Training to be alone

Hello.
My wife and I got our pup 2 weeks before lockdown (just by chance, wasn't planned with the timing).
For about 2 weeks we would leave her home alone for a few hours while we were both at work and things were okay.
But for the past 6-7 months of quarantine I have been home almost 24/7 with the dog. My job, now remote, is very demanding of my time and I'm basically on call all the time. I rarely ever leave to do anything so almost every single day for the past 6-7 months the dog has not been alone. When we do leave we bring her with us pretty often as it'll be for several hours to go visit family.

With work being lighter this month, I'm trying my best now to get her situated to being alone but it is tough due to her howling/crying, and we live in an apartment building with neighbors in the building.

I'm trying to leave for just 10 minutes at a time but it's been tough. I do NOT bring any attention to the fact that I'm about to leave but you know how smart these dogs are. As soon as she see's me put my jacket on without putting her leash on she actually starts to shake. I try to leave her a difficult to get treat in the kong but it doesn't seem to help as she follows me pretty closely. She also gets free roam of most of the apartment. Just not the bedroom or the office. She gets the entrance and living room/kitchen which makes up most of the apartment.

Sometimes she does okay if I REALLY tire her out with a half a mile intense run, but it's difficult to get enough energy out of her so that she just passes out.

Any help would be great for me and my neighbors who are very nice and haven't complained to me yet haha.

last edited by rockonrush

@rockonrush
Wow! I sympathize w/ you. It seems that you being home during COVID has spoiled her. I trained my basenji to be home alone w/ free reign of the house by doing so in short increments. I started @ 10 minutes and kept increasing the time - luckily I have a doggie dog so she can go outside. I never leave her for long periods of time - if it’s going to be more than 3-4 hours I make arrangements for someone to check on her and I always make sure she eats @ her scheduled time. Hopefully you’ll be able to train her to be home alone - it does give you some freedom - but your 1st responsibility is the dog. Hope it works out for you and your basenji.

Giving her a kong is a good idea, or some kind of puzzle with treats in it that she has to work to get at. Make a show of getting out her toy and loading it with treats, then leave it someplace where she can see it but not get at it. Build up her desire for it before you leave, so she starts to anticipate getting those treats! I used a roller ball that dispenses treats for my Perry, and locked it in his crate where he could see it but not access it, usually a while before I went out. Just before I left I would ask him to sit, then position the ball downstairs in the basement. By the time I said "O. K." to release him, the only thing on his mind was getting that ball! He would rush down the stairs and I would go out the door. By the time he had all the treats I was long gone and he didn't stress over seeing me leave. Of course, all dogs are different. Most separation anxiety dogs are bad just after you depart, then settle down. A video camera can be helpful to see what is going on.

It is also very important to be matter of fact about the whole thing. Don't make a fuss when you are leaving, and it's good to absolutely ignore the dog when you return, even if they are excited. Just go about your business and pretend the dog isn't there for a few minutes, then calmly acknowledge them, but no big fuss or petting. Keep things as low key as you can. Loving on them only exacerbates their anxiety at your absence, so leave the cuddling until you have been home for awhile.

@eeeefarm good ideas. I never make a big deal when I'm leaving or coming back. I try not to reward her excitement when i get home, or to make her known to the fact that I'm leaving.

Right now I just make the treat and give it to her, but making it an anticipation game sounds great. I will try that tonight.

Thank you.

Poor little animal. This is going to become an all-too-often story if/when restrictions are lifted and people return to their place of work, leaving the Basenji home alone.

Get an Adaptil Home Calm Diffuser. Not expensive but it does exactly what it claims. You plug it in to a power point.

After Hoover died, Mku was inconsolable and howled in his empty bed once lights went out. The puppy had bonded so closely with the old lady and now she was gone. My vet reccommended I get one.

We plugged it in and switched it on about 8 o'clock in the evening. Mku settled fine for 5 nights and then we didn't need to.

He slept soundly in his bed by the Aga. We made sure he had a couple of favourite toys to cuddle up with and a bone in case he felt peckish.

You can try one as well as leaving for short periods at first. Lengthening your absences and leaving the dog free to move about in a room where nothing can be damaged.

Just to add, I think it is a bad idea to ever sneak out when they don't know you are leaving. This causes anxiety as they don't know where you are. Once leaving and returning becomes routine the dog shouldn't stress about your absence, but if he doesn't know you've gone and can't find you she may panic. My ideal, which I did achieve with Perry, is a dog that doesn't even bother to get off the couch if he's comfy when you return, just lifts his head with an "oh, you're back" look and accepts your presence as normal routine. After all, I don't expect most people greet their returning spouse with a lot of enthusiastic hugging when they've just been out getting groceries! Dogs are generally the same. If we don't make a fuss they learn not to either......which may not feed your ego but is less likely to result in anxiety over your absence if your return is no big deal.

I learned a lot from having two separation anxiety dogs in a row, both mature when I got them. We got to the place where they could be left without issues, and being very matter of fact and treating comings and goings as routine was key to achieving it.

The first thought that popped into my head is to make her happy that your leaving. Find something that is a high value treat for her that she really likes but only give it to her once you get home and once she is quiet. Praise her for being quiet and for being a good girl for being alone. Start with 10 min and then make it longer etc. If she associates you coming home as something good, she may feel better about watching you leave. I would also have on music she likes so she isn't feeling completely alone. My last piece of advice is a sweater. My dog hates putting one on, but as soon as she is wearing it she's fine and I find the warmth really calms her. I would put it on in the morning and see if she is a bit more calm and relaxed during the day. Good luck!

I adopted an adult basenji with some separation anxiety. At first I only left him for very short periods of time, but each time, I would prepare a special "treat" for him. I tried to mix it up - sometimes a paper towel tube filled with yummy treats, sometimes a sterilized bone packed with cream cheeze or peanut butter (or a combo). I save any small boxes to fill and tape back together. As the basenji watched me assemble the special treat, he associated my leaving with a good thing that would follow. Now, he nearly pushes me out the door so he can have his treat - the anxiety is for me to leave quicker! Sometimes I would prepare the special package ahead of time and then not leave for awhile. This made his anticipation for me to leave even stronger. The one drawback is if you use a cardboard box, then any cardboard box becomes fair game for dismantlement/destruction, even if it is not meant for that purpose (yet).

The only other solution I can think of is to get a second basenji to keep the first one company!

I have an old girl, just about 16, who is the last of four dogs.

I have to strongly agree with eeeefarm, that leaving surreptitiously, or quietly isn’t a great idea.

When I leave little Tess, I’ve found that it is important that I calmly let her know I am leaving. I get the things I take with me, my purse, etc., wake her from her slumber and say that I’ll be back soon. I am upbeat, but not excited.

She’ll go back to sleep, and will be fine when I return.
Should I be in a hurry and forget, I come home to a sad, mournfully howling basenji. I might even find an accident.

She just needs to know.

The fact that I was home so much did make it a little harder for her when I went back to work.

I love the suggestion of the Adaptil. Also that of leaving for short periods of time with a puzzle treat, or frozen peanut butter in a basenji sized Kong. Slowly but surely increasing the time you are away is a good idea.
Initially, 10 minutes may actually be too long.
10 minutes in puppy time is a very long time.

I am so sorry your little dog is having separation anxiety, but I know you will help your puppy through it.

Also, I don’t recall if anyone else mentioned it, but the time for calm indifference is when you come back into the house.
Come in calmly put your things down, go about your business putting groceries away, etc., then great you dog calmly and without commiseration.
If you commiserate with your pup, your pup will think he/she was right to be upset; thing are really as bad as he/she thought.

Don’t take too long before you greet your pup, just don’t put your pup first on the agenda when you come home. 💕

Pawla has the best idea. Get a second Basenji !

last edited by Zande

Totally agree with Zande that Paula has the best idea -- get a second Basenji!

Short of that, get the (e)book which Zande has recommended: The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. It has an entire section on how you can handle separation anxiety with a lot of step by step ideas. A lot of what she says has been offered here, but the book is more extensive and in depth. (The Table of Contents isn't the best but you're looking for "Dog Social Behavior and Its Implications -- Alone Training").

All these suggestions are great. What works for 1 dog may not work for another. Keep trying, don’t give up. A tired basenji is a good basenji. Our high energy boy that suffered from separation anxiety would go into destruction mode when we left him, even though he had his sister for company. I found that he needed to be throughly exhausted before we could leave him. Walking by itself was not enough. I gave him a job! He was very proud to do his ‘special’ job for Mummy. I backpacked him with 2 water bottles partially filled for weight. As his stamina increased, I added more water to the bottles. My husband thought I was ‘crazy’ and I’d never get the dog to go along with my ‘hairbrained’ idea. BUT because he was used to me putting him in a sweater/coat, the transition to the backpack was quite easy.

@pawla said in Training to be alone:

get a second basenji

Love this idea! LOL

@rockonrush I think the easiest solution is to:

  • provide your dog with visual clues that they can use. When you pick up the leash, they get to go with you.... when you don't they stay home.
  • always tell them they need to stay home, and you will be right back, if you are leaving without them,
  • always give them a quick pet and tell them you missed them when you get home (nothing more than that)
  • do not make a big deal about anything

Get them accustomed to the routine with super fast in and out trips.

  • leave to check the mail, then go back inside
  • walk to the car and go back inside

The idea is that your dog will start to accept you coming/going without the anxiety. I noticed that my girl was always right at the door when I opened it and worried that she was upset while I was gone. So I set up a couple in-home cameras and checked it out. I learned that she curls up on my bed after I leave. And she seems to stay there until I put the key in the lock. When she hears that noise, she jumps up and dashes down the hallway to the door, just so she can welcome me home. I can't ask for more than that!

Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I would love a second basenji!!!! Though I don't think I can afford one at the moment haha.

There's a lot of different suggestions which is great because one will probably work and several probably won't! The key thing that everyone agrees on is not to make a big deal when returning which I've already been practicing and it has good results each time. I will experiment with each suggestion in blocks and see what seems to work best.

Thanks again, and if anyone has more stories please continue to share!

First, remember you're dealing with a puppy - nothing will happen overnight. It always takes time to form a behavior. DonC's advice about not making a fuss when you return is excellent. So is BrindleBasenji's advice to tell your pup you're leaving, he's staying, and all will be well - you'll be back soon. I can't say for sure that b's understand everything, but I do believe it really helps them when you talk to them. I always tell my b what I'm going to do and what I expect. Maybe it helps ME stay in a calm focused/assertive mind. Whatever, it works. Finally, RGK9Ruler reminds us of an important fact: a tired basenji is a good basenji.

Get your pup tired out. Don't make a big deal. Tell your pup you're leaving. Leave him with a treat that will occupy him for a while. Don't make a big deal about your return.

A second basenji might not be possible, but perhaps you could borrow a friend's dog for awhile (it doesn't have to be a basenji). It has to be the right dog - a calm, well-balanced, well-mannered dog who gets along reliably with your pup and who does not exhibit separation anxiety. If you could have this dog live with you for a couple of weeks or a month, or even off and on, it might do the trick.

I think these creatures are so interesting! They are programmed to manipulate us to get us to do what they want! Be strong and be patient.

Let us know how it's going.

@pawla said in Training to be alone:

can't say for sure that b's understand everything, but I do believe it really helps them when you talk to them. I always tell my b what I'm going to do and what I expect.

So do I. Always have. maybe its just the reassuring sound of Mom's voice but 'I have to go out now, will be back very soon and its raining outside so you would hate it anyway !' seems to help.

@zande said in Training to be alone:

@pawla said in Training to be alone:

can't say for sure that b's understand everything, but I do believe it really helps them when you talk to them. I always tell my b what I'm going to do and what I expect.

So do I. Always have. maybe its just the reassuring sound of Mom's voice but 'I have to go out now, will be back very soon and its raining outside so you would hate it anyway !' seems to help.

Talking to my dogs and horses has always been my way, and they understand more than you think. Dogs especially will learn to pick out the significant words, although they also read your body language extremely well. I would argue horses read body language even better!

One thing I have practised since reading Charles Eisenmann's books is teaching my dog specifically to listen and pick out the pertinent information in my verbal ramblings, e.g. I might mention in passing that "I would kill for a red bone right now", which resulted in Perry bringing me his red bone without a "formal" request to do so....of course, if you reward the behaviour you will find your dog paying even more attention and finding the information encoded in your speech. It's a fun technique. Another example when a dog is underfoot in the kitchen "be somewhere that is not here!" or a variation on the theme. My dogs understood me very well.....and learned the meaning of many phrases that could be spoken casually and result in a response from my dog.

@zande
I totally agree! I talk to my basenji all the time - I swear she understands what I’m saying! (I’ll only need to be concerned when she starts talking back to me! ) 😝

@eeeefarm said in Training to be alone:

I might mention in passing that "I would kill for a red bone right now",

My favorite on this theme is 'you get a bickie at the bench.

Especially since my hip and then knee replacements, I welcome the chance to sit on the (very few) benches in the forest. These are all on the main walkways and because I tend to go off-piste, I have various logs and low branches I have designated 'benches' for the purposes of communication, and to ensure that, from time to time, I can be sure of their whereabouts. They wait at them for their treats.

The dogs have always received a bickie when I sit for a spell. This did not stop Hoover especially, dancing backwards in front of me long before I stopped.

Those two words have been instilled into generations of Basenjis - and now Mku !

NB, these bickies are not extra treats, they are pieces of kibble I have removed from the daily food ration and put into my bum-bag.

Sneaky but saves unnecessary weight gain !

last edited by Zande

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