Over the past two months, I have had five dogs, each staying a week or two, at my house for our Immersion Program board & train. The dogs are fully integrated into my home and interact with my dogs, my kids, and my husband. Four out of the five dogs had a similar issue I discovered, and it was not at all related to why the dogs were with me for training in the first place! Some people might want to call it separation anxiety, but I think that is a term that is overused. I’d call it anxiety stemming from insecurities, or a lack of confidence.
The problem was the dog wanted to be with me all the time.
Now you may not automatically think of that as a problem, per say. I really like dogs to be fully integrated into someone’s life, to be with you and share your home and your heart. You didn’t get a dog so they could hang out by themselves, right? You got a dog so he could be with you.
It’s a problem if your dog gets stressed or has anxiety when he can’t be with you.
Sometimes I needed to be away from the dog. If I’m going upstairs to get something, I don’t want a dog to come with me. At the beginning of their stay, it was stressful for the dog to be away from me. Or if the dog is crated while I am out, and I come home, from the moment I came in the door until the moment I got him out of his crate was a period of anxiety for him, until I re-trained it. In their own home they were used to being let out the moment someone came home, like many dogs are. I always suggest you walk in the house, put your coat down, sort through the mail, maybe get yourself something to drink and then let your dog out. These dogs got stressed if they didn’t get let out right away.
The worst behavior happened when I went into the bathroom and closed the door. The dogs would sit outside the door and whine. The worst of them would scratch on the door as well. When I talked to the owners about it they kind of laughed and discredited it, thinking it was funny. They didn’t realize it was a problem. Maybe they don’t mind, or maybe they like it that the dog really, really, really wants to be with them. But in my opinion, it’s just not fair to the dog. It’s not a good mindset for the dog to have. It’s not healthy for them to be stressed or have anxiety if they are away from you.
Your dog should be calm, cool, and collected whether they are with you by your side, in the next room, on a different floor of the house, or home alone.
One of the owners reported back after she got her dog home, that for the first time ever, her dog wasn’t trying to climb into the shower with her! Her dog was just lying calmly on her dog bed in the bedroom the whole time she took a shower. My client mentioned that she couldn’t believe how relaxing that shower was compared to all the others!
The reason I really wanted to write about this is because each of the owners I dealt with didn’t realize it was a problem. It didn’t occur to them to ask me to work on their dog whining outside the bathroom door every time they close it. They are just used to it. They don’t recognize it as a problem. They simply thought, “well that’s just the way my dog is.” I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t be that way for your dog to thrive. I want to invite you to realize that your goal is a clam and confident dog whether he is by your side or in the next room. And you can train that.
How did I train this problem with these dogs? I did a lot of pretending to go to the bathroom, for starters! I would walk into the bathroom, close the door, and wait. With each dog it was different, but I would wait for that moment in time where it was sort of like- ok, he’s going to start to whine now and this is as long as he can take. With one dog it was about 5 seconds, with another dog it was about 30 seconds, and the others it was about a minute. I started by creating a definition of exactly what I wanted, which is how I always begin training any behavior and you can read more about it on the blog post, what’s your mantra?. My definition for this was simple. When I walk into the bathroom and close the door, I don’t want to hear you. I don’t want to hear whining, whimpering, barking, or scratching. I just don’t want to hear you. Chances are if I can’t hear him, he is in a calmer state of mind that he would be if he were making noises. So if I closed the door and I could go 5 seconds without whining, I would reinforce him. I would open up the door and give him a treat. If he whined while the door was closed, I would correct him. Very simple. It shifted so quickly.
Simply giving the dogs some sort of definition, some structure, to live by made all the difference. Laying down the law as to what the rules are made an impact quickly. You have to determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable- and clearly communicate that to your dog.
It’s not separation anxiety that I was dealing with, it’s neediness coming from insecurities. I need to be near you all the time. That’s just not realistic. You can’t be by someone’s side 24-7 so the problem for me is what about those times when you can’t be by my side? What happens then? It was an area of weakness for each of the dogs that have just been through my house. It’s an area of weakness for many dogs.
Some helpful tips:
- Wait to greet your dog– whether they are in their crate or out of it- just wait to greet them when you arrive home. Start slow, but start when you first get home. If they are used to you greeting them the moment you arrive home, begin by just waiting a few seconds before you greet them. But you want to work up, over time, so you can just wait- whether it’s 5 min or 10- just wait. It’s in your dog’s best interest to be okay without having your undivided attention.
- Morning routine- Several of the owners told me their dogs got up super early in the morning. One dog was up at 4:45 in the morning and had breakfast by 5:30 every day. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to start my day that early if I don’t have to. Another owner said the same thing- up by 5 or 5:30 every day and needing to go straight outside. It really is all about what you reinforce. The second day I took a picture of that dog sleeping calmly in his crate with a clock in the background showing 7:20. He calmly waited for me to take him out of his crate each morning for whatever time worked for me. Your dog will get used to the idea that you are not at his beck and call. You are going to fit him into your life and your schedule with what works for you. Take a dog who is accustomed to waiting for you to decide the schedule, and it’s easier to train him to be calm and confident.
- Be in charge- It’s your house and they are your rules. Set them and then make sure your dog follows them. He will love you for it!
You’r goal is to fully integrate this mind-set into your relationship with your dog so your dog can build his own independence and his own confidence. Everything is fine and he will get his needs met. There’s not a rush for taking care of him (unless you are house training a puppy- then you sometimes need to rush, but don’t ever act like you are rushing!) Your life with your dog will be a lot more relaxed, more peaceful, with less stress for you. And less stress for your dog, too.
Use these tips, integrate them into your lifestyle with your dog, and report back to me. If you need some help to figure out how to shift that neediness with your dog, I am happy to help. I really want to know what you think of when you read this. Can you see anything in your relationship with your dog that falls under this umbrella? Post in the comments below where you see this neediness with your dog.