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Dog’s Eye View: Does this ring a bell?

Pavlov and prevention of separation disorders

Almost everyone has some familiarity with Ivan Pavlov’s early work in discovering classical conditioning.

His groundbreaking research in measuring salivation in dogs led him to discover more than the physical response of salivation when testing dogs using a variety of foods and non-food items.

His research inadvertently opened a new door in behavioral psychology. The use of “conditioned reinforcers” is common today for both humans and animals in facilitating behavior change. In preventing and treating separation disorders, classical conditioning along with other methods can help to overcome or lesson the anxiety attached to being left alone.



For prevention, classical conditioning establishes a positive association with home-alone time. For puppies and some mildly stressed dogs, creating a ritual to set up “home-alone” time is a good start. This can include a selection of special chewable toys that are left out when you leave and put away when you get home.

These “special toys” can trigger a classical conditioning response. When a person leaves, super chews are out. When person gets home, super chews are gone.



Here’s an example: Take puppy to his kennel crate along with one hollow femur bone stuffed with super tasty high quality dog food. High quality means good food your puppy likes. The food and bone are frozen to lengthen the time it takes to get the food out. Plus, it’s a bonus for teething puppies to have something cold to chew.

Show puppy the treat and have him “kennel up.” Tell him you’ll be back as he starts to chew the bone. Grab keys and coat and head out the door. Wait for just a few minutes, walk back in the house while he’s still busy with the bone. Let him out of his kennel crate. If he exits the kennel crate with the bone in his mouth be ready to trade him for a treat. Do NOT run him down and take it away.

Remember we’re building a positive association with you leaving and returning home. Trade him for the bone, and while he’s busy with the treat, put the bone back in the freezer and go about your day.

You can practice this several times a day while your puppy is awake and active. Soon, he’ll be running to his kennel and waiting for his bone. You can begin to extend the amount of time you leave him in his crate by minutes and minutes.

This exercise is for daytime absences. You don’t want to leave your puppy in his crate with food at night. You’re home anyway right? The “special chew bone” is only for “home-alone” time.

Make sure your puppy has had time to eliminate before leaving him in his crate. Your regular feeding schedule will help you determine how long he can be left in his kennel crate without needing a potty break. Leave a radio on and maybe a small fan circulating air in the room. Keep his crate away from sliding glass doors or balconies where outside stimulus can get him overly excited.

For your “house-trained” dog you might hide more than one special bone around the house. Or use an interactive treat dispensing a toy or two along with a radio and a fan. You can substitute a portion of his daily calories with the interactive food toys to prevent over feeding.

Keep your goodbyes and hellos low key. Don’t look back when you leave but do tell your dog “I’ll be back.” Over time that verbal exchange can signal your intent.

The ritual you create giving chew bones upon your departure classically conditions your dog to anticipate your departure as a good thing. Chances are he’s drooling too!

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25-plus years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.


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