Puppy waiting by the door when I’m out

(15 Posts)
SunnyUpNorth Wed 23-Oct-19 13:11:22

I have a 5 month old puppy, I have been slowly building up how long I leave him for. Generally I leave him for up to 1.5 hours or occasionally 2. I was leaving him in his crate (he is crate trained and sleeps there at night) but I found after an hour or so he would be getting restless and bark/cry on and off.

He is very good and isn’t destructive so I’ve started trying him out just in the kitchen. He still has his crate there but can walk around, has some toys out etc. He has mostly been better out I think.

Today I had to leave him for 3 hours. I took him for a good walk and a run on the dog field first. He had his breakfast, had been to the loo etc. I have a camera so I can check in on him. Today he literally sat at the stair gate, which closes the kitchen off from the hall, for the entire time I was gone. He wasn’t crying or anything just sat completely still waiting.

He must have been shattered but didn’t lie down to sleep. I also left a kong and licki mat which he barely touched (but pounced on the second I was home). He didn’t have an accident which was great as I normally bring him out every two hours.

Should I be concerned about the sitting and waiting? It made me really sad to think he might be sat there worrying. I’ve read that dogs apparently have no concept of time but I’m not sure I believe that.

Will it just take him time to realise he can play, nap, have his kong etc while I’m gone? I’ve left kongs in his crate before when I’ve been out and again he doesn’t touch them til I’m home.

OP’s posts: |
XoandRogelio Wed 23-Oct-19 13:22:02

It sounds like he's showing signs of slight unhappiness when you're gone for a length of time. The good news is that he isn't pacing, howling, going to the toilet or destroying anything, so he's not too stressed.

I'd go back to basics with him for a while. So pick up your keys; put them down again. Put your coat on; take it off again. Leave the house for a minute or two; come back in again. Keep repeating over and over until he gets bored of you! Then increase the times you're out of the house over a few weeks to a few minutes, then ten minutes, then 20 minutes, and so on. Alternate with leaving for a minute or two at a time.

I'd also do things like leave a YouTube channel on for him that plays relaxation music for dogs or separation anxiety music for dogs (my dog really relaxes to this!).

Perhaps at the moment three hours is a bit too long for him to cope with, with him only being five months old and still quite young. However, it does sound like you're doing the right things and he is coping fairly well with you being gone on the whole.

XoandRogelio Wed 23-Oct-19 13:36:12

Oh and just to add to the above, I found a good article on this once - I've copied it below for you:

Separation Anxiety - Fact vs Fiction
Separation anxiety is something of a hot topic, something many trainers and behaviourists avoid like the plague and something widely misunderstood by the majority!

So what IS it, and what ISN’T it?
Separation Anxiety is used as an umbrella term to cover any anxiety based issues regarding separating the dog from humans, from another dog, from specific humans, from any of these in specific contexts.
Technically, your dog may be suffering from isolation distress, from hyper-attachment disorder, from separation frustration, barrier frustration or more typically, a combination of these issues.
It is really only important to determine the specifics of the problem so that it can be correctly addressed, ultimately no matter what label we stick on it, if leaving the dog in some way causes distress, we need to fix it.

Separation anxiety means that your dog is anxious if separated from humans – whether that’s because the humans are actually gone or are simply unavailable to the dog (in another room for example).
Isolation distress/anxiety means the dog is anxious/distressed if alone, but not necessarily alone from humans, this dog could be fine with another dog.

Hyper-attachment disorder means the dog is hyper attached to someone, and cannot cope without them even if there are other humans that they know well, present (this can also apply to other dogs, fine with a specific dog present, not fine without that dog even if there are other dogs around).

Separation frustration – the dog isn’t actually anxious but is frustrated, feels as though they are missing out on some activity.
Barrier frustration – this is the dog that can cope when they can see you but not get to you, but not if they cannot see you due to a closed door or this might be a dog who can do an out of sight downstay for ages but can’t be shut in the living room alone.

It is also important to remember that these disorders, syndromes and anxieties may not be ‘abnormal behaviour’ depending on the age and the context – a tiny puppy is perfectly normal in experiencing extreme anxiety on finding himself alone and indeed for up to around the first 9 months of his life. I would also argue that a rescue dog of any age is not behaving abnormally, in finding it distressing to be left alone, or to quickly form a hyper attachment with a new person.

This may be why in the past people have been told to ignore this distress or anxiety – but just because it’s normal certainly does not mean we should allow it to occur! The reality is, most dogs suffer a mixture of these issues rather than just one and for many they are context specific. So a dog may be FINE left in the car for hours on end, but you can’t shut him in the house. Or he is ok if the wife goes out first and then the husband leaves later, but absolutely cannot cope if the owners leave together or in the reverse order.

Another dog could be ok with being left… unless the owner puts on a specific set of shoes that suggest he’s missing out on an activity, or only if the owner goes out at certain times. I know many a dog who is fine during the week, but the owners cannot leave him alone during the weekend – simply because weekdays are predictable and weekends are not!

So these labels have limited use really, don’t get hung up on which it is, because the process of addressing separation anxiety should go through all these situations and find out exactly what your dog is, or is not, ok with, and work from there. And that of course is why it is so hard to address, because you can’t simply get a book and follow it, you have to follow your dog, and listen to what they tell you is ok, or isn’t ok.

What ISN’T separation anxiety?
Some dogs are simply bored, and in their boredom they amuse themselves in ways you really don’t like – chewing furniture, galloping about, barking at stuff out of the window. Some dogs have just been set up to fail. Leaving a dog who has been highly aroused by fast exercise, for example a long game of ball chasing, may leave that dog with a bunch of energy and no outlet, so he can’t settle.

Ultimately though, if your dog is not settling when left, and is damaging property, themselves, causing a noise disturbance or if they are truly anxious/distressed – that needs to be dealt with and is unlikely to fix itself over time.

Myth and Magic – common incorrect ideas surrounding separation anxiety
*Exercising your dog immediately before leaving will fix separation anxiety.
Not only will this not address separation anxiety, but even if your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety it is likely to leave them highly aroused (stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline still going UP) which leaves them less likely to settle and sleep and more likely to bark, pace, chew and dig. Whilst it is sensible to ensure your dog has been exercised before you leave them home alone, take care that the exercise is calm, steady, satisfying work, rather than high octane whizzing about after a ball, frantic tugging or chaotic play with other dogs. Try for walks that involve a ‘wind down’ element of sniffing, finding scattered food or other calm activity. Failing that, building in a window of time at home for chilling out with you, massage, grooming etc will also help.

*Don’t sleep with your dog…
I hear this over and over, and still fail to understand why forcing a sociable, gregarious animal to sleep away from you if you both want to sleep in the same place would ever help. If not sleeping with your dog causes your dog distress and anxiety – then that’s counter indicated for dealing with separation anxiety.
If not sleeping with your dog means either of you get less sleep, or poorer quality sleep, that is also counter indicated for dealing with separation anxiety.

IF your dog is quite happy to sleep in their own bed, wherever that is (and I mean genuinely happy, as in, chooses to do that without physical barriers enforcing it, I do not mean ‘well we shut her in the utility room and it’s the other side of the house from our room so we’ve no idea how well she sleeps’!!), then that is fine.

*Do not greet your dog when you arrive home…
Again, a nugget of truth in a big dollop of what the actual…
We do not want to pair your reappearance with highly arousing rewards or events, because then we are building frustration into the absence, your dog is anticipating your return and frustrated until you do return. So we would not encourage you to go doolally or shower cheese upon your dog and have a crazy party – but a brief acknowledgement ‘hey doggo how ya been’ and some way of dispersing that arousal is sensible. Maybe you speak quietly to them and hand them a toy, maybe you go straight outside and scatter some food so they hunt for it rather than bounce on you. Whatever you do, know that coming in and TOTALLY ignoring your dog is weird and creepy behaviour from you that will upset your dog, and if he starts to anticipate weird and creepy behaviour that is upsetting, that WILL almost certainly make any separation anxiety issue worse!

*Leave a radio on…
This doesn’t fool an anxious dog into thinking you are still home. It may even out background noises that can upset some dogs, but nothing more.

*Leave your dog a distraction – filled kong, toy, etc.
IF your dog is purely bored, then great, however what happens when the dog is done? Is he satisfied and will sleep or is he still bored? Can you provide constant entertainment so he is still working at it until you return home – if so, great… but be under no illusions that this is teaching your dog to cope alone. It isn’t.

If your dog is truly anxious but distracted by this, they aren’t learning to cope alone, because they are so distracted they do not know they are alone. This may be a useful strategy if you cannot find a sitter or day care etc. It isn’t teaching your dog to cope alone though.
Most anxious dogs are not distracted by food stuffed toys, destruction boxes etc – owners report that their dog ignores these things until they return home when they then frantically start in on the toy or box. SO not only is this not addressing the separation anxiety, but it is likely adding another layer of frustration!

*Leave your dog a scented item…
This is unlikely to work, after all they live in your home which smells of you! You also run the risk of them chewing and swallowing cloth.
I have known dogs who are insecure about being left, to self soothe by taking stinky items (boots, washing) and curling up with them, but in no way does this fix the problem.

*No following – don’t allow your dog to follow you around the home…
Following closely is often a symptom of separation issues/anxiety issue – correct, however physically preventing your dog from doing this by closing doors on them and ignoring them IS almost certainly going to make matters worse.

If your dog is following purely because it is almost always rewarding to do so (follow to the kitchen, get a titbit, follow to the loo, get talked to, fussed, etc) then if the dog has no underlying anxiety or insecurity issue, the behaviour will probably fade away. If however the dog is following because they are insecure, forcibly preventing that by closing doors and ignoring their distress will absolutely make the problem worse. We need to teach the dog not to WANT to follow, not prevent him from following!

*Crate train your dog
Crate training (force free, choice based) can be a useful tool, however there is nothing magical about a crate that ‘fixes’ separation anxiety. You may choose to use crate training as part of addressing separation anxiety, but know that shutting a dog in a crate will not fix the issue. Crate training correctly also takes time, as it needs to be done at the dogs own pace and not to your particular time frame, so it isn’t any sort of a short cut.

*Ignore your dog crying/howling… it’s just attention seeking.
Why has attention seeking gotten such a bad press? If an animal is seeking attention then that tells me either they are not getting enough attention OR, they are not getting enough of the right KIND of attention. Either way, ignoring a dog crying or scrabbling to escape or howling etc, has no place in force free training – this is a dog who is pushed outside their ability to cope, and they are suffering distress.
We now know that leaving our dogs to suffer distress, anxiety, fear etc, will likely cause damage to the brain similar to PTSD in humans – this means the brain is predisposed to be more anxious, more nervous, more reactive and fearful in the future. Nothing useful is achieved by causing this, nor by ignoring it. Return to your dog and do not set them up to experience this again!

*Just go out for five or ten minutes at a time and build up from there…
This is only useful advice if your dog is genuinely ok with five or ten minutes at a time – if your dog is only ok with 30 seconds, then this won’t be desensitization, it will be flooding and likely, sensitizing your dog to being left making the issue worse.

*Start as you mean to go on (with puppies or adult rescues)…
No, please, please no. We don’t send toddlers to University, we don’t send junior school kids into employment – and we don’t start puppies or dogs new to our home by expecting them to cope with being left long periods of time, or indeed, any period of time. What we must do is build security and confidence first - from that foundation we can teach everything else!

XoandRogelio Wed 23-Oct-19 13:36:32

Part 2 .....

So here’s what you can do, and the order in which you should do it!
*Stop leaving your dog in such a way as causes them distress – any distress, not a whimper, not a second of distress. Tough, you bet. Necessary, totally.
*Make a list of all the situations, contexts etc that you believe cause your dog distress. Some of these you will manage, some you will address, some you will find just go away.
For example, Bob the Dog’s list…
*Ok in the house with a human, any human, even a human he doesn’t really know.
*NOT ok in the house alone.
*Ok in the car with any human.
*Ok in the car on his own, humans in sight.
*Ok in the car on his own, humans not in sight.
*OK on a walk if female owner walks away out of sight.
*NOT ok on a walk if male owner walks away out of sight.
*NOT ok on a walk if group disperses (ie, kids scatter to play football).

To that we would then add the list of actions/events we believe trigger Bob the Dogs anxiety:
*Ok if people put on slippers/socks/indoor shoes
*OK if kids put on outdoor shoes
*NOT ok if mum or dad put on outdoor shoes
*EXTREME not ok if mum AND dad put on outdoor shoes
*Alert and on edge if mum or dad pick up keys
*Alert and on edge if mum or dad pick up/put on outdoor coats
*EXTREME not ok if mum or dad put on outdoor shoes AND pick up coat OR keys.
And so on.

This gives us clues as to what Bob thinks are the predictors for ‘being left alone’. From these lists, and other data such as ‘does Bob follow folk around the house, if so, who, when, where’ etc. and ‘are there times Bob is more or less likely to care about these triggers’, we can start to work out what needs desensitizing, and what needs counter conditioning, and where we start first.

Desensitizing (DS) is the exposure, under threshold, to triggers for anxiety – so if picking up keys and putting them in your pocket causes Bob to show an extreme reaction, we might just lift the keys and put them back down. We would NOT pick up the keys and pocket them and ignore his reaction, that would be flooding.

Counter conditioning (CC) is where we pair an action with a reinforcer, so if Bob’s reaction to the keys is so severe we can’t even lift them, we might lift - THROW BOB CHEESE - put down, and repeat that a few times over each day.

Counter conditioning for separation anxiety needs to be used carefully, because ultimately the end goal we want is ‘meh, Bob does not care’ and NOT ‘WAHEYYYYYY THAT MEANS CHEESE’… however where there is flat out fear and panic, and we can’t reduce the action to get Bob below threshold any more, CC is the way to go. Just understand that once CC’d, THEN you will need to DS until there is no reaction.

Also sometimes there is just no way to avoid a trigger – if Bob reacts badly to keys even when only one person is leaving, we might need to go straight to counter conditioning so that Bob is not experiencing distress every time one person leaves. The next thing to look at is habits, particularly following/shadowing people.

Many dogs do this and it may not be a problem, if your dog follows you any time you go to the kitchen, is it because you make a lot of snacks and he gets to ‘help’ with that? Is it because you are more likely to talk to him/fuss him when you go to the kitchen or the loo or to empty the bins? Or is it because he cannot cope without you?

If it is the latter there’s a two part game I call ‘the flitting game’ – we pick two adjacent rooms, ideally kitchen and living room.
Set your timer on your phone (silently) for five minutes. Then make multiple trips from one room to the next, fiddle with something in one room, then move on.

As you do this, ignore your dog – as in don’t talk to him or touch him, but keep an eye on him – as he begins to settle … flit again. Over the course of a few sessions you should find your dog becomes slower to get up, slower to settle, lurks in the hallway or in doorways, starts to look annoyed at you because this is now TEDIOUS… ugh and unrewarding. The point is that when you do not invite him, it might not be worth his effort to follow you… and when he realises that, you can then occasionally add in a good reason NOT to choose following you..

So step two is, add that reason in – a big juicy bone, a big filled kong, something that’s highly rewarding and a pain in the backside to lift and carry around. Now repeat the flitting, if he chooses not to follow you, try to stay a little less time in the ‘away’ room, a little more in the ‘home’ room, and build up gradually, second by second. Do not always give the kong or bone, carry on doing sessions without, and very gradually build up to other rooms and longer durations away.
At any point your dog is free to come and check, if he does that’s fine, don’t say hi or anything but make a mental note that perhaps this was a step too far and to scale back.

The idea is that your dog learns that it is his own choice not to follow and sometimes, that choice is highly reinforcing, sometimes it is just saving him some tedium and effort. He is free to check up if he’s worried, there’s no force or pressure at all.

allthekingsshoes Wed 23-Oct-19 13:39:54

Our puppy is similar. Just waits for us to come home although he does this mostly asleep on his bed but like yours doesn’t chew or bark but also doesn’t drink or eat. And it makes me sad because I think he must not be entirely comfortable BUT he also isn’t unhappy so I try not to feel too guilty.

LochJessMonster Wed 23-Oct-19 13:43:38

Can you give him the kong/lickimat, let him start eating it and then leave?

In terms of the time concept - I learn that dogs only know 'short time' and 'long time'. so they know the difference between say 1 minute and 1 hour, but not necessarily the different between 1 hour and 2.

You've only just started to leave him, and he doesn't have a routine yet so he's not sure whether you are coming straight back, or if there's time for him to have a snooze. So he is sitting and waiting. He won't realise how long he is sitting for.
Once you establish a routine, he will know that he might as well settle down, eat the food etc.

I wouldn't worry too much at this stage, just keep monitoring him on the cameras.

SunnyUpNorth Wed 23-Oct-19 14:38:39

Thanks all. I think I’ve read that article before as a lot of it is familiar.

We have had him two months so he is fairly familiar with our routine now. I started off leaving him for just a few minutes at a time and building it up but it’s just not practical to do that for weeks. I was carrying him into school but have been told I’m not allowed to do that, so have to leave him at home sometimes now when I’m doing the school run if I need to talk to the teacher or we have extra stuff to carry etc. So that is a minimum of about 30-40 minutes alone. Even something like nipping to the supermarket, going to the dentist etc can all be an hour. I missed my kids swimming lessons for about 6 weeks as that would be an hour and a half but can’t keep missing those.

I don’t want to distress him or make him worse but I thought by now he would have settled more with being left. So many people take a week or two off work, then go back to work and just have a dog walker pop in and puppies are left much longer during the day.

OP’s posts: |

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SunnyUpNorth Wed 23-Oct-19 14:41:01

Ps I do give him the kong etc before leaving and wait for him to settle but he just abandons it.
I don’t make a fuss about leaving or when I come home. Feel like I’ve done everything right but he isn’t getting more relaxed about it.

OP’s posts: |
BiteyShark Wed 23-Oct-19 14:42:17

I think for some dogs it just takes time and at

BiteyShark Wed 23-Oct-19 14:43:53

Arggg posted too soon

And yours is still very very young. I have always watched mine on a camera and when younger he used to snooze a bit then wait at the baby gate for daycare to arrive. As he got older he snoozed more and more and now they actually wake him when they open the door

SunnyUpNorth Wed 23-Oct-19 16:04:25

Thanks Bitey

OP’s posts: |
MaryLennoxsScowl Wed 23-Oct-19 17:24:27

@XoandRogelio is there more to that article, please? It sounded v sensible.

XoandRogelio Wed 23-Oct-19 21:10:42

@24MaryLennoxsScowl

I got it from this blog - yes there is a little more to the article:

www.thecanineconsultants.co.uk/blog/separation-anxiety-fact-vs-fiction

MaryLennoxsScowl Thu 24-Oct-19 06:51:57

Thank you!

mrsjoyfulprizeforraffiawork Thu 24-Oct-19 11:33:18

Interesting reading this thread. My rescue dog, who is now nearly 7 (probably), used to be fine with me going to work (she is walked by a dogwalker for an hour in the middle of the day). I have had her for almost 3 years. Over the last six months she has been increasingly clingy and will follow me EVERYWHERE at home. Once or twice I've had to go out in the evening - only about 4 times a year (having been home all day, usually not on a work day) and asked a friend/neighbour to pop in and take her up the road for a wee in my absence and, apart from one lady, no-one else can get her to go out of the door - the successful neighbour has managed to get her to walk about 40 metres maximum before she insists on going back home again. I do not work every week - I am self-employed and do temp work so this year I have had less business (which is nice as I am mid-sixties) and been at home more and I think this is what has kicked this anxiety off in my dog. She got used to me being around nearly all the time and doesn't want me to go out again. Unfortunately, I do need to pay the bills so it is unavoidable. Reading the helpful information above, she is obviously hyperbonded to me. Not sure what I can do to alleviate things as I live alone and have to work when I can. I do have a very chatty parrot that she likes and the parrot is outside its cage all day and she does sometimes spend time in the bird's room. The radio is on (Classic FM) chiefly for the parrot but my dog is better with some chatty noise going on I think. I am out of work again after next week so thought I'd try retraining her in to tolerate being left but as I have just learned about this hyperbonding thing, I am not sure the training will be successful. I do leave her a kong and some food treats and her breakfast (she rarely eats it before I go out) - she also has all her cuddly toys, etc. Unfortunately, lately, she has still had all these things totally untouched when I return home (doesn't even eat them when the dogwalker is there) and as soon as I come through the door she rushes to greet me and rushes to start eating her treats.

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