Not Fostering Independence? Why You Just Might be Killing Your Dog
Many people want to be the apple of their dog’s eye.
They want to think that their dog can’t function without them.
Face it! Some of you recognize yourself in that statement.
Everyone wants that dog from the “Incredible Journey” that travels miles and states, through the wild to find their owner.
People over bond and spend every waking moment with their dog, rarely leaving it alone.
And, then they get frustrated and wonder why the dog can’t be left alone?
I wrote an article years ago, “I Love You to Death, Why Over-bonding is Bad, even Dangerous for Your Dog”, which touches on this phenomenon.
Recently, I had a dog owner who contacted me because he literally can’t leave his home unless he has a dog sitter or can drop the dog off at daycare.
That’s right, he can’t run to the store for a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. He can’t pick up a drunk friend, and he can’t visit a friend in the hospital, unless someone is there to sit with his dog…
I personally, can’t imagine that!!!
I love my dogs, but I need to be able to leave them, on occasion.
Even parents leave their children (over age 9 or so of course) but parents are allowed to at least bring their young children with them.
I want my dogs to love me.
I want them to want to spend time with me.
I want them to listen to me.
I want their lives to revolve around me.
I hope they would be like the dogs in the “Incredible Journey” and follow me to the ends of the earth.
But I also want them to be independent!
I don’t want them to chew out of their kennels when I have an emergency.
I don’t want them to hurl themselves through windows to find me.
And, I don’t want them to jump 6 ft fences or higher to follow me.
See how all those things aren’t congruent?
When Dogs Over-Bond
So, what happens when dogs over-bond?
Even if the human thinks they want over-bonding at the time, they realize very quickly that having a dog that can’t be left alone is a problem.
The dogs eats the dry wall.
He breaks windows.
He bloodies himself trying to get out of his crate
These aren’t endearing traits!
These are traits that will lead to owner surrender at shelters.
Because, even though the owner thinks he/she wants the dog to not be able to function without them…. They don’t really understand the repercussions.
And quite simply, I don’t know anyone who can NEVER leave their dog!
A Former Service Dog
I worked with a Service Dog organization many, many years ago.
We trained a lovely Golden Retriever that we had rescued from a shelter, for an older, wheelchair bound gentleman, to help him gain more independence.
His dog went EVERYWHERE with him for more than 8 years.
After all, Service Dogs are suppose to go everywhere their owner goes!
One day he had to have a surgery and his family didn’t want to take the dog.
Afraid that he would hurt himself in the home or in his crate (which he had spent very little time in over the past near decade), they left him on a tether in their back yard.
They returned to find that the dog had hung himself trying to get to his owner.
It was devastating, for all of us trainers, the man and his family.
Having never fostered independence, they had created separation anxiety and panic in its truest form.
It is Critical To Foster Independence
The dog needs to learn he can function without you, or alone.
How many people need another person or other people in order to function effectively?
Some of us want a spouse or a friend to stand behind us in times of need but ultimately it is critical that we can function alone.
We work alone.
We go to school alone.
It is critical that we can function, solo.
It is important to feel normal independently!
We should be able to function alone without anyone else.
Teaching Your Dog to be Independent
This requires alone time!
Alone time can come when you put your dog outside in the back yard by himself.
It can also come when you put him inside of a crate, alone.
I think it is essential that we crate our dog during the day while we are home, so that we don’t create separation anxiety.
Being in his crate at night doesn’t count 😉
If we only crate them when we leave, we can cause some panic because being in the crate means that the dog is going to be left alone for long periods of time.
I like to crate my dogs when I cook a meal, or crate them while I clean.
They don’t NEED to be crated during these times but I like them to practice being in there while I am home so they are more used to it when I leave them for longer periods of time.
My Malinois LOOOOOOVES me!!!
He would crawl on my lap, or in my mouth if he could.
And he doesn’t particularly like being outside by himself (especially at night)…
But, I make it a point to leave him outside every morning for an hour or more.
I want him to have coping mechanisms when I am not around.
I never leave him outside when I am not home, or when I am not watching, but I think it is critical to his mental stability to be able to be outside and sun himself and enjoy the yard by himself.
I also crate him when I can’t watch him.
I have no doubts that if I took him everywhere and let him spend every waking minute with me that I would actually create separation anxiety.
I don’t want that.
I appreciate that he loves me, but I want him to be a healthy functional individual.
I Suppose It is Like Children
We mark the success of a parent and child by the parents ability to raise a happy, healthy and independent child.
We don’t coddle kindergartners that don’t want to go to school or are afraid to be away from their parents.
We exercise a little tough love because we know it is critical to their physical and mental health later.
Your dog is no different.
He needs to have some coping mechanisms and the ability to function when you are away.
Only give your dog special treats elk antlers, pigs ears, stuffed Kongs, bully sticks, stuffed bones when he is separate from you and alone.
Leave him for short periods at first if you must, and take away his special treat when he is with you
Feed him in his crate or outside when he is alone.
And, if he is particularly difficult, give him an excess of exercise to completely exhaust him prior to your leaving him outside or in his crate; you want him to be so exhausted he hardly cares that you aren’t there!
And, if you have a puppy, it is your duty to make sure you are raising an independent and healthy dog!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.