Separation Anxiety

ideas on diagnosis, prevention, and cure

Although the basic program for prevention and cure of Separation Anxiety have been widely published, I have a few ideas of my own to add, including some technological aids that could be possible.

Separation Anxiety

ideas on diagnosis, prevention, and cure

Pam Green, © 2006, 2007

Although the basic program for prevention and cure of Separation Anxiety should be well known, having been widely published, I have a few ideas of my own to add about implementing or modifying the standard methods.

What is Separation Anxiety ?

Separation Anxiety is the condition of a dog who becomes anxious , afraid, or even panic stricken when left alone.

In gatherer-hunter societies, pastoral (herding) societies, agrarian societies, and other low technology cottage industry societies , it would be rare for a dog to be alone without companionship of other dogs or humans or, ususally both. In all these societies, some of the humans in the family were normally at home, and for those whose work took them out of the home that work was usually such that the dog could accompany the human as an active helper or as a companion. Dogs usually had plenty to do to occupy their minds and bodies, so during their hours at home they were generally tired enough to rest or sleep. (Repeat after me three times : " a tired dog is a good dog ! a tired dog is a good dog !! a TIRED dog is a GOOD dog !!!")

The Industrial Revolution and the migration from rural to urban life started to change that. It moved the workplace out of the home for most of the day, yet it did not allow or require the dog to accompany the humans to the factory or other workplace. For the majority of the non-wealthy population, all of the working aged adults and older children were out of the home for most of the very long work day. Younger children and grandparents might remain at home. With the advent of free and mandatory Public School Education for Children and with Women's Education and Job Oppertunities Revolution and the Contraceptive Revolution, it became common for all of the humans to be out of the home for 8 or more hours a day, leaving the dog deserted at home.

While the Personal Computer and Internet Revolutions have shifted some jobs back into the home, via telecommuting, the majority of dogs still find themselves home alone for many hours a day. Some of them are quite content with this and some are in great distress.

Diagnostic criteria

The first symptom that most people notice is that the dog is doing something totally unacceptable while the humans are NOT home that the dog does NOT do when the humans are home. Usually the unacceptable behavior is either that the dog is being very destructive, ie chewing and scratching, or that the dog is defecating multiple times indoors, or barking / howling his head off, or if you are truely unlucky all of these may occur. However, as I will discuss below, that is not enough to make a diagnosis.

Twenty years ago no one except maybe a handful of behaviorists had ever heard of "separation anxiety". Owners almost invariably viewed any destruction or house-soiling by the dog while the owner was absent as being "spiteful" and "to punish me for leaving him alone". This view led to punishment of the dog by the returning owner, which led to the dog exhibiting submissive behavior , which in turn was interpreted by the owner as evidence that the dog felt "guilt" for his misdeeds. Let's set things straight folks : dogs do NOT feel spite or conduct elaborately planned revenge, and dogs do NOT feel guilt . Equally important : dogs do not connect punishment much LATER for any action the dog committed much EARLIER. Usually a dog can connect a pleasant or unpleasant consequence only with actions committed within one minute or less earlier. Finally, punishment even if immediate does nothing to reduce fear or anxiety ; indeed punishment can only exacerbate fear and anxiety.

During the past 10 years, largely as the result of popular writing by behaviorists, much of the dog-loving public has become very familiar with the concept of separation anxiety. Now the tendency of owners is to ascribe EVERY undesirable behavior of the dog during the owner's absence to separation anxiety. That's better in that the dog is not being punished, but it can also be very inaccurate and prevent the owner from adopting the appropriate solution.

In her textbook "Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals" , Dr Karen Overall, VMD (a VMD is a vet who graduated from U of Penn ; it's exactly the same as DVM), sets out the necessary condition for a diagnois of separation anxiety as " physical or behavioral signs of distress exhibited by the animal only in the absence of or lack of access to the client" and she defines the sufficient conditions as "consistent , intensive destruction, elimination, vocalization or salivation exhibited only in the virtual or actual absense of the client, behaviors that are most severe within the first 15 or 20 minutes of separation" and further "many anxiety related behaviors (autonomic hyper-reactivity, increased motor activity, increased vigilance and scanning) may become apparent as soon as the client displays behaviiors associated with the intention to leave". She adds "it is important to rule out other situations that are common in separation anxiety : incomplete housebreaking, teething, play, and a response to a truely scary unique event (eg robbers)"

Thus the genuinely separation anxious dog will meet the following criteria :

Now some writers also list as a symptom of separation anxiety that the dog's GREETING behavior when the person returns from an absence is "exaggerated" or "over-excited" .

Well that is really difficult to define. After all there are some absolutely normal dogs who greet you with an enthusiasm appropriate to your having returned from the South Pole when you have merely gone out to the mailbox. Humans have unconsciously genetically selected dogs to be enthusiastic greeters, even beyond the normal wolf tendency to greet a returning high-ranked wolf with dramatic displays of affection and submission. We also unconsiously reward our dogs for welcoming us home. Let's face it, for some of us the dog may be the only being who we can count on to always be glad to see us.
So I really DON'T think that the fact that your dog is always waiting at the door (after hearing your car in the drive or your footsteps on the walk) and greets you with wild abandon is a diagnositc criteria or reason for concern. (Yes, you may still want to teach him to greet you in a calmer and less physically boisterous fashion, and you certainly must teach him to greet guests calmly and without jumping around.) If he is not anxious when he sees you getting ready to go without him and if you spy camera does not show anxious behavior soon after you leave, it's not likely he is suffering while you are gone.

Protocols for prevention and cure

Protocols for prevention are generally a much easier simpler version of protocols for cure. I'd encourage the use of some level of prevention for all puppies and for all rescued dogs. Prevention is basically teaching the dog that it is OK for people to leave because they will return. Prevention also includes giving the dog something benign to do while people are gone so the dog does not become too bored or lonely.

Protocols for cure of a dog who already has some level of separation anxiety can be fairly easy for the mildly affected dogs but can require a lot of effort for severely affected dogs. Again, the goal is to teach the dog that it is OK for people to leave and that the dog is safe when they are gone and that the people will return sooner or later.


While ideally you will WANT to take your dog with you wherever you go as much as possible, it is also very important to teach the dog that sometimes you will leave without him, but that sooner or later you will return, so relax and play with your toys or take a nap.

The basic method is right from the very first day the puppy or dog joins your home, you will make several very short absences every day for the first week or so. Even if you have the freedom to be home all day, do not neglect to create some short absences. Go to the mailbox. Go over to a neighbor's to borrow something or return something or just say "hi". Get in your car and drive around the block. Absences can start with 1 minute to 5 minutes and, after those are ho-hum, then you can include some 10, 20, and 30 minute absences. Leave the dog with a favorite toy or perhaps a filled Buster Cube or a food-stuffed Kong. If the dog is a puppy, of course you will leave him crated or confined to a small area with a pee-proof flooring and with nothing in reach that could be dangerous to him or that you would be sad or mad to find had been chewed up. Leave the home in a totally calm and casual manner, either without a word to the dog or if you must say something let it be very short and calm, like "see ya later". No whining or pleading. And you yourself must be totally calm. When you return , you must be so calm and casual that the leave-taking was exciting by comparison. Ideally you do not even notice the dog's existance for several minutes. Just sit down and read your mail or listen to the phone machine or do a few minutes of yoga breathing exercises (just sitting and focusing on inhaling slowly and exhaling slowly will do very well). Then very casually notice the dog, such as "hi honey, I'm home". Greet the dog only after he has settled down from any initial excitement and greeting display. Then you can take him out in the yard to play a bit. Or just greet him and go about your normal business.

I know there are plenty of dogs who remain OK about people being gone even though the owner does indulge in an orgy of excitement when returning home. (My ex-roommate loved to encourage highly excited greetings.) A self-confident dog can be OK with this. But since you don't yet know your puppy or new dog that well, it's better to play things safe with very calm homecomings and very calm departures.
Also note : for puppies who have not had dog-door access to the outdoors to potty while you are gone, you probably DO need to take the pup out for a potty break right after you get home. Ideally puppy has been sleeping, but he will wake up as you enter the house and will need to pee very soon after waking. But make all of this pretty calm and matter of fact.

Have some stretch gates in the home so the dog sometimes has to be in a different part of the house from where you are. In my own life, because the floor to my office and computer room is always cluttered, I don't let dogs come in with me. So they lie out in the hallway behind my back. It's a tough life. An alternative to stretch gates is a crate or an x-pen. If your dog is not already spending too much time crated or penned, it's not a bad idea to have one or two short (5 to 20 minute) crate sessions a day and one longer one. But if your dog is already totally at ease with you in another room, then you don't need to deliberately create such periods.

Avoid creating anxiety by your own behavior

The biggest mistake for owners to avoid is to feel either anxious or guilty about leaving your dog home while you go out to do something. Remind yourself that if you don't go out to work, you won't be able to bring home the dog food, dog toys, etc or be able to pay vet bills or fuel the car to drive the dog to the Dog Park. As trainer Jack Godsell pointed out many years ago, most dogs have a pretty easy life and don't have to work nearly as hard as their owners do. So you don't need to feel guilty about having to go out to earn a living. Don't feel guilty about going out once in a while for a social event with humans either. We humans occasionally need to do things with other humans that we cannot do with dogs, just as dogs need to do some things with dogs that they can't do enjoyably with humans.

In her book "Pack of Two", Caroline Knapp describes in Chapter 6 how she managed by her own anxiety and guilt feelings to turn her beloved dog into a textbook case of separation anxiety. Fortunately she was able to accept and act upon expert advice, making her departures and home-comings boringly calm, and thereby cured the problem she had created. Not every owner manages to be as wise.

Protocols for cure of mild anxiety

In a mild case , the same procedure of a lot of short absences, very calm departures and homecomings, and some toy to play with may be all you need. You may also want to do some of the work described below regarding "pre-departure cues."

Protocols for more severe cases

In a not so mild case, you can see the dog starting to wind himself up into an Anxious state well before you actually leave. The dog will have identified several "pre-departure cues", which are things you do that predict that you will leave soon. For example , picking up your purse or wallet or car keys or your briefcase is a big cue that you are about to leave very soon now. But many people start doing things differently from the moment they get out of bed on work days (leaving-home days) from the way they do things on staying-home days. Maybe you only use an alarm clock on leaving-home days. Maybe you sit around sipping coffee in your bathrobe on staying-home days, but dress while the brew is perking and then gulp it down chug-a-lug on leaving-home days. Maybe you only put on makeup on leaving-home days. One of my friends swears her dogs notice if she is putting on the black socks that go with her work uniform on work days or the white socks she wears on non-work days. (This particular dog is not at all separation anxious, but uses the cue to know if it is likely that he will be taken for a walk soon, something common on a non-work day.)

The behaviorists will tell you to "desensitize" each and every pre-departure cue that you can identify. That means on days you are not leaving, you will do these cues several times but then you stay home instead of leaving. If you do this the dog ceases to associate these cues as predicting that you will leave and ceases to become anxious in response to the cue.

Well, to me the difficulties with that idea are, first, that some of the cues are really subtle and you will not be able to identify these cues as being cues and, second, that some of them are things you can't or don't want to do several times in a row (how much coffee can you gulp ? how many times do you want to put on your lipstick ? do you really want to set the alarm for the same brutally early awakening on weekends that you must endure on work days ?). If you aren't able or willing to do these things for several weeks, then you probably won't get much result.

Let me suggest instead that you identify a couple of cues that are none too subtle and that are easy to do over and over at several times during the day. For example picking up your purse or briefcase or putting on your jacket or coat are very easy to do. Now teach the dog that one or more of these are cues to go to his bed or crate and lie down, to be rewarded with a treat or sometimes a massage or belly rub (if he enjoys those). Teach him that one or more of them are cues to go get one of his toys and play with it by himself. In any case, you want to change the meaning of these really obvious cues to being cues for calmness. Help the dog respond with some calm or happy behavior and reward him for it. Present the cue at least half a dozen times a day, sometimes just once and sometimes several times in a row. Work on this until the cues reliably produce neutral-calmness or happy-calmness , neither of which is compatible with feeling anxious.

Once you have taught a few cues for calmness or cues to go get a toy, you can start using a Buster Cube or a food-stuffed Kong (or other stuffable toy) as part of the reward for obeying the calmness cue. That may lead to a happy-calm state rather than a neutral-calm state, but that is perfectly fine. Do NOT just hand the dog the Kong and then run out the door, because then the Kong becomes a pre-departure cue. Give the Kong or other long-term attention occupying toy some time before you need to leave. If you can give the toy in a room that is not near the door you will be departing through, so much the better because it makes your departure less obvious and avoids making the toy a pre-departure cue. Then after the dog is fully engaged with the toy, just quietly and calmly sneak out the door. If you need to have loaded your briefcase into the car the night before so it does not cue the dog, do so. Or maybe you can just have it right next to the door. Maybe you need to have parked the car a block or two away so the engine noise does not cue the dog. If so, then you really do need to do a lot of the leave-home-drive-around-the-block short absences. Once, twice, thrice around the block then home again. And for genuine departures, walk to the more distant car instead. This takes some planning.

The second and crucial part of the program is "gradual planned departures". That means that first you do such incredibly brief departures and returns that the dog does not get at all anxious. For the severe case, just going into another room while the dog cannot follow may be all he can handle. For some , just being on one side of a barrier for a few seconds may be the starting point. You have to start out with something the dog CAN handle while remaining calm.. Then you repeat that many many times until you are both totally bored while dog remains totally calm. Next step is to make that brief departure just a TINY bit longer. That may mean going from taking one step away to taking two steps away. Or it might mean you can actually go to your normal home-leaving door and touch the doorknob but not actually open the door. Do it over and over until the dog is totally calm or bored out of his wits. Then up the ante again just a TINY bit. Maybe now you can open the door and close it again. Maybe you can step outside and immediately step in again. The start of these programs is always very very slow, and it may seem you are not getting anywhere fast. But for severe cases its the first five seconds that are hardest. The next 10 seconds won't be as hard. The goal is to work up to the point where you can be gone half an hour and the dog calmly and happily plays with his toys or takes a nap. Use a spy camera to be sure of what happens once you leave, because the dog's calmness is your only permission to make the next departure a wee bit longer. Note that it should not always be each one longer than the last. Also include some much shorter ones. You are teaching the dog that whatever length of time you might be gone this time, you are sure to return. Of course all returns should be make in a totally calm and boring manner, just as I described for Prevention. Once you are up to half an hour, the rest should be fairly easy. Remember that most separation anxiety behaviors take place during that first half hour. Of course you still want to be careful about not rushing from half an hour to all day long or all day long plus some after-work event that lasts additional hours.

For those of you who need a generic schedule, I am putting in one below : "n" is the number of seconds or minutes you would be absent. For each sequence , keep on doing that sequence for several days after the dog is totally calm at each of the absences. Then go on to the next sequence. For a very conservative program, where you need to make progress very carefully, try something like this. Your starting "n" might be only a single second or walking half-way to the door. Notice that you keep including the shortest absence in the set as the first and last one of the set, and for a long time you will do several sets a day.
  1. 1st set of 4 absences : n, n + 1, n+2, n. repeat this set three times a day if you can.
  2. 1st set of 4 absences : n +1, n+2, n+3, n + 1. repeat this set three times a day if you can.
  3. in each suceeding sequence , the middle length absence of the old sequence becomes the shortest of the new sequence. As your first absence gets to be longer, eg past 10 or 15 minutes, you may do only two sets a day. When your first absence gets to be over 30 minutes, you may only do one set a day. As the absences get longer, you do fewer sets per day. By the time your dog is absolutely calm with a two hour absence, you have probably gotten the problem licked. That's not permission to go out for a full work day and then straight out to dinner and party afterwards, ie a 12 hour absence, the next day ; indeed, if you do not have a dog door, you should never voluntarily be absent for 12 hours straight because it is not fair to the dog's ability to hold feces and urine.

Now some dogs could make much faster progress. For those the sequences might be more like the following :
  1. 1st set of 4 absences : n, n + 1/2 n, 2 n, n. repeat this set three times a day if possible.
  2. 1st set : new n = 150% old n. or for more careful progress, new n = 125% old n. each set is n, n+ 1/2 n, 2 n , n
  3. in each suceeding sequence , the middle length absence of the old sequence becomes the shortest of the new sequence. As your first absence gets to be longer, eg past 10 or 15 minutes, you may do only two sets a day. When your first absence gets to be over 30 minutes, you may only do one set a day.

How do you go to work while working the cure ?

Ideally while you are doing this gradual departure desensitization program you would NEVER leaver the dog longer than he is currently able to handle calmly. Well that is great if you happen to have several months vacation time or sick leave saved up. Or if you can arrange to telecommute during this period. Or if you were about to retire anyway. But most people do have to leave the home to go to work to earn the money that puts kibble in the dog bowl and makes the next installment on your never-ending debt to your veterinarian.

Some behaviorists advise that you establish some "Safety Cue" for the short departures, and have your day-long work-day departures take place under different circumstances and without the "safety cue." That may work for you , especially if during the work-day departures you have a place in your home or yard where the dog, although anxious, will be safe and where any anxiety behaviors will not be causing problems that you or your neighbors find intolorable. For the stress defecating dog, an outdoor kennel run might be the answer, but this would not be an answer for the dog who barks or howls his head off.

Of course if you are the boss in your workplace or if your boss will allow you to bring your dog to work with you, possibly to be crated in your office so he is out of the way of everyone else, then that is an ideal solution. But if you had that priviledge you probably wouldn't be reading this article. Still I'd suggest you ASK if you might bring your dog to work. If they say "no" then you are no worse off than if you don't ask. Of course you will then be using your lunch break for a long walk and your other breaks to do potty breaks for dog or self.

Taking the dog out to doggy day care is a realistic solution for many owners, and for some it is so enjoyable for the dog that they want to keep it up on an every day or couple days a week basis forever. Professional day care is expensive, which is a real disadvantage for many owners (though if the dog has destroyed several thousand dollar sofas day care could seem very much a bargain). And you do need to be very sure that paid day care is run in a genuinely competent manner, with dogs well supervised and only compatible dogs allowed to be together.

However you might find one or more people in the neighborhood who love dogs and would let your dog come for day visits for a small financial reward or for some service you might render in exchange. Perhaps it is someone who loves dogs but who cannot afford to own one or who is elderly and fears to leave a dog orphaned. Perhaps it is someone who has a dog that would love to have an active playmate to work of excess energies ; in that case , arrange for the dogs to trade off being guests in each other's homes so both owners have each other as emergency dog sitters/boarders. Maybe the play-group will expand beyond two homes. I consider neighborhood informal day care and play groups to be an ideal solution and one that is of value to any dog owner, even those whose dogs have no problems whatsoever with staying home.

Some dogs with separation anxiety when they are the only dog in the house are OK if another dog is present. Ideally the other dog should be a very calm one; certainly it should not be one who also has separation anxiety. So maybe you could be host to a neighbor's dog. Or you could contact a dog rescue person and ask about being a foster home, with option to adopt if the foster dog buddies up with yours. DO NOT adopt a second dog unless you really truely absolutely WANT to have two dogs and have the time and energy and money for two AND you are sure you are not going to think of your first dog as inferior or less lovable if the second one proves to be a paragon of perfect behavior (note : the chances that the second dog will not have some "issues" of his own are very slight). Also it is possible that instead of the calm second dog being a calming influence on the anxious first one, the anxious first one will be a bad influence on the initially calm second one. Still it is true that some otherwise anxious dogs are greatly helped by having a canine packmate. (And there may be some who are calmed by a feline buddy, though of course the potential for problems between dogs and cats are legendary.)

Some dogs with separation anxiety are OK in the car. (I think this is because when we take a dog along in the car when we run errands, we are making so many short departures and returns to the car that the dog quickly learns that he can count on us to return, therefore feels safe.) Now testing this out can mean taking a risk of getting your car interior badly damaged or having the dog escape and be injured, so make any tests inside a fenced area and with a set up that lets you observe from a distance. If your dog is OK in the car and IF AND ONLY IF you are in a climate (temperature) that makes it safe for a dog to be unattended in a car with windows partly open (or open but blocked by a window-guard grille of some kind) and parked in shade or lower level of a garage, and IF AND ONLY IF the risks of the dog being stolen or otherwise injured by malicious humans is deemed to be negligible, then taking the dog along to work and leaving him in the car might be an option. You'd have to make sure to take several breaks during the work day to go out to walk your dog and give him a potty and social break and to check his water bowl. Unfortunately there is risk that the dog may become territorially aggressive towards people who approach the car (this happened to one of my adopters). I do NOT consider the leave-him-in-the-car method to be a really desirable one, but maybe it is your only real choice to get you through the "gradual departure" program. Please do NOT think that this is a long term solution and that you do not need to follow through diligently on the "gradual departure" program.

Finally you could look for a live-in servant or a paying (reduced rate) tennant or roommate whose at home hours dove-tail perfectly with your away-from-home hours. If your own work hours are swing-shift or night-shift , it might not be so hard to find someone whose work hours are the daytime 9-to-5 and who liked to stay home during most non-work hours. You do have to be sure that the rules are clearly spelled out as to which hours you require the person to be present, and it has to be someone you can trust and are comfortable living with.

Use of medications (in addition to behavior protocol)

Medications are available which CAN be helpful to make the behavioral protocol more effective. The medications by themselves are NOT a cure ; you MUST also do the behavior protocol. Long term safety of these medications has NOT yet been established. So use the medications ONLY for relatively severe cases where the response to the behavioral protocol has been very slow or not noticably effective. Use ONLY under the supervision of a veterinarian who is experienced in the use of these medications and who will do the necessary monitoring.

Medications likely to be used are Amytriptyline ("Elavil"), Buspirone ("Buspar"), and Clomipramine ("Clomicalm"). Now that "Prozac" is available generically, it might also be a possibility. Clomicalm has been clinically tested and the results published.

other factors that may help

Exercise is helpful to most behavioral "issues" and may be especially helpful to separation anxiety problems. If you can force yourself to get out of bed earlier , early enough to take your dog for 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise before you have to leave the house, you will be leaving a tired dog who is likely to sleep through the process of your departure and the half hour or hour after you have left. Since exercise increases endorphins and serotonins in the brain, the dog will be feeling fairly mellow for quite a while after exercise. (You will probably feel better too.) This natural medication is a lot safer than using drugs and likely to be more effective. When you return home, after a period of calmness for yourself and the dog, you may be able to manage a second exercise period, which might be either vigourous aerobic work or just a nice long walk with sight-seeing for you and scent-seeing for your dog.

Some behaviorists believe that diet can make a difference in behavior problems and urge that you find a balanced and complete diet that is low/moderate in protein (compared to the "growth" and "working dog / performance" formulations) and that does not include artificial colorings or artificial preservatives.

Use of the Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) dispenser (that plugs into an electric outlet like a scent dispenser) or a DAP collar may be helpful in making the dog feel calmer. DAP is a synthetic of the scent produced by skin glands near a nursing bitch's nipples and thus is supposed to make the dog feel as secure and calm as a nursing puppy. This is one of those things that may or may not help, but should not hurt in any way. A month's supply costs about $30 or 35. Your vet may carry it or you can find it at PetCo. (I'm sorry but I forget the brand name under which it is sold.)

Higher tech possibilities

I've already mentioned the use of an inexpensive security camera cabled to a VCR as a way of recording and reviewing your dog's behavior while you are away. Don't think that you will need 8 hours to watch 8 hours of tape, as you can fast foreward through the many dull parts while your dog is sleeping or peacefully hanging out. The first half hour is the part to watch most carefully as that is when most separation anxious dogs are the most anxious. You may also want to watch carefully the half hour before your normal home-coming time. Look for a camera at a store like Frys that sells a wide range of consumer electronics. These cameras can be as cheap as $30 to $50.

In his book , "The Dog Who Loved Too Much", in the chapter of the same name, Dr Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS (that's the Brittish term for DVM) describes a client who "actually was a rocket scientist" , specifically a designer of electronics circuitry for missles, who devised a sound-activated tape recorder that played a tape of his own voice giving his dog direction and praise whenever she barked. This dog tended to vocalize when anxious. The tape told the dog to go lie down and then praised her, presumably in a soothing tone. The geek client also set up a video camera to monitor the dog's reactions. Combined with the rest of the behavior protocol, increased exercise, dietary changes, and some medication, this resulted in 90% improvement in the dog's anxiety and behavior. Dr Dodman comments that he's tried to convince the client to make a comercial model available.

Another commercially available tech tool is the "Train and Treat" machine (note : it may actually be called "Treat and Train") devised by Dr Sophia Yin, DVM and marketed through "The Sharper Image" catalogue. This is a treat dispenser that is activated by a remote control. Dr Yin has provided a training guide that sets out a number of things that can be taught with this device, such as to have the dog go to his bed and lie down , the bed being placed next to the treat dispenser. If you have already thought that these things could be taught without the treat dispenser , simply by the person praising or "marking" (eg with a clicker click or a short word like "good") the desired response then delivering the treat by hand, you are absolutely correct. But the gadget is so appealing to the geek generation, to all those good folk who can't imagine life without an iPod and who now cannot live without an iPhone, that it makes systematic training through positive reinforcement so rewarding to these people that they will put a lot of effort into working with the dog, whereas without the gadget they might not train at all. I won't complain about anything that gets people hooked on training.

So it would not be a huge technological step to take the Train and Treat and combine it with a web camera on your home computer to be sent to your workplace desktop computer , plus whatever would be needed to let you remotely control the treat dispenser from your work computer and send voice commands from your work computer. You see the dog getting anxious and misbehaving, so you tell him to "go lie down" and then you praise him when he does so and dispense a treat. You could dispense further treats at random intervals as he continues to lie on his bed.

What I'd really like to see is simpler. How about a dog bed that has a pressure reactive (weight reactive) device inside it, then wire this up to a treat dispenser and a sound cue emitter. Program it all off of a fairly simple chip so that the owner could choose which level of program to use today. At each level the system would at random intervals emit a cue that tells the dog that he is invited to lie down on the bed. At the lowest level , the moment the dog lies down he gets his first treat and then at fairly short intervals thereafter another treat is given so long as the dog remains on his bed. At higher levels there would be longer and more variable durations of lying down needed to produce a treat. (Most of the treats could be the dog's ordinary kibble, with a few special extra-smelly extra-tasty goodies mixed in. The dog may thus earn most of his daily ration by lying down calmly throughout the day.) The sound cue emitter might be optional, as the dog is still being rewarded for spending time lying on his bed. In either case, the owner has to personally conduct the initial lessons by helping the dog to discover that lying on the bed produces a reward. Dogs who spend a lot of their day lying down are NOT spending that time being anxious or trying to chew through the door that owner left by or destroying the furniture our of anxiety (or boredom) or running through the house defecating or barking up a storm. Usually after a dog lies down for a while, he dozes off.

How do non-anxious dogs spend their days alone ?

Because I am home a lot, often home working at my computer or home reading and studying or painting, I get to see how my dogs spend most of their time. They spend an awful lot of it lying around, some of that sleeping and some just resting or meditating. They do run out into the yard once in a while (through the dog door) if they think they hear a squirrel or a farm worker or a boojum or a snark. Or they stroll out to pee or poop or stroll over to the water sources to get a drink. But then they come back in and go back to lying around. The younger ones are likely to spend a bit of the day in play with toys or one another, so they only lie around 80 to 90 % as much as the older ones.

So including a behavioral protocol that encourages an anxious dog to do more lying down lying around is simply encouraging him to do what a non-anxious dog would do left to his own choices.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 12/20/06/td> revised 12/29/07, book ref 12/27/15
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