I'm training my dog to feel more independent when she's alone. I have her lie down on her bed in the bathroom, tell her to stay, and close the door.

  • If she's lying down when I open the door, she gets a treat.
  • If she stands up before the cycle is complete (I can see through the crack), or is standing when I open the door, I tell her to go to bed and stay, without rewarding her.

I start each session with a shorter cycle, and gradually increase the length until I've surpassed her current record.

An example session might look like:

        1m, 2m, 3m, 4m, 5m, 6m

I've read about this method in many other articles, and I'm noticing improvements every day, but I'm not clear about some of the details.

If she fails a cycle, what should I do next? Say she stands up 2m into a 5m cycle. I typically initiate a new cycle without reward, and it's usually a shorter one. I want her to have a victory, but I don't want to teach her that standing up will make things easier.

Are there any regimen templates that I can adopt? E.g., increase max. cycle length by 10% every day. Obviously, every dog is different, but it would be easier to build off the work of people who have already done this.

I'm trying to plan her sessions with conservative increases so I can avoid failures. When she fails, she has begun to panic and I believe it means I've pushed her too far. I believe these failures stifle or even reverse her progress.

1 Answer 1


I'm sorry to tell you that, but your approach is wrong. That's not how you train separation and independence with your dog.

What you currently do is training a command. You say a specific word, your dog does what is expected of her and she gets a reward. There is a clearly defined beginning (the word) and a clearly defined ending (getting a reward). Most dogs have an attention span of a few seconds, so prolonging a command over several minutes is extremely difficult for them.

What you want to do is establishing a behavior. There might be a defined beginning (like saying "god bye"), but there is no clearly defined ending, at least not withing the attention span of a dog. You basically want your dog not to do things like whining and barking during a long period of time.

The way you conduct your training right now, you basically want the dog to "hold" the command for a prolonged time and wait for you to be released from the command. What would happen when the training progresses to one hour? Two hours? You'd train your dog to stay motionless on her bed and waiting for your return. That's not independence. It can actually cause separation anxiety because you gave your dog a command and she need you to release her from the command again.

To properly train separation, you should not use the command "stay". You can establish a different word to signal the start of the training, but you need to clearly separate the words used for commands from those used for behavior.

You can start the training the same way you did until now. Bring her to her bed and say the the new command. She doesn't have to sit or lay down. Leave the room and observer her behavior in a way that she doesn't see or hear you.

Acceptable behavior includes:

  • sitting or laying on the bed - that's a relaxed pose;
  • walking around the room, sniffing around, interacting with toys or chewing bones - that's independent behavior.

Behavior that indicates she failed the lesson includes:

  • sitting right in front of the door for more than 3 minutes, scratching or biting the door - That indicates separation anxiety. She anxiously awaits your return and refuses to relax or occupy herself with anything else.
  • howling or barking for longer than 10 seconds after the initial seperation - This is typical problematic behavior that causes a lot of problems with the neighbors and landlords.

If she fails the lesson from the very beginning (less than 3 minutes), keep the lessons very short and help her by distracting her with a chewing stick, a food dispenser ball or a snuffle mat. If she needs 1 minute to eat her treat, let her wait an additional 30 seconds at first before gradually prolonging the waiting time.

If she manages a longer time, observe her behavior during the seperation. If you notice that her behavior gets more and more unacceptable (she spends more time in front of the door, she starts whining after having been quiet a few minutes), stop the lesson at that point, return and reward her with your voice and treats. You always want to make her succeed (because that produces the best learning results), so stop the lesson before she fails. If she (almost) failed, return to a shorter interval that you're sure she can manage for the next lesson.

There is no set regimen or algorithm to determine the length of each lesson. Some dogs are very independent and are happy with the company of a toy or a chewing bone, other are very attached and need longer to learn that separation doesn't mean abandonment.

You'll get the best results if you stop each lesson before your dog fails and adopts anxious behavior. That way you build an experience of "You don't need to become anxious because I'll always return."

  • 1
    Thanks for the ideas. I'l stick to rewarding her for good behavior rather than commanding her to lay down.
    – mikey555
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 0:10

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