helping my 5 month old baby to learn to be alone

  • My basenji is 5 months, she's been with us since she was 8 weeks old.
    She gets plenty of exercise, a few long walks each day, as well as socializing with other dogs at doggy parks a few times a week. She sleeps in her crate every night with the door closed, (goes in and out during the day) and behaves really good at home now, she mostly sleeps or plays with her toys. I stopped leaving her in her crate during my absences during the day because although I was building up progressively, I left her in there once for almost 2 hours when she was around 4 months and when I found her she seemed completely in distress. She was afraid to go back inside, and I even had to leave the crate door open at night a few nights until she got back used to it. Since then I have left her in the apartment (uncrated) for short periods (20-30 minutes max) and she seemed to do very well, a little stress when I left but she hasn't damaged or destroyed anything. I did build up to about an hour or so and everything seemed to be going great.
    The problem is I now need to be away for 4 hours a few days a week. This morning I walked her for 45 minutes, then came back and spent plenty of time getting ready so she could settle for her usual morning nap then I left calmly saying "I'll be back". Apparently she howled the entire time I was away and the neighbors are already complaining about the noise.

    I'd love to hear your input : is she too young to be left for so long ? / should I re-try crating her even if to me 4 hours seems like a long time to be in a crate / how long do your basenjis howl for when you're away? / will she eventually understand that I'm coming back and be able to calm herself down ? / any other ideas to help her stay calm (I do leave the radio on)

    Thanks so much!

  • Can you use a dog sitting service or dog daycare for the longer absences, while you are building up at his pace?

    If you use Facebook there is a really good group with lots of tips for separation anxiety. Their ethos is to work below the dogs threshold and build up from there

    Puppy Separation Anxiety with Julie Naismith

  • If she howls when loose she will likely also howl if crated. Leaving something to distract her is useful, like a treat puzzle that takes time to solve. There are also automated treat dispensers that can randomly give kibble or treats or whatever, although I have not personally investigated those. From what I can find on line, some have a camera and interactive ability so you could talk to your dog. Don't know how well that would work for you, but it's a thought. The radio is a good idea, or even a television. Doggie daycare or a dog walker who visits would be ideal, and as @JKent says, gradually increase the time absent. You might keep her guessing by returning at random times, but try to avoid coming back while she is actively howling, as it will tend to reinforce that behaviour. You might set up a video camera so you can see what she is doing while you are away.

  • Thanks so much for your comments and resources. My neighbors confirm that she has basically been howling for 4 hours non-stop.
    It's good to know that crating or not crating isn't really the issue, since crating will only stop any eventual destruction but in this situation it would only make things worse for her. I've asked a friend to drop by and check in on her, apparently she was quite anxious but managed to calm down after about 15 minutes, (she stayed for 30). I think that at least reassured her. I've also arranged some play sessions with some of her doggy friends. The link on Puppy Separation Anxiety has been incredibly helpful. I'm looking into setting up a camera to help me see what's going on and doing plenty of training with her, slowly increasing my time away. Thanks again!

  • Try spending an afternoon with several short in/out trips. The goal is to establish a routine so your pup knows what to look for when you leave. If you have the leash, she gets to go. If not, she doesn't. You can't just say, "bye" and leave. You absolutely must make sure you have her attention so you can teach her the visual clues that she can rely on to tell her what is about to happen. No slipping out while she's napping. If she were to wake up and you were gone, she would be frightened.

    Give the pup a scratch on the head and a kiss on her forehead and tell her you will be "right back", or "you have to stay home". Just be consistent with the phrase that tells her you are going and she is staying. Then leave, lock the door and walk around the building. Do it again and check the mailbox. Go again and drive around the corner. Go again and go to the end of the hall. You actually do have to leave the other side of the door. Your dog can smell and hear you, so if you are just waiting a few minutes to open the door again, well... you will have one very confused pup! Each time you return tell her hello (if she's greeting you at the door), scruff her head again, and then get on with putting everything down. If she's at the door crying and howling when you go in, look at her (don't scruff her head) and ask her, "what's wrong?".

    Do this several times in one afternoon and your pup will begin to learn the visual clues that tell it you are leaving the house. She will begin to understand that sometimes you come right back and sometimes it takes a little longer. Mostly she just needs to know that you go in and out all the time and it's no big deal.

  • Agree with @elbrant and I'd like to add, when you return be very matter of fact, do not make a big fuss, particularly if she is excited and effusive in her greeting to you. Sure, acknowledge her if you must but don't make any sort of big deal out of it. Go about your business, e.g. if you've been shopping, put your things away before spending any time with her. Your goal is to make your absence just part of a normal routine, nothing to be excited about. I've had two separation anxiety dogs, and you know you have won the battle when the dog just glances at you in an "oh, you're back" way and doesn't bother getting off the couch! Yes, people like it when their dog greets them and makes a big fuss, but if you feed that behaviour you give too much emphasis to your absence and that can grow into anxiety in your dog.

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