Is it Possible to Spend Too Much Time With Your Dog?

YES!  It is wonderful if you have the option of spending most of your time at home or taking your dog to work with you, but it can also create a dog who is so bonded to you that it is then painful when you leave.

Without realizing it, owners often reinforce their dogs' dependencies. Such owners may frequently speak to their dog, fondle it, or otherwise give the dog such constant attention that the animal cannot handle the lack of attention when the owner is not present. The amount of attention each of these dogs needs without being excessive varies for each individual, so owners must learn how much attention they can give these pets without going overboard and contributing to the problem.

To help a dog learn to handle owner absences, the family must practice periods of ignoring the dog while he or she is at home. This means going about your usual business but without speaking to, petting, or even making eye-contact with your dog. Do this several times a day for at least 10-15 minutes initially, lengthening sessions as you continue. This will allow your dog the chance to develop some independence. It is often helpful to provide chew-toys or treats for the dog to amuse himself with during these periods.

Desensitize the dog to your leaving by stepping outside into the yard for short periods while he is inside (at first loose and then, after he is accepting the crate, crated), saying nothing to him before you go or after when you come back for several minutes. When he can handle these situations without excessive anxiety, pretend you are actually leaving by following your usual routine of dressing and picking up the car keys. Give the dog (loose or crated) a toy for distraction (cheeze-wizz in a Kong-toy works great) and simply leave the house, drive around the block, and come back. Upon your return ignore the dog for several minutes while you go about your business, and then give him a brief acknowledgment, such as a pat on the head and a few quiet words. Then go back to your business without anymore attention to the dog for another period of time. Extend these mock departures as the dog is able to cope, and vary the times, some short, some long.    

Of course, the reason we have pets is to give them attention, so a great way to give appropriate attention to these dogs is through some form of training. Not only does training have its obvious benefits (obedience, tricks, etc.), it also enhances the dog/owner relationship, and the dog is getting attention for actually doing something ("earned" attention), not just for existing. So between sessions of non-attention, schedule random brief (5 minutes or less) training sessions that will give your dog one-on-one” earned" attention. Exercise also helps to work off anxious energy, so walks or Frisbee/ball throwing sessions can count as attention/training sessions as well.

Spend a few minutes every day teaching “take it" and ”leave it."  "Leave it" is one of the most useful commands you can teach a dog . . leave that trash on the ground, leave that dog/person alone. Thank you to Karen Clouston for this excellent explanation.

First, you are going to teach him to "take it." After he's good at that, you will teach him to "leave it."

  • Take a tiny morsel of a favorite treat in your hand, extend your hand and tell your dog, "Take It." Let him have the treat.
  • Repeat this several times until you know he understands (basically, open hand means he can eat it...not a hard thing for a dog to learn!)
  • Take another morsel of food, but close your fist over it. Hold it out like you did with an open hand and say, "Leave it." If he reaches for the food (which he most certainly will do), hold your fist closed and your hand as still as possible until he gives up and either steps back, turns away or otherwise indicates that he really IS giving up. Then open up your hand and say "Take it." Give him the treat.
  • When you know he understands "leave it," do the same exercise as in number three, but start with your hand open. Say "leave it," but leave your palm open. If he reaches for it anyway, close your fist. If he sits back, open your palm. If he reaches for it, close it. when he's really and truly given up, open your palm and say "take it." Let him have the treat.

By working through these steps, he will learn the words "Leave It," and what the command means.  

Excessive attention just before leaving and right after arriving home makes the dog's time alone seem even worse to him. Therefore, be fair to the dog and no matter how guilty you may feel about leaving the dog home, don't make matters worse by making a big fuss about it. If you usually have a TV or radio on while you are home, leave it on while you are out. Try to make the departure and arrival nonchalant, as ordinary and unnoticeable as possible from the dog's perspective.

A little planning and training can go a long way in helping your dog learn enough independence to deal with your absences. You and your dog will both be rewarded for your efforts.

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