CATCH Canine Trainers Academy Blog

Sit, Stay, Jingle All the Way: Tips for Teaching a Polite Stay

The holidays are here, and your dog is… well, over there… and moving fast! You’d love for your dog to hold their position for the perfect Christmas photo, or to simply not jump on Gramma when she comes through the door. Teaching a solid stay can be fun and quick! Let’s get started…but first a pro tip:

Person sitting in kitchen teaching a doodle puppy to stay.

Even puppies can hold a STAY if you keep close and give frequent treats!

Don’t Go Anywhere! When teaching STAY, most people want to step away from their dog immediately, but teaching the dog to hold their position for a period of time before you step away will build the strongest STAY. 

Now that you’re ready to stay put, let’s teach your dog how to!

1. Get the Behavior: Bring some high-value food, such as small bits of cheese or chicken. Your first goal is to teach your dog that holding their position is a great idea. So, lure or cue your dog into the position – SIT or DOWN for example. Now start feeding a steady stream of 10 to 20 tiny treats, as quickly as the dog can eat them. 

  • If your dog is in a SIT, bring the treat all the way to their snoot, so they don’t get up to eat it.
  • If your dog is in a DOWN, place the treat on the floor between their paws, right where their nose naturally touches the ground.

Giving your dog the rewards when they are exactly where they should be helps them learn this position really “pays off!.” Then it will be easy for them to learn to hold the position for longer periods of time. Time is your first goal – remember to stay right next to your dog at first!

Three dogs sitting and staying at an open doorway.

Multiple dogs? Work with them individually before bringing them together to practice. Add a leash to prevent bolting.

2. Dog Relaxes: As you feed the initial stream of treats, watch for signs your dog is relaxing into the position. 

  • In a SIT, they may rock back onto their rump a little.
  • In a DOWN, they might flip a hip to the side or drop their shoulders a bit.

In either position, they won’t be wiggly or fidgeting between treats. When they begin to settle in, you can start to add a little duration. 

We’ll say it again: DON’T MOVE away from your dog. HOW LONG the dog holds position is more important than HOW FAR they are from you right now. 😉

3. Add Duration: Once your dog is settled, wait a little, before giving them a treat. You can still give them treats one at a time, but wait a few seconds between each one. Be random about how long you wait. 

  • For example, you might wait 1 second, then 3 seconds, then 2 seconds, then 7 seconds, feeding at the end of each pause.
  • Steadily increase the average time your dog waits between treats.

After you’ve done 5-7 repetitions of practice with various short lengths of time, use your release cue, so the dog knows they’re free to move. For example, say, “Break” and toss a treat away.

Woman outdoors with golden retriever sitting and staying.

Solid Sit-Stays are a foundation behavior as CATCH Grad Brie Marcotte demonstrates.

4. Add More Duration: Once your dog can hold their position for 10 seconds, change how long your dog has to wait between treats again: 

  • For example, you might give the dog a treat at 10 seconds, then 17 seconds, then 4 seconds, then 25 seconds, then 12 seconds.
  • At the end of the time, MARK, then REWARD.

Your MARK can be a word like “Yep!”, a tongue-click or a hand-held clicker. Keep it unique: only use during training sessions. 

These numbers are just a suggestion. The idea is to be unpredictable, which will keep your dog engaged longer than if you try to add one or two seconds between treats in a linear fashion (10 seconds, then 12 seconds, then 14 seconds, etc). 

5. Add a Cue: Once your dog has a nice settled position for at least 10 seconds with you standing right next to them, you can begin to pair that behavior with a verbal or hand signal. Say “STAY”, count your seconds silently, then feed your dog. 

  • The verbal cue, “STAY” begins the time.
  • After the dog eats, you can either release them with your release word or start another practice repetition by saying “STAY”.

6. A Step Away. Up til now, you’ve been right next to your dog, but if your plan is to be able to leave them in position, you can begin with just one step away. Say your “stay” cue, take one step and pause. mark that moment, then return to your dog to feed the reward. As you practice this, you can add a few more steps away, or make your pause a bit longer before you mark, return, reward.

Off lead dog sitting and staying. Caption says mark, return, reward.

A common mistake is to call your dog after a stay, which weakens the stay behavior. Instead, mark, return & reward!

7. Practice: Next, practice in other places, and practice for longer periods of time. To add more distance, lower the time the dog has to remain in position, then quickly return and reward. Keep the training sessions short and fun, and end each session on a positive note, even if your dog didn’t do perfectly.

Finally, just like when you learn to drive a car or dance the mambo, context is everything when training your dog. So that they can STAY when it matters most, include a variety of locations, distractions and friends in your practice sessions, always helping your dog succeed by starting with easier steps before progressing to the harder levels. And just like that, you’ll have that fabulous family photo, complete with your very good dog… and Gramma’s outfit will be paw-print free as well!

Breezy Dog Walks Start With the Right Harness

Imagine you are preparing for a leisurely walk with your four-legged friend, ready to enjoy the outdoors together. But as soon as you step outside, your pup’s excitement takes over, turning what should be a relaxing stroll into a tug-of-war.

A person holds two leashes. Each one is attached to a harness on an Australian Shepherd.

Comfortable dogs being walked with Y-shaped harnesses.

Dealing with a dog that pulls relentlessly on the leash isn’t just an inconvenience; it can have an impact on your dog’s well-being. The good news is that there’s a solution: selecting the right harness. You can regain control and transform frustrating walks into enjoyable adventures. Let’s explore the different types of harnesses and how they can help. There are three common design types for walking harnesses: step-in, Y-shaped, and cross-chest.

Step-in harnesses are popular because they are easy to put on. Your dog simply steps into the harness, and you pull it up and snap it together. Step-ins typically have one connection point on the back, where the neck and chest pieces meet with D rings for leash attachment. Step-in harnesses made of mesh webbing with padding are a comfortable choice for small and smooth-coated dogs. However, they can rub the armpits if not properly padded, and they offer less adjustability. Snugly fitted step-in harnesses can also press uncomfortably against the spine. And that back-clip-only option tends to increase pulling for some dogs who love to lean into the pressure (think of an ox working while harnessed).

Black and white dog wearing a Blue-9 Balance Harness with leash clipped at two points. Image includes Blue-9 logo.

Dual connection points are a snap with the Blue-9 Balance Harness.

Y-shaped harnesses feature a single strap that fits between the front legs and attaches to a strap around the ribcage. The Blue-9® Balance harness, made of nylon webbing, is a good example of this style. There are two places to connect your leash – below the dog’s neck and on their back. If you connect the leash to both points, the front clip helps turn the dog if they pull, and then you can relax the front end of the leash while maintaining the back connection. Compared to other “no-pull” equipment, Y-shaped harnesses allow for more front leg range of motion.

The cross-chest harness is named for its horizontal strap that fits between the dog’s neck and sternum, parallel to the ground. Some brands have a loop on the cross-chest strap that tightens when pulled. Trainers who prefer to have more control over their dogs and restrict front leg movement often favor this style. While cross-chest harnesses can be helpful as a short-term training tool, it’s important not to overuse them.

Woman walks a shepherd with a Blue-9 Balance Harness.

Off to a great start with the right harness!

Research cited on the Blue-9® blog suggests that prolonged use of a cross-chest harness may lead to physical issues. Cross-chest harnesses may not be suitable for puppies whose bodies are still growing, as they can put additional stress on muscles and joints. Y-shaped harnesses are a better option for puppies, as they distribute pressure more evenly and do not pull the shoulders together.

Finding the perfect harness for your dog’s walking needs can be a game-changer, transforming your walks into enjoyable experiences for both of you. By considering the different harness designs and selecting one that suits your dog’s body type and preferences, you can gain better control and make your walks easier on you and your dog!

Fetching Frames: Use Positive Reinforcement to Turn Dog Photos into Works of Art

Taking great photos of your beloved dog can be a delightful way to capture their personality and create lasting memories. However, it’s no secret that getting dogs to pose for the camera can sometimes be a challenge. That’s where positive reinforcement dog training comes in. By using this gentle and effective approach, you can set your dog up for success and get stunning photos that truly showcase their unique charm. Let’s explore how to employ positive reinforcement training to help your dog shine in every shot.

Black and white Australian Shepherd runs toward the camera holding an orange ball in her mouth.

Joyfully Fetching – Photo by Kara Hamiliton

Building a Positive Association: Just because your pup is used to seeing you holding your phone doesn’t mean they are comfortable with you pointing it at them. If you use a different camera, it’s even more important to help your dog relax around it. The first step in achieving fantastic photos is to make being in front of the lens a positive and enjoyable experience for your dog. Introduce your camera or phone gradually; hold it up, then toss your dog a treat. Practice looking like you are taking a shot and immediately feed more yummy treats. That’s a great way to get your dog thinking, “Gee, I hope it’s picture day!” and voila! happier body language for all your shots.

Brown, white and black mixed breed dog sits smiling in a staircase.

Wai can Sit and Stay on a staircase! Photo by Keala Baclayon

Training Basic Behaviors: Teaching your dog to sit and stay will lay a solid foundation for successful photo sessions. Lure your dog into a sit by holding a treat at her nose, and slowly moving it straight up, just a few inches. When she drops her rear, give her the treat. Adding duration so you can get the shot is as simple as feeding several treats in a row when she sits, feeding these quickly in early practice then increasing the time between treats as your dog’s skill improves. Next, work on being able to move away, just one step at first, then gradually add more steps. Always return and feed the dog while they are still sitting. (If they get up, you went too long or too far; make it easier for your dog and feed them in the sit position.) With a strong sit and eager stay, your dog can be in just the right spot for that perfect photo. 

Focus on Eye Contact: Engaging and expressive eyes can bring life to a photograph. Train your dog to make eye contact with the camera. Hold a treat near the camera lens and reward them when they look directly at it. If you want to get fancy, you can add some duration for this behavior by delaying the reward for a few seconds. You can gradually fade the need for a food lure by pointing at the lens while palming the treat, and reward your dog for looking at the lens itself. Regular practice of this cue will help you capture captivating and soulful gazes in your photos.

Red Vizsla running on a beach, toward camera.

Penny recalling at the beach. Photo by Catherine Comden

Capturing Action Shots: Action shots can showcase your dog’s energy and enthusiasm. Practice recall training in a safe and distraction-free environment by saying a new word like “HERE”, and dropping a jackpot of treats at your feet. Let your dog eat the food. Take a few steps away and repeat, “HERE” and drop the food. Again, let your dog enjoy it. Next, try running away a few feet, then repeat, “HERE” and when your dog catches up to you, give happy praise and yummy treats from your hand. With practice, you can begin to add more distance. (For dogs who are a flight risk, practice in a fenced area or attach a long (20-30 feet) line to their collar and keep hold of the end.) With a solid recall, you can capture stunning photos of your dog running towards the camera, their tail wagging and their joy evident. Provide enthusiastic praise and treats when your dog reaches you. With practice, you can capture stunning photos of your dog running towards the camera, showing their joyful energy.

Small black and brown dog smiling and standing in a planter

This pup is happy to be “planted” and photographed. Photo by Marion Bertaud

Short Sessions, High Rewards: Your dog doesn’t see the point of sitting in place while you stare at your camera or phone just a few feet away, so generously reward your dog throughout the session to keep them motivated. After capturing the desired shot, reward your dog with an extra-long sniffing session, especially if you’re in a new location with intriguing scents. This allows them to engage in a rewarding activity after patiently posing for you.

Positive reinforcement dog training is a powerful tool for capturing incredible photos of your best doggo friend. By building positive associations, training basic skills, focusing on eye contact, capturing action shots, and keeping sessions short and rewarding, you can create a relaxed and enjoyable experience for your dog while producing stunning photos that showcase their unique personality. So, grab your camera or phone, embrace positive reinforcement techniques, and let your dog’s true essence shine through the lens. Happy training and happy photographing!


Make Your Own Awesome Tug Toy

Fleece Navidad?

With the holidays coming up, maybe you want to make your dog an extra special gift with your own hands? And hey, if you make more than one, you could turn it into a donation for shelter dogs… either way, we have an awesome DIY project for you! These hardy fleece rope toys are the BEST for tug games.

Here are the materials you’ll need:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Polar fleece type fabric (check your local thrift stores and upcycle a blanket!)
  • You’ll want long strips – at least 45″ for an (approx.) 2 ft tug.
  • You’ll need 4 strips 3-5 inches wide, depending upon how thick you want your final tug to be.

Here’s the finished product, ready for fetch and tug!

We’ve got the easy step-by-step instructions for you right here. The first one is the hardest to make, but the good news is that the dogs don’t care what it looks like, as long as you’re playing with them!


  • Thick fleece should be cut to thinner widths unless you have a gigantic dog who opens really wide! The thicker fleece makes chonky tugs!
  • If you are making a tug for a Toy Breed, use thinner fleece and cut it 1-2” wide. (I’ve even made little tiny key chains for service dogs using thin strips.)

Most importantly, have fun presenting this special new gift to your dog and introduce it with a good round of play!

And the most important finished product… a happy dog!



Travel Tips: Prep for a Joyful Road Trip with Your Dog

Summer is here – 7 Tips for Safer Travel

With summer here, you may be thinking about taking your dog on some new adventures out of town. You could have an unforgettable experience – but hopefully not for the wrong reasons! Here are some easy things you can do to make road trips with your dog a success.

Black tri-color dog posing on a small rock in front of El Capitan.

Joy in front of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.

My dog Joy loves to travel because I’ve helped her love it, all her life. Even when she was a puppy, we went many places to have fun, make friends, and train together with lots of play and rewards. Recently, I made a plan to go on an extended trip in my trailer and even though I knew Joy had a great history with travel, I wanted her to feel completely comfortable and set her up to be as safe as possible. Here are 7 things I did to help her get ready for our cross-country adventure. Much of what you’ll see here applies to having a great and safe trip with your dog, whether you travel in an RV or a car and whether you are going a short distance or a long way.

  1. Vet Consultation. I took Joy to our favorite vet who was happy to ensure she was up to date on all her vaccinations. I asked about diseases and parasites that we don’t see much of in Oregon, like Lyme and Heartworm. Together we worked out a plan to prevent Joy from catching these and other potential diseases and parasites as we travel to other states. While we were there, I had them scan her microchip and was horrified to discover that I’d forgotten to update the information! I remedied that immediately. I also had a senior dog bloodwork panel done, just to be sure she’s healthy enough for the rigors of the trip. Other than the microchip blunder on my part, all was well.
  2. Truck Safety. I used a familiar and sturdy airline crate that Joy has traveled in previously. We did some reminder sessions for her “Crate” cue, and practiced her having a long-lasting chew inside the crate with the door closed. I secured the crate inside my truck’s crew cab so that her ride is not wobbly and that should we have to stop quickly, she won’t slide around. We also refreshed waiting at her crate door and the truck door before she’s allowed to exit.

    Joy waiting at the trailer door.

    An automatic “Wait” at camper and car doors helps keep your dog safe!

  3. Trailer Training. Before we moved into the trailer full-time, Joy and I did some day-time practice sessions, hanging out together in the trailer while I worked and she enjoyed a food puzzle or packed Kong. We practiced a cue for her to ascend or descend the steps. We practiced a default wait at the door – don’t come out unless you are called – all things that we have been able to translate from good manners at home. If your dog doesn’t already have these skills, work on them yourself or with a pro trainer. Be sure it’s fun for both you and the dog. There should not be any punishment during the practice, so that your dog enjoys the process and maintains her positive associations with your vehicle and you.
  4. Practice Separation. Since Joy and I spend so much time together already, I thought it would be good for her to go through a gradual process of learning to be alone in the trailer. We started after our day-training hang out sessions with me getting up, going to the door, going outside, closing it and immediately opening it again to come back inside. We gradually lengthened the time. Small steps are best for this; some dogs are really stressed by being in an unfamiliar place without their people… which is why the next step can also really help.
  5. Driveway Camping. You may find that your dog appreciates a couple practice sessions sleeping in a new place. This is better done in the driveway, in case you learn your pet needs their favorite toy in the middle of the night, or just a quick trip to the familiar backyard before settling in for the night. For Joy, after several nights in the trailer, she started seeing it as a comfortable and familiar place to settle in quickly. I was happy to see her relax!
  6. Practice Driving. Once your pet is really comfortable with your vehicle and their crate or restraint, it’s time to hit the road. Joy is a well-seasoned traveler, so once again, I didn’t worry too much about the motion. However, for some pets, simply starting the engine and immediately turning it off is enough for the first session. For animals with a good car-travel history, the process can go much more quickly; try taking a trip around the block and then letting them out for a fun play session when you arrive home again. Gradually increase short rides and always check that your pet is enjoying the experience. If they are not, start over.

    Catherine and Joy smiling together

    Catherine & Joy; Happy Campers!

  7. Shake-down Trip. It’s a good idea to take a weekend adventure, close to home, before you set out on a long road trip. RV’ers call this a “shake-down cruise” and it’s great to find out what else you need, what’s likely to break, what you forgot to check and to practicing towing and parking. It’s also wonderful for your pet. Our shake-down trip was over the fourth of July weekend and served a double purpose; Joy’s terrified of fireworks and I wanted to get her far from town. We ended up camping at a few Harvest Host vineyards and had a lovely, quiet adventure together. It was during that trip I knew we’d love going out for long adventures together on the road.

And I was right! Joy is a pleasure to travel with, and because of the training and prep work we’ve done, I know she’s safe and happy to keep going. May these tips serve you well in all your upcoming travel adventures with your dog. Have a great summer!

Congratulations to Our Students & Mentors

Earning Certifications, Getting Hired, There’s A Lot to Be Excited About!

We want to send out a big congratulations and a Thank You to so many of the students and mentors who have shared great stories with us so far this year. We are thrilled for your success!

In celebration of another great year, we put together a collection of photos and quotes from you, our community of students and mentor trainers. Cheers, it’s your passion and success that drives us every day…

I passed my CPDT-KA exam!!! I owe it all to CATCH. Please tell the team I said thanks so much for all the awesome mentorship and coursework. It’s been an amazing journey.” -Tim A., Master Class Student

Greatness will come to canine rescue and training from Sarah. I feel fortunate she came to Hudson Barks.” – Jennifer H., CATCH Mentor Trainer

Victoria is very detail-oriented and her confidence grows every day. She started teaching classes for Dog Life Hoboken and now has private clients of her own. She can easily explain to her clients how dogs learn and teach them how to train their pups. She explains the real life applications of all the commands and makes training fun.” -Vera M., CATCH Mentor Trainer

FYI today I earned my CPDT-KA. My first text was to my CATCH Master Class mentor Sue Grey, and I wanted to let you all know too. It has been a long road and now I start on a longer journey.”
– Christopher R., CCDT, Master Class Graduate

“My name is Ariel Ebaugh (Arie for short) and I graduated from CATCH Academy in August 2020. I wanted to share some exciting news about my life this past year since finishing my program. After graduating, I opened my private, in-home dog training business (Pups Unleashed, LLC) and haven’t looked back! I have absolutely loved working with clients using only rewarding, force-free methods supported by science. I also have spent hundreds of hours this past year training with at-risk dogs at a local animal shelter.
This past summer, I took the exam for the CPDT-KA certification. I was notified yesterday that I passed the exam! I am thrilled with this accomplishment and couldn’t have done it without all the knowledge and experience that I gained through my program with CATCH. I want to say thank you again to all the wonderful staff and mentors at CATCH for helping me pave my own way in this industry and help so many dogs in need.
Thank you again!”
– Arie Ebaugh, CCDT, Master Class Graduate

“I gave him his first client and he nailed it! Ben is going to be a real asset to the R+ community.” -Paula S., CATCH Mentor Trainer

“Hello from a 2020 CATCH Master Class graduate who also earned her CPDT-KA creds this Spring, thanks to your comprehensive program! I really enjoyed it!” -Maria S., CCDT, Master Class Graduate

“Heidi was exceptional. I never would have thought she had any less than 10 years of experience as a dog trainer. I believe as an industry we should be highly educated, skilled, science-based professionals rather than what exists typically. I am pleased that CATCH is part of raising the expectations for our profession. I am looking forward to her starting coaching a few class for me in a few weeks. Heidi is a soon-to-be graduate that CATCH will be proud to have.” – Jennifer P., CATCH Mentor Trainer

“What I appreciate about Megan is her comfort and command of the subject matter. That gives her the ability to offer insights, tips and tricks that a less knowledgeable trainer would not be able to provide.” – Carol P., CATCH Mentor Trainer


Learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about dog training and behavior in one of our renowned CATCH courses. You can study from your town, on your time, with a professional trainer as your guide. Get in touch with our friendly Student Support team anytime to tell us about your goals and become a dog trainer!

Bringing Positive Training to the K9 Unit

Meet Featured Student Chris Weber and Murphy the Belgian Malinois

Chris started out as a Sherriff and wanted to advance his knowledge of training and behavior, so he began studying with CATCH. He was a hobby trainer previously and does some fun Schutzhund training with his dogs. After deepening his knowledge of training and behavior, the sheriff’s department promoted him to K9 unit.

Fantastic work, Chris!

“My learning experiences have impacted how I look at dogs each day in a number of ways. One example would be how I see dogs in public. I tend to watch the dogs’ body language more now to see if they are calm, stressed, or showing signs of fear or aggression. Having the experience of CATCH has made me want to help people develop better relationships with their dogs especially when they are struggling with things such as basic obedience.”

“I would like to note that this was a very well structured program. I work full time, have a family, and train in my spare time. There was no way I would have been able to attend an in-classroom school so CATCH was the perfect option for me. I would like to thank the staff that was involved for all the support!”

Click here to read more about Chris and his experience with CATCH.

Seven Separation Anxiety Myths

Seven Separation Anxiety Myths

by Nicole Wilde

Nicole and Sierra – no separation in this moment = a relaxed Sierra!

As a canine behavior specialist, I’ve seen my share of dogs over the years who suffered from separation anxiety. The vast majority of my clients have been able to modify their dog’s distress when left alone, and I felt confident in my knowledge of the issue. Then my husband and I adopted a two-year-old husky mix from our local shelter, and everything changed.

Sierra didn’t exhibit the classic signs of separation anxiety, namely, destruction, urination and/or defecation, and vocalization. We’d leave her loose in the house alone and return to find everything intact, no mess, and no complaints from the neighbors about noise. I never would have suspected there was a problem except that when I was gone, even for short periods, I’d find her panting heavily. It wasn’t due to hot weather—we adopted her in late December—so I set up a video camera to monitor her activity.

Here’s what I discovered: Immediately after my departure, Sierra began pacing between the window where she could see my car pull out, and the French doors, where she could view it disappearing down the hill to the main road. The vocalizing that accompanied the pacing went from soft whimpering to a pronounced series of whines, and soon turned into barking. The barks became more urgent. Finally, she melted into a series of pitiful howls. Reviewing the footage tore at my heart. My girl was clearly suffering. Donning my red cape, I instantly morphed from Dog Mom into Behavior Woman, able to solve tall canine conundrums in a single leap of logic. I used the same types of solutions that had worked for many of my clients, while simultaneously ensuring that Sierra was never left alone unless we were practicing our protocols. But it soon became obvious that Sierra just hadn’t read the right books; she not only didn’t show typical symptoms, but she also didn’t respond to many of the things that normally worked. My red cape obviously needed some sprucing up.

Living with a dog who has separation issues is a whole different animal than giving someone else advice, and I soon developed a whole new empathy for owners. I also became a one-woman research and development team. I scoured the latest studies, read and re-read all the available literature, and tried out a variety of tools and techniques. I eventually redesigned parts of my protocols, created outside-the-box tactics and, eventually, wrote a book about separation anxiety called Don’t Leave Me! Step by Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety  Along the way, I discovered that some of the long-held, traditionally accepted truths about separation issues just aren’t valid, at least for some dogs.

Here are seven common myths, and why you shouldn’t take them at face value:

1. Dogs who have separation anxiety are always “Velcro” dogs. This is a term commonly used for dogs who stick close by your side, not wanting to be away from you even for a moment. It’s true that many dogs with separation issues follow their owners around the house. Some owners can’t shower in peace, while others can’t even use the bathroom without taking their dogs in with them. And a 2001 study1 by Gerard Flannigan and Nicholas Dodman did find that hyperattachment to the owner was significantly associated with separation anxiety. With all of that, it makes sense to believe that all dogs with separation issues must be Velcro dogs. Sierra shattered that particular myth for me. A true predator at heart, she enjoys nothing better than lying on the ramp outside the back door and surveying her domain. The hills that surround our house are plentiful with lizards, mice, bunnies, and other assorted critters. Sierra is very patient and lightning fast, and more than once I’ve found her with a hapless lizard hanging out of her mouth. (I keep threatening to sign her up for Predators Anonymous, but so far my warnings haven’t been heeded.) Suffice it to say that following me around the house is pretty boring compared to watching over her Wild Kingdom, and she’d prefer to be outside; that is, as long as she knows I’m in the house. Once she hears the car pull away it’s game over, and the stress of separation kicks in. Sierra’s not the only one. There are plenty of other dogs who, while they might not be strongly predatory, are just fine in or outside the house a long as they know someone is at home. So don’t jump to conclusions. If your dog follows you around like drama follows Lindsay Lohan, it could be separation anxiety, but it’s not necessarily the case. And if your dog doesn’t shadow your every move, that doesn’t mean separation issues can be ruled out, either.

2. Letting your dog sleep in your bed will cause separation anxiety. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard trainers advise owners not to allow their dogs to sleep with them, for fear the dog would become so bonded that being left alone would become unbearable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The above-referenced study also concluded that “Spoiling activities such as allowing the dog on the owner’s bed…were not associated with separation anxiety.”2

While it’s true that sleeping in the owner’s bed won’t cause separation anxiety, if your dog already suffers from the issue, all of that nighttime closeness won’t help. After all, the goal is for your dog to learn to feel relaxed when alone, and if he can’t even be physically separated from you overnight, how can he remain calm by himself during the day when you’re gone? Start by giving your dog an alternate sleeping space. Don’t worry; it can be right by your bed at first. Place a dog bed next to yours and gently coax your dog back into his own bed each time he tries to climb up into yours; or, if necessary, use a short leash to tether him in place nearby. You might eventually choose to have him sleep further away or outside the room altogether, but getting him out of your bed is a good start.

Sierra with a stuffed Kong.

3. If your dog has separation anxiety, he won’t eat while you’re gone. Think back to a situation where you were extremely worried or afraid. Chances are, a tasty pizza wasn’t the first thing on your mind. For many stressed out dogs, the same mechanism is at work. But chewing provides stress relief for dogs, and in all but severe cases, despite their stress, many dogs will excavate stuffed Kongs, gnaw on chew bones, or work at food-dispensing toys. If you stuff a Kong or other food dispenser for your dog, place the item within easy reach and lay out a short trail of super yummy treats leading to it. This trail o’ treats is more likely to entice your dog to begin chewing than leaving the Kong lying there by itself.

Some dogs are too wound up to stay in one place to chew. For those dogs, a food dispenser that can be batted around, such as the Molecuball or Kong Wobbler, is a better choice. These products allow the dog to expend that anxious energy in a more active way, and by providing that focus, may even prevent destruction.

4. If your dog destroys things while you’re away, he must have separation anxiety. I once had an owner tell me that his dog was suffering from separation anxiety. When I asked how he knew, he said he’d discussed it with his veterinarian, who had put the dog on medication. I asked how the problem had been diagnosed. What were the symptoms? The dog, he informed me, had chewed a shoe while he was gone. I waited. And? Well…that was it. The dog had destroyed a shoe. The man had heard that dogs with separation anxiety chew things, had put two and two together, and had, with the veterinarian’s assistance, come to this conclusion. While it’s true that destructiveness is the number one symptom of separation anxiety, many dogs are destructive for other reasons, including boredom, under-stimulation, or not being completely trained.

In cases of true separation anxiety, destruction is often focused on the owner’s belongings, since the scent is comforting to the dog, or around doors and windows where the owner has left or can be seen leaving. Destruction of other items is possible, of course, but again, destructiveness in and of itself is not necessarily a sign of a separation issue. As with other clues, it must be factored in to the total case history.

5. Getting another dog will solve the problem. Oh, that this one were always true! Whether getting a second dog will alleviate the anxiety of the first depends largely on whether the original dog’s distress stems from being separated from a particular person (what we typically think of as separation anxiety), or from simply not wanting to be left alone, which is more accurately called isolation distress. In the case of the latter, any warm body will do. That’s good news, as the problem might be solved by the presence of a different person, another dog, or, in some cases, even a cat. So for a dog with isolation distress, getting another dog certainly could help; but there is always the chance that it won’t; and, in the worst case scenario, you could end up with two dogs with separation issues! Unless you were planning to add another dog to the family anyway, it’s better to do a bit of experimenting first. Consider fostering a dog for a rescue organization. That way, you’ll find out whether your dog is more relaxed with a buddy while you’re gone. And, who knows, you might even decide to adopt the dog permanently.

6. A dog with separation anxiety should never be left in a crate when alone. This one’s another partial myth. There are dogs who, if left crated, will frantically try to escape, and may injure themselves in the process. Others will chew themselves to the point of self-mutilation. Clearly, for those dogs, crating is not a good option. But for a dog who is comfortable in her crate, who sleeps in it at night and doesn’t mind being contained there for brief periods during the day, the crate might just be a saving grace. Many dogs will settle down more quickly when crated, particularly if the crate lends a feeling of being safely enclosed. For that reason among others, I prefer the plastic snap-together type crates to the wire ones.

7. If your dog has separation anxiety, it’s best to ignore him while you’re at home. This one was probably an extrapolation of the traditional advice to ignore your dog for ten minutes before leaving the house, and for ten minutes after returning. The logic goes that the less difference in emotional peaks and valleys between when you’re at home and when you’re gone, the easier it will for the dog. But I didn’t get a dog to ignore him, and I bet you didn’t either. Besides, imagine that your significant other suddenly began to ignore you. Wouldn’t you wonder what you’d done wrong? Would you not become anxious and stressed even if you weren’t to begin with? Dogs are masters of observation and believe me, if you suddenly start to ignore your dog, chances are you’ll cause more anxiety, not less. It is true that you shouldn’t make a huge fuss over your comings and goings, but keeping things on an even keel emotionally is the key.

If your dog has separation anxiety, keep these myths in mind. While some might hold true, others just might not. Closely observing your dog’s behavior and evaluating it on an individual basis will allow your treatment plan to be that much more successful.

(1) & (2)   Flannigan G. and Dodman N.: Risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs, JAVMA 219: 4, Aug. 2001

Nicole Wilde’s writing has been part of the CATCH curriculum for many years and is loved by our students. Nicole is an internationally recognized, award-winning author and lecturer, as well as a professional canine behavior specialist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Check out Nicole’s website to discover her books and more articles like this.

CATCH at the APDT Conference this Year

In-Home Rivalries Between Dogs are Common

How to Train Beloved Pets to Live Together Peacefully

CATCH School Director, David Muriello, CPDT-KA, SDC, will be presenting at the Association of Professional Dog Trainers Conference this October. One of the talks he’ll be leading is called Making Multi-Dog Magic – Instead of Canine Conflict. This is about a common situation that dog owners (and their trainers) face:
Bringing a new dog into a home with one or more dogs can easily create high stress and bloody battles over resources. Trainers need to understand the many factors we can control that will lead to harmony between the dogs. In this presentation, David will share the story of how he integrated a new dog into his family where 10-year-old dog, Hazel (who doesn’t always like other dogs) had been solo in the home for 9 years. We will discuss the approach to creating a positive relationship between the dogs and review fascinating videos of their interactions and David’s training processes.

CATCH students, graduates, and mentor trainers get many benefits and one of them is 15% off of the APDT conference registration fee. If you are a member of our community, get in touch for the discount code!

A Big Miss on Every Puppy Socialization Checklist

You could socialize your pup to everything under the sun and still miss out – if you skip the dark.

Don’t Be in the Dark On This

There is nothing like the pure joy of knowing you are going to bring a new puppy into your life. And then there are the technical details.

Ever the eager trainer, I printed out puppy socialization checklists from three different leading organizations. I consolidated them all into one list to make sure I was covering everything possible. Within a couple of days of working with my 8-week old pup, I realized there was a critical element missing from all the lists!

At night.

In the dark.

You could add these phrases to many items on the checklist – and you better. Here are just a few examples that show the difference.

  • My pup was okay seeing deer come tramping out of the woods and into our yard throughout the day. But he became very alert and concerned when he heard the sound of deer rustling in the woods in the dark.
  • He was fine with typical sidewalk stuff like garbage cans and passing cars.  But he was sure worried about passing car headlights intermittently shining on garbage cans in the dark.
  • He wagged with friendly anticipation when seeing strange people walk toward him on the sidewalk during the day.  At night on the same street, he was worried about that big thing moving towards him (just another friendly person in a hooded coat it turns out).

A typical walk down the street is a completely different experience at night.

The list can go on. Nighttime diminishes vision and accentuates other senses. It brings all manner of lights, reflections, flickers and flashes.

Sundown turns the same setting into something different. It’s as simple as that. Nighttime needs to be added to every socialization checklist. Your pup should get an opportunity to have positive experiences with all the same things he sees during the day – at night, too.


Learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about dog training and behavior in one of our renowned CATCH courses.  You can study from your town, on your time, with a professional trainer as your guide. Get in touch with our friendly Student Support team anytime to tell us about your goals!

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