something to do, being interactive toys, long lasting chews or an appropriate sized and safe bone.

3. The third step to help a dog cope with being alone, is to start in very short bursts and leave them for progressively longer periods of time while recording them on your phone or camera.

Choose safe and appropriate toys and chews

When it comes to the toys and chews, these need to be Safe, Reinforcing and Long-lasting. My recommendations include:

1. A Kong Wobbler – filled with their wet food and frozen. Just peanut butter or a bit of unfrozen food in it will take them a second to get out so is pointless.

2. A long-lasting chew that takes your dog a good 10 to 40 minutes to get through.

The new Vitapet Rawhide Alternative Treats & Chews are an alternative to Rawhide and come in a range of sizes and shapes, so choose one you think is appropriate for your puppy or dog and time how long it takes them to get through one when you’re at home, so you know for future reference.

It takes my dog Darcy about 14 minutes to get through half of one of the large chips, Vindi about 7 minutes to actually eat one, but he spends about 20 minutes all up with it as he decides where he is actually going to go eat it! The medium roll takes him longer.

3. An appropriate-sized raw, meaty bone if your dog is okay with bones and you have observed that they eat them safely.

4. A treat or kibble dispensing interactive toy – be mindful of noise with anxious dogs so, if you have floorboards, look for a rubber one.

Make sure your dog is hungry before you leave them with the chew

Remember anxious dogs may not eat when left alone, so you’ll need them to be hungry before you practise this exercise.

When you walk out the door, the best thing in their world just left, so you need to leave them with the second-best thing…which is food if they’re hungry.

You should measure out and allocate all or part of their daily food and calorie intake with these things, and treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake.

So, what does this exercise look like?

How to help a dog cope with being alone

• Firstly you’re going to take them for a walk
• When you get back you are going to set up your phone or camera
• You’re going to give them the long-lasting chew or bone, depending on how long it takes them.
• Then you’re going to calmly go outside go for a walk around the block.  Read more about the importance of keeping your departures and arrivals calm in these tips for dealing with separation anxiety.
• The goal is for you to walk back in calmly without fuss while they are still working on their occupier and feeling good, not anxious.

The more information you have the better it is for developing new strategies, so check your phone to see how long they wait and listen for you to leave, or to hear if you’re coming back in, as many dogs do, and see what they do or how long it takes for them to then engage with the things you have left them with.

Slowly build up their time with positive reinforcement

Separation anxiety is like a superstitious behaviour, it’s been reinforced many times, so we need to create new positive associations with being alone through positive reinforcement training.

We then slowly build the time away up and introduce more or all of the toys and chews to keep them busier for longer.

By the time your dog has worked their way through them, they should spend the rest of the time sleeping. Remember, severe anxiety is a medical condition, so speak to your vet or vet behaviourist about how medication can help, as it will likely need further intervention.   You can read more about that here.


About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog

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