Time and time again, prospective clients reach out seeking guidance due to training lacking results or feeling sporadic. Upon diving into their case in more detail I have been seeing a common trend: THEIR PUPS ARE MERELY TOLERATING THE ABSENCE!
What is wrong with tolerating? Well, a few things:
Tolerating an absence has the potential to backfire leading to regressions or plateaus
A dog that is merely tolerating training is lacking the comfort needed to truly change an emotional response away from negative towards neutral and/or positive
A dog tolerating an absence may still be climbing their stress escalation ladder, meaning that outside environmental influences might have the potential to push them “over threshold” quicker than a dog that is actually comfortable (in the training world we call this trigger stacking)
If you are a trainer that takes on alone time cases but not 100% sold on the "comfort" aspect of alone time training, think about it in these other training circumstances:
If working on a reactivity case would you get closer to the trigger even if the pup was visibly stressed, but not barking?
When socializing a puppy do we want to just over inundate them with experiences, or make sure they are neutral/positive?
When introducing two novel dogs, would you allow one to continually pursue the other when there is a clear sign that the other might not be fully comfortable with the interaction and/or asking for distance?
When working on cooperative care, would you continue to progress your criteria if you can tell the pup is uncomfortable, but perhaps they are not actively removing themselves?
Changing an emotional response is a very complex task in most cases, and unless properly observing body language some will likely push too far too fast. So, what do we do? Well… that depends on your individual pup!
For families first embarking on the training journey:
First off, YAY! I am so glad you are here! You are in the lucky position to be able to start your pup’s training journey from square one leading to maximized comfort when left alone
Second, get your eyes on your pup! If you have not already set up a camera or device to view your pup when left alone I highly recommend you do. This will help us monitor their comfort levels every step of the way. (literally)
Third, read up on body language and start picking up on what your individual pup’s stress escalation ladder looks like. This will be invaluable to the training process and will help make sure that you are moving at a rate that YOUR pup is comfortable with.
Fourth, reach out to a qualified professional that specializes in Separation Anxiety and/or Alone Time Problem Behaviors
For families that have started training but want to increase comfort:
First off, YES YES YES! We can always learn more and do better, so GO you!
Second, learn more about your pup’s body language cues that indicate they might be inching up their stress escalation ladder. Paying attention to these very subtle behavior or body language shifts will help us ensure that we are functioning in the comfort zone during training
Third, unfortunately, you will likely need to scale back quite a bit with duration and/or criteria. Depending on what you dog’s body language and stress signals indicate, you might find that you need to start a few levels back to remind your pup that these absences are not in fact scary anymore
For families whose pups have been left over threshold and/or tolerating for quite some time:
I GET IT! There is soooo much conflicting information/”advice” out there and I am so sorry that you may have been misguided, but your pup will definitely thank you for doing the additional research and work to maximize comfort
Similar to a new pup owner, the best thing you can do is read up on body language and start to understand the silent communication your pup is attempting to make when left alone. Once you know what “stress” looks like for your pup you will be much better equipped to ensure you are training in a comfortable and functioning mindset.
It might have taken you a while to get here… but just know there is no time like the NOW. Though you might have had a few hours of tolerating or over threshold absences in the books, this might mean you need to return to some of the foundation work to ensure that you are setting your pup up for positive long lasting behavior change for the many years to come
So regardless of where you are on your journey and/or how you got here… you are HERE. We can start helping change our pup’s emotional responses as soon as today. If you are not sure how to get the ball rolling, or know you need additional guidance you are in the right place! I have quite a few training options that will help you get the ball rolling towards comfortable alone time.
If you know you have been misguided and want to start making progress towards comfortable alone time as quickly as possible, I encourage you to book an Initial Threshold Assessment. During this 60 minute comprehensive dive into your pup’s specific case we will be able to determine what their stress escalation ladder looks like, what confinement (if appropriate) or alone time set up will lend to the fastest results, and I will be able to provide very clear and concise training recommendations to get you to your goals as quickly as possible.
If you are tired of reading conflicting information, are tired of training feeling sporadic, and/or if you want to take your training game to the next level, click the link below and dive into Home Alone: Four Phases to Comfort!
I am so glad you are here, I am so glad your pup has such a dedicated pet owner, and I am so excited to help you on your journey to alone time COMFORT!