If you’ve been struggling with your dogs separation anxiety you’ve likely considered getting a camera. Here’s why I recommend them, and how to use a dog camera to solve separation anxiety.
Before you get your camera…
The key is to most behaviour problems is in keeping the dogs emotions below threshold. The threshold line marks the difference between a dog that is listening and responsive, and one that has become overwhelmed by emotion and is behaving according to their own instincts.
This diagram shows what happens to an excitable dogs emotions when you initiate a walk. The picture on the left shows how emotions spike when you prepare and leave in quick succession. As the excitement stacks up the dog eventually goes over threshold and can’t focus on his training. He’ll be hard work to walk until that emotion subsides. But, when you break the process down into steps, and take breaks between them, the emotion doesn’t build up and the dog can easily do things he’s been trained to do – like walk on a loose lead.
It’s the same principle for separation anxiety. When you just rush out the door, emotions peak fast and the dog can panic. So when you start working with a dog with separation anxiety you will start by working on your leaving routine. Just like with the excitable dog, if you break down the leaving process into steps, and takes breaks between them, you’ll keep your dogs emotions below threshold, which will help him cope better when you go out the door.
This might look like putting on shoes – then sit down – then pick up keys – then sit down. And so on, until you have your bag, phone, coat and you are ready to move towards the front door. Eventually, you’ll have practised this enough times that your dog has become quite relaxed with the whole process, and you’ll be stepping through your front door.
Monitor your progress
Whilst you were still in the house, you were able to see your dog for yourself. This allowed you to monitor his anxiety, and watch for signs that he was not coping. Hopefully, he is quite relaxed with you pretending to come and go, but this might change once you move to the other side of the door. We are hoping to keep him as calm as possible, so this is when we will need your camera.
Most pet cameras are fairly cheep and easy to set up. This is the one I use, but you really can’t go wrong whichever kind you choose.
No more guessing
A camera allows you to watch your dog for signs that the emotion is rising, and allows you to step in before he reaches threshold. The first time you step out the front door and close it behind you, you’ll have your camera on, and transmitting to your phone. Now you can see what’s actually happening on the other side of the door.
How your dog behaves on the other side of the door, will let you know how much you can tweak your training plan. Monitor him over a few days so you don’t get put off by good or bad days. But, if he seems a little unsettled, but mostly coping, keep going as you are. If he is very calm, you can leave your dog for a little longer. And if he starts to panic you’ve progressed too fast, go back a step.
Signs that he is coping very well include searching behaviours like sniffing for treats and toys. Searching for you doesn’t count though! If he takes water, or eats, while you are gone you are doing really well, even dogs that cope well with being left alone don’t often eat or drink. I wouldn’t suggest leaving a full meal, but a lick mat (if it’s safe) or a few treats will be ideal to check how your dog is doing.
Find new ways to help
Using your camera will give you an interesting insight into what goes on when you aren’t there. So your camera may offer extra clues as to how else you can help your dog.
For example, if he appears to be looking for somewhere to settle, he might benefit from a crate, or maybe he needs us to move his bed to different place. He might also benefit from a smaller space if he is pacing a bit. If a crate isn’t an option, then a smaller room might also work instead.
Soft body language combined with barking, might indicate he is looking for attention. Some body language is designed to show us our dogs mental state. Tension is associated with anxiety and frustration, so a softer tail and gentle movements could be an indication that your dog is not as anxious as he might first appear. Instead, he has learned to bark to get things he wants. And if he appears to be getting annoyed, it could just be that his expectations have not been met. If he always gets attention when he barks, but you go out, he will still be expecting it.
Less is more!
If your dog appears to be quite busy and is getting distracted by toys and other stuff that is accessible. It might help to clear all that stuff away to prevent over stimulation, and give them space to settle. Some toys act as stimulants, and whilst they do relieve boredom for a moment, they can also make the problem worse in the long run.
One other thing you might notice, is how your dog copes with visitors and other family members while you are out. This could be window cleaners, the dog walker, or even an attempted delivery. If you have other pets, you will also get an insight into how they interact with each other when you’re not there. It’s not uncommon to find out that the dog is tortured by the cat when you are not watching, or that they panic when a delivery arrives when they are home alone.
Whatever you discover about your dogs behaviour, use this new knowledge to help him settle quicker, and for longer, when you are away from home.
Are you struggling with your dog?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!