I like pups and dogs that want to be with me, keep track of me, follow where I lead and check in if we’re on an unleashed hike. They are less likely to wander off or get totally involved in some expedition all their own. So in many ways they are easier, except, of course when it comes to being left behind. Then the desirable trait of staying close becomes an issue.
This is not an issue of misbehavior, they aren’t wrong because they are distressed and don’t want to be left or stay further away. They just need to be assured that being left is OK, it’s temporary and they are good and fine even if they aren’t in sight or close, and they also need to know whining/barking or other dramatic actions aren’t the key to resolving this situation.
As the AKC STAR puppy evaluator’s guide states: “Shaping is the best way to teach this exercise for dogs who are concerned about owners leaving. The owner steps back 1 foot and returns, then 2 feet., etc.”
It continues, “If owners are using food rewards, remember to tell owners not to return to the dog and give it a treat if it is squealing and/or pulling on the leash.”
When I have this problem I set up the place they’re being left with a filled kong, or remote treat dispenser or person with good treats and move around and come back – rewarding each time. If I make a mistake in judgement and they begin whining or barking or otherwise acting upset I wait for the cycle to finish and then come back to reward basically calm and silent pup. If I can’t make it back because of resumed whining/barking I turn my head or body away to show that attention is not forthcoming for drama pup. This situation is greatly helped by the timing of remote treat dispensers.
Further up the cycles; the place or/and person are not treat loaded or the remote treat is not automatically dispensing, only I am. If I can do 9 of 10 step aways with no issue I increase the distance by double until I start to see some early signs of worry and then back off from that distance. Then keep building (variably – sometimes more, sometimes less). From here add distraction or different more upsetting location but reduce distance and time.
For Obie, who had learned he could dismantle a leash to get freedom, I did short distances and rewards keeping an eye out for any leash chewing action (which there was none). This practice was each time I fed the horses, so it was on a regular repeated multi-times daily schedule. It quickly improved his reliability when briefly left alone tied. Each time I returned only when he was completely quiet and calm he got kibble and praise rewards (the food was his preferred reward).
This next week starts the Treat & Train remote trainer program for him to improve his ability to be calm and quiet in crates (no matter where they are located) and calm despite distractions.
For dogs who have before had this issue, got better, then for other reasons the problem resumed, the training cycle is much longer and needs much more plotted steps … no lumping or jumping onward.
In the process of trying to fix this issue I strongly recommend avoiding punishment beyond briefly removing attention for whining/bark/lunging/jumping because adding punishment (like jerking, reprimanding, scolding) will just make the anxiety worse instead of creating calm. Plus punishing your dog for wanting to be near you seems very mean, doesn’t it?
Jeanine Renzoni is an applied behaviorist dog trainer using positive training methods and an AKC CGC evaluator.