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Episode 306 - House Arrest


“The worst thing about separation anxiety is that it can turn the humans into prisoners of their own dogs. The good news is that with the right techniques and leadership, a balanced relationship can be restored.”

 
 

Q&A with Cesar

I crate my dog to avoid destruction when I’m away. Is this okay, or am I worsening his separation anxiety problem?

Actually, crate-training your dog can be one of the best ways to treat separation anxiety, provided that you do it right. The idea is to get your dog to associate his crate with a place of calm, submissive energy. So you should never use “go to your crate” as a punishment.
 
You can begin by taking your dog on a long walk to lower his energy state. This will tell his mind that it’s time to rest. Lead him to his crate and, at the beginning, let him sleep in it or near it. Never try to force her to get in and don’t close the door. Eventually, your dog should start going to his crate on his own when he’s tired or wants to be alone.
 
Once he’s made this association, you can teach him the “go to your place” command, leading him to his crate with whatever he considers a positive reward, whether it’s a treat or a favorite toy. When he finally seems to be secure and happy in his crate, give him the “go to your place” command ten or fifteen minutes before you leave home, then don’t make a big deal about leaving. This should take care of his separation anxiety and limit his destructive tendencies without you having to actually close him in — although if he’s made the right association with the crate, he won’t mind being closed in.
 
The goal of this process is to create a place where your dog feels secure and protected without your presence. Once he associates his crate with calm, submissive energy, it will become a trigger for that energy, and just going into it will help to lessen or eliminate his anxiety.
 

Cesar, my neighbor complains that my dog barks when I’m at work. How can I fix this if I’m not there when it happens?

The first thing you need to do is determine the cause and frequency of the barking, so talk to your neighbor and get specifics. The purpose of this conversation is twofold: to let your neighbors know that you are going to listen to their concerns and deal with this problem, and to get the information that will help you solve it.
 
Does your dog bark constantly for no apparent reason all day long? In that case, she may be suffering from separation anxiety. You can use the crate training tips in the first question, along with a few other techniques to reduce the issue.
 
On the other hand, what if your dog only barks on certain days or certain times? Is it on trash day, when the mailman comes, or when there are gardeners working in the area? In these cases, you need to desensitize your dog to the stimulus. You do this by exposing your dog to the source or a simulation of it, correcting her when she barks, and rewarding her when she shows calm, submissive energy in the presence of the stimulus. There are various methods, depending on the stimulus, but they all aim for the same goal.
 
Of course, your dog may not be experiencing separation anxiety or reacting to a specific stimulus, but rather just barking because no one else is there. This is also a very common issue and, in fact, someone else asked about it, so read on to the next question...
 

My dog is a barker when left alone. Would having another dog to keep him company solve the problem?

I have people ask a lot whether adding another dog to the pack will take care of loneliness and boredom, and my answer is always, “Maybe.” You could wind up with two happy dogs that don’t act up — or you could wind up with twice the barking problem.
 
Although I often advise people to use the power of the pack to rehabilitate a dog, note that I’m talking about bringing a misbehaving dog into a calm, balanced pack. If you already have a misbehaving dog, it won’t help to bring in an unknown quantity. You may get the perfect calm, balanced dog that will become the leader when you’re not home and solve the problem. Or you could come home to find notes from your neighbors complaining about the noise, the place torn apart, or the aftermath of a fight.
 
Personally, I think it’s wonderful to have two or more dogs in the pack, but you have to fix the existing issues before you can start expanding. While it’s natural for dogs to bark — it’s one of the ways they communicate over a distance — they shouldn’t do it excessively. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to train your dog to only bark at an acceptable stimulus, like when a stranger enters your yard.
 
As with anything else, when your dog’s needs are fulfilled, she will become that calm, submissive happy-go-lucky dog that we all dream of. Focus on exercise, discipline, and affection in that order. If you give strong leadership and teach your dog what your expectations are, then follow through consistently, you’ll go a long way toward remedying the barking problem.
 

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