by Barbara Foley
More and more campgrounds are not allowing campers to leave pets in their RV unattended. There may be numerous reasons for this, but probably the most prevalent reason is noise made by pets left behind, usually dogs.
NOTE: I do NOT advocate leaving any pet alone in a RV. If the temperature is or WILL BE 80 degrees or over, it is totally unacceptable. Relying on air conditioners or fans is just too dangerous as they or their utility systems often fail, leaving your pet to suffer fatal heat exhaustion or stroke in less than an hour. I do, however, realize that leaving a pet in a RV in cool weather is acceptable if the animal is otherwise safe, has access to water, and the RV is well-ventilated.
Dogs are companion animals and, as such, suffer anxiety when separated from loved ones, a condition known as separation anxiety. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety can be quite vocal and often destructive. The purpose of this article is to provide some, but certainly not all, ways to prevent separation anxiety in pet dogs. These tips must be mastered AT HOME, long before you take your next RV trip. Only when your dog is reliable at being left alone at home could you even attempt to leave your dog in a RV alone and then only if it will be a cool day.
First, teach your dog to "quiet." Do this as part of your dog's training at home, long before attempting to use it on a trip. If your dog barks at unsuitable times, make sure your dog is paying attention to you by calling his name first (attention getter), followed by a firm command to "quiet." If your dog does not respond properly, gently but firmly place your hand around the dog's muzzle to essentially close his mouth, and repeat the quiet command. If the dog responds by quieting, release his muzzle and praise the dog calmly with "good quiet." Repeat this as often as necessary. If you live in a multi-pet or multi-person household, you will have a challenge but do not give up. Teach every adult in the house how to firmly but humanely give the commands and correction. Dogs learn very quickly through praise, so do not fail to praise him for quieting after the command. Look for opportunities for your dog to succeed and then praise him. (Be careful with your praise. If it is too boisterous, your could excite your dog INTO barking!)
Now you have taught your dog to "quiet" on command, so let's deal with the issue of your leaving the premises without your dog going bonkers.
Companion animals take many of their behavioral cues from us, their owners. If we seem upset, they become upset, too. If we seem worried, so will they. Many owners feel guilty when they must leave their dog behind and talk in worried, unnatural tones to their dog as they leave, apologizing and reassuring the dog that all will be well. This only heightens the dog's anxiety as he notices his owner's preparations to leave. Instead, talk happily and otherwise don't make a big deal about your impending departure. Just behave normally. Firmly remind your dog to "quiet" and then just leave.
If you are lucky, your dog will settle down to a nap until you return. If not, further training will be necessary. Get your dog used to the idea that you ARE coming back to him. Pick a time of day when you can devote some time to this training session as it may take a while. Make your preparations to leave as discussed above, leave, count to ten, and return. If your dog stayed quiet, praise him. If not, give the correction we used above. Continue the leave-and-return exercise but each time make the time a little longer before you return; again praise for quiet. If your dog barks, review the "quiet" routine above until your dog understands and keep the leave-and-return times short. Only when the dog waits quietly can you lengthen the time between your departure and return. (And don't give in to the temptation to cheat by peeking in the window to see your dog. He will see you and realize you haven't really left!) Always praise your dog for good behavior and use the word "quiet" in your praise so he knows what he is getting praised for. This may take several weeks, but hang in there. Of course, your dog must be truly ALONE. If someone else is in the house, he will not feel alone. (Conversely, another QUIET pet in the house can keep your dog from suffering separation anxiety at all--he is not alone because he has a buddy!)
It is always best to train your dog to behave properly, but another ploy to use is distraction. Proper training is long lasting, whereas, a distraction may only have temporary effects and is no substitute for training. You will probably get best results by using both. By using distraction, you are focusing the dog on an object rather than the event of your departure. Assuming your dog likes treats, try leaving him with a safe treat that will last him a while to consume or to play with. A useful distraction is a toy into which you can place delectable treats. As your dog tries to get the treat out, he is distracted from the fact that he has been left alone. There are balls on the market which allow treats to fall out as the dog manipulates the ball and others into which a treat can be inserted encouraging the dog to lick or paw to get the treat out. These can keep a dog busy for quite some time. Just make sure both the toy and the treat are safe. Use your imagination! But you must be honest enough to realize that once the dog has succeeded in getting the treat he m-a-y resume his anxiety.
Make sure your dog is familiar with your RV, especially its sights and smells. If the dog considers the RV as a familiar, homelike surrounding (i.e., "his"), he will be less likely to be feel abandoned than he would in an unfamiliar RV. Leave some articles about with your scent on them. This will reassure him and convince him that eventually you a-r-e coming back for him.
Some pets suffering from separation anxiety are destructive. In addition to following the training and perhaps distraction suggestions above, destructive pets should be crated (with water, a toy, and plenty of ventilation). Not only will that save your precious $expensive$ sofa, but it will keep your pet safe. Crating, however, does NOT take the place of training your dog. Although a crated dog cannot destroy your RV, he can still provide your neighbors with a very unwelcome serenade!
Don't leave pets unattended for unreasonable lengths of time. And, finally, we must realize that, like people, some pets just don't make good travelers. If you have honestly tried the methods above over a length of time to no avail, perhaps your pet would be happier at home.
There are many ways to train a dog. I do not wish to give the impression that my methods are the only available or that they are even the best. Check with other dog trainers and your veterinarian. Please just recognize that training takes time and patience and honesty on your part. Allow enough time to train your dog before you take him on the road. It can take months! And never hit or otherwise abuse your dog in the name of training. Firmness is fine, anything more is abuse, and praise goes the furthest.
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