Dog Training Ideas to Teach Your Pet to Be Independent

Amidst all the cute Instagram photos of adorable pups, there are some who actually try to talk about the practical aspects and how hard is it to raise a dog exactly. Although many dog owners would jump at the opportunity to share the meaning of their special relationship and loyal companionship, not everything is fun and games. After all, bonds are maintained through hard work and not just born out of thin air. 

woman training a dog in a yard

“Practice makes perfect” applies to dog training as much as anything else. Whether it’s for basic physiological needs, going through the sliding glass dog door insert or playing nice with other dogs, promoting independence from the earliest age can help you both lead happier lives.  

How Can You Train a Dog to Be Independent? 

Make Your Home Dog-Friendly 

dog friendly house with a dog sitting in the middle of the room

The debate of nature vs nurture has probably been settled. No matter how kind, attentive, obedient and intelligent your dog innately is, if you don’t provide the necessary living conditions, things won’t be easy let alone enjoyable. Furthermore, there are extra tips and tricks you can try to make managing around your home easier for your dog. This will allow you a break from continuous companionship for every need it has.  

First and foremost, your dog’s physiological needs need to be met. This includes food, water, shelter, urination and defecation. Convenience and safety are of utmost importance. Make sure your dog always has access to a bowl of freshwater. Whether kept inside or outside, there should always be a shelter for your dog in case of strong rain, wind and sun. Its comfort is essential meaning that you need to find a dog bed of the appropriate size and shape. 

puppy going through glass dog door

Proper potty training is a must while the dog is still a pup. If you’re keeping an indoor dog, consider vinyl flooring as it’s very durable and easy to clean and maintain. If you have a yard, getting rid of excrements will be much more hygienic and easier than inside. There are 2 things you need to do: install a dog door or a sliding glass dog door insert and teach your dog how to go through it. This will take care of all the mishaps around the house that could happen in a matter of seconds, just around the time when you were about to go for a walk.  Moreover, it allows your dog to choose whether it prefers indoor or outdoor time, even when you’re away. 

Dog proofing your home indoors and outdoors is a smart investment in both your dog’s wellbeing and your pocket. Tidy away all cables and wires. Also, make sure cleaning supplies are safely secured. If they have free access to the garden through a glass dog door, make sure your fences and gate are secure and all of the herbicides and pesticides that you use for your garden are out of their reach. 

If you thought walking the dog will be hard work, you should reconsider your choice of getting one. Your dog will need plenty of indoor and outdoor exercise. A secure area outdoors that can be accessed at all times through a dog door would be ideal. At least your dog can soak up in the sun as it’s waiting for you to finish up with work and show him some love. 

Boredom is a canine’s worst enemy so make sure it’s kept entertained. Toys should be safe and dog-specific.  

Obedience Training 

man training a puppy with treats

Maybe you’re not keen on playing “good cop bad cop” but the reality is, you need to be the one that implements order and discipline. Interestingly, dogs seem to learn more through reward instead of punishment, contrary to previous opinions. In fact, high levels of punishment can be counterproductive and just plain cruel. 

Studies have shown that dogs who were punished more during their obedience training were less likely to be playful and interact with strangers. Furthermore, dogs that were trained through award system tend to perform better in a novel training task compared to those who were punished.  

Punishment-based training has been shown to cause stress, suffering, fearfulness, increased excitability and distraction and behavioural problems, especially aggression to other dogs and people. In contrast, the frequency of these same problems is much lower in dogs trained without punishment. 

Training through games like the target game or clicker training continuously reinforced with positive verbal cues and treats for a job well done can help you reach your goal while both of you keep a smile on your face.  

Be Realistic 

puppy looking at the camera

In spite of your hard efforts, some breeds are not meant to be independent. Hence, thoughtful consideration of both of your characters is essential before you bring a pup home. Although hours may vary, most dogs shouldn’t be left more than 4 hours alone. Some, however, are much cooler when you’re not around than others. These include Basset Hound, Greyhound, Maltese, Shar Pei and Whippet. On the other hand, there are dogs that have an immediate risk of separation anxiety meaning that independence for neither of you is an option. 

What Dog Breeds Have Separation Anxiety? 

Alaskan Malamute puppy laying down outdoors.

Separation anxiety is a fear of being left alone. It’s a common problem seen in dogs as they are social creatures, just like us. Dogs instinctively experience fear, stress or anxiety when abandoned by their companions, a totally justifiable reaction from an evolutionary and survival point of view. As mentioned above, some are more prone to it than others. These breeds include Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Bichon Frise, Border Collie, Chihuahua, French Bulldog, Poodle and Pug.

What Does Separation Anxiety Look Like in Dogs? 

dog looking through a window

Separation anxiety is normal in young puppies that were just separated from their mothers and arrived in a new home. You might hear crying and yelping through the first few nights. You can try to comfort your pup as much as you can but usually, all it needs is a bit of time. Separation anxiety can be mild, moderate and severe. Mild symptoms may include panting, pacing, mildly destructive chewing and scratching, barking and whining for short durations. The dog can settle and relax for periods during the separation and as the owner returns, it can calm down after a couple of minutes of excitement.  

Moderate separation anxiety can cause a dog to not eat during all separation. Vocalisation is constant and the dog can’t settle or relax while on its own. It will take your dog a long time to calm down from the excessive excitement of your arrival home. It might have a tendency to follow you from room to room, even the bathroom. Destructive chewing starts at this phase. 

Dogs classified as having severe separation anxiety may engage in self-mutilation (licking and chewing themselves) and escape attempts, injuring themselves (bloody paws, broken teeth and lacerations) and cause significant property damage. Also, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation and hair shedding can occur.  If you’ve let things go this far, a simple increase in playtime won’t do. Chances are, your dog is in no mood for playing at this moment and it needs pharmacological treatment along with behaviour modification and management.  

Give a Little Love 

little girl laying on the grass and playing with samoyed puppy

Most scientists can’t grasp the idea that animals have feelings while dog owners don’t need to be persuaded as they know this intuitively. We have language and can label those feelings while dogs, on the other hand, have not. Love, however, is a universal language and you are well aware that your dog can feel it, or lack thereof. There is always the suspicion that your dog could be showing you that much affection solely to get food. However, scientists started to investigate the dog’s process of decision making and how much of it has to do with personal gain.  

Certain experiments have shown that although only a handful of dogs prefer praise over food, most of them react equally happy to both. Furthermore, a team of innovative and creative scientists decided to train dog’s to enter and sit still in an MRI in order to investigate their neural pathways. As a result, it was noticed that both dogs and humans have a similar brain structure, the caudate nucleus, an formulation of neural cells involved in dopamine signalling and therefore, the brain’s reward system. 

Everything they started doing to elicit positive emotions showed that dogs had corresponding parts of their brains to humans. Whether doubting can your dog understand you or not, this discovery has lead the team to believe that dogs are capable of feeling emotions associated with love. Complementing the above-mentioned findings on obedience training with positive reinforcement, it’s no wonder that a little empathy, love and attention can go a long way.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.