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  • April 2018

Lockdown is causing problems for our pets. Many dog owners are reporting their dogs are becoming very clingy, not wanting to be left and barking at people and cars outside of the house for example. Many puppies purchased during lockdown will not have had the usual socialisation and may not have been left for long periods of time as the family has been at home . Clair Lister Huckle has some guidance on alone training for owners.

A lot of dogs will have gotten used to being with their owners during the recent lockdown period and for pups and new rescue dogs this period has been beneficial for bonding. Dogs are social and they love to be around their family group but there comes a point when you have go out shopping or go back to work and you have to leave your dog. How on earth do you do that without them suffering total fall out?

Some dogs are perfectly happy with being left, while others need a little more help and have only mild separation problems. But for a few, being left is the end of the world, causing them to bark, howl and possibly destroy the house. This could be fear of missing out or a case of separation anxiety, only a professional can properly diagnose this for you.

How do we set up our dogs to be happy alone?

By using desensitisation and counter conditioning, we aim to get the dog used to being alone and change any negative feelings about being left. We encourage calmness and may use a lot of food rewards. You may also want to purchase an indoor Wi-Fi CCTV camera . It’s important to note that progress can be slow and in the more extreme cases, you will need a behaviourist and a vet. What if the dog has a more severe separation problem? In this instance you may consider calling in a behaviourist. You also do not want your dog to be left alone at all during the process of alone training, if you need to go out for any reason before you have gotten your dog to a point where you can leave it, you will need to have someone sit with them.


Things you will need to do:

  • Have lots of food rewards as food promotes the production of the body’s happy hormones serotonin and dopamine
  • Wi-Fi CCTV camera to watch them as you start to leave them
  • Give them a safe place such as a crate, a pen or a room where you can separate areas off with baby gates. This also means you can control the area.
  • Make the space positive with the use of enrichment toys such as stuffed kongs and snuffle mats. Egg boxes and toilet roll tubes can also be used.
  • Tasty reward the food we use has to be worth it for your dog something high value and rewarding.
  • Play some calming music Recent research has shown that music can calm a dog Link to 3 hours of music on YouTube - https://youtu.be/joeePqCqWc
  • Get an Adaptil diffuser or spray (This is calming hormones that are given off by lactating dams, that have been shown to help calm dogs and cats.)


Get them used to these things while you are there so that anxiety levels stay low, teach them to lay down and settle in this place and occupy themselves with their enrichment toys. Join them in the room reading a book or doing some work, something where you are also calm.

Once you have done this for a few days and your dog is getting used to its happy calm place you can start to get up and move around the room. Set up the enrichment devices but with less rewards. Hold some back so that as you move around you can drop a few in to the devices. Get up and find a book, or pick something up, do a little dusting - any kind of movement so that your dog is rewarded by not feeling it has to follow you. Now you can start to get your dog used to your pre departure cues. These are all signs that you are going out and they can add to a growing anxiety for your dog before you have even left the house. It’s an idea to list these things before you get started so that you know when to reward your dog.

Here are some examples:

  • Putting your shoes on
  • Putting your coat on
  • Picking up your car keys
  • Picking up your handbag or wallet
  • Locking the back door.

Once you have this list you can start to pair these activities with dropping the food in the enrichment devices for your dog, as you were doing in the previous step.

We are changing the dog’s view of these cues; they’re no longer the cue for anxiety but the cue for something yummy. You will be doing this a few times a day so that your dog becomes more interested in the rewards than following you around.

When your dog is happy with your pre-departure cues you can start to move towards the front door. Initially, you will just be opening and shutting the door this noise may attract your dog’s attention, if it does walk back with it to the enrichment devices and drop some more food and take your coat etc off again. You can do this 5 times a day until your dog stops coming to the front door. This is where you may find the use of an internal WiFi CCTV camera that you can view on a mobile device useful. You will now be heading out of the door and building the time you are outside up.

This will be in seconds initially, 5 seconds 5 times a day after all of the pre-departure cues and setting up the enrichment devices. When you come in calmly walk towards the enrichment devices and place more food rewards there and calmly greet your dog. Now you can start to build up the time you leave your dog slowly in increments of 5 seconds. If at any point you notice your dog starts to become distressed go back to them calmly and reduce them time you leave them back down to where they were successful for a little longer a day or two and then try increasing the time again.


What if this doesn’t work?

The more severe cases that have been going on for some time may need extra help. This is when a vet and behaviourist will work together with you to look at your dog’s diet and offer natural calming supplements such as Caseozepine (Zylkene), L -Theanine, L-Lysine or probiotics. If these supplements don’t work then prescription medication can be considered from your vet. This medication is known as SSRI ( Serotonin reuptake inhibitor ) as it increases serotonin levels and stops the nerves taking that serotonin back, so the happy feeling is maintained for longer. This keeps the dog calmer and helps it to cope with separation. The most commonly used is Fluoxetine, but there are a number of medications that can be used and your vet will take into account your dog’s case together with the information provided by the behaviourist and their own health notes to find the best medication and dosage. Supplements or medications are not a miracle cure in themselves, they are to be used alongside a training programme, such as the one descrived above that a behaviourist will work through with you.

The flitting game

This is a simple game that may work for pups and some older dogs with less severe symptoms. It involves you having two rooms to use and setting a timer for 5 minutes. Get up from the room where you are with
your dog, walk to another room and set the timer. In this five minutes you fiddle around with something, make a cup of tea, or dust. or just move things around.

When the alarm sounds go back to the room your dog was in. Do this a number of times throughout the day and your will notice that your dog will start to pay less attention to your movements around the house.
You can then start to do the same in other room around the house before you eventually do the same with the front door where you can then start to build up time out side with your dog alone inside watching them on a

Clair Litster-Huckle

Clair has worked in animal care and training for 20 years. A long time Weimaraner owner, she owns and run training classes at Bristol Dog School (https://www. bristoldogschool.co.uk/)