“Hi, while you’re not home I’d like you to leave an animal whose favorite activity is ‘chewing on stuff’ loose in your house.”
It sounds like an insane proposition, but it’s one many of us accept each and every day. Thankfully, these days I have two well-adjusted (always using that term loosely with Penny) pups who don’t cause any trouble while I’m gone.
This was certainly not always the case. Goodbyes used to be quite anxiety provoking for Penny
While attempting to train Penny to stay home alone, outside of her crate, we had a few…setbacks.
There was the time she turned my loafers into “Penny’s loafers”
And the mysterious case of the Swiss cheese blanket
Much of my initial training centered around making sure Penny was tired before I left. But despite being well-exercised, and despite getting a small training treat before I left, Penny inevitably caused trouble.
I realized the issue was none of my training changed the basic problem that my departure was a negative, anxiety-inducing experience for Penny. So I changed my training with the goal of making my departure have a positive association.
How’d I do that? By harnessing Penny’s ravenous love of food. Prior to leaving I put a high-value treat in front of Penny, but keeping Penny in a “stay” command. I put on my shoes and went through my normal going-out routine, all with the treat inches from Penny’s face.
Penny would tell you it was cruel and unusual punishment
It wasn’t until I opened the front door and stepped outside that I gave Penny the “take it” command. Over time, Penny associated my sticking around with a negative feeling (the interminable wait for a treat) and my departure with the rapture and relief of finally chomping down on her sweet reward.
The new training method worked so well that these days Penny gets exasperated when I don’t leave quickly enough!
“OMG, Will! Go! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”
And Eko? Eko calmly plays along and earns easy treats
There’s no getting around the fact we have to leave our dogs alone sometimes, but there’s certainly a way to change our pups’ perceptions of that departure. In fact my method may have worked a little too well…
Because sometimes I think Eko and Penny are happier to see me go than they are to see me come home empty handed!
But it’s a small price to pay to keep all of our sanity (and furniture) in one piece. This lesson was a costly one for me, but it’s one I’ll be able to use for the rest of my life. We can’t always change circumstances but we can certainly change perceptions.