A dog with no former primary caregiver and who has suffered abuse and neglect is going to overly bond to whomever really cares for him: this is par for the course. Almost all rescue dogs have issues. The best way to address his attention getting behavior, and your own obvious desire to comfort and love this poor dog, is to introduce one behavior he can perform, every time, for everything. You don’t need an obedience class to train a dog. You can begin right now. Go to ClickerTraining.com. This is Karen Pryor’s web site and she is the ultimate authority on operant conditioning (positive reinforcement) training for dogs. Learn how to condition your dog to the sound of the clicker or a visual cue (such as your finger to your nose); put the clicker IN YOUR POCKET and muffle the sound at first, since your dog will most likely have some sort of acquired fear response to similar sounds. Once the dog understands click=food reward, he will WORK for “click” and then “treat”. Teach him to ‘sit’ following the guidelines found below:
Read the above carefully and follow the directions. Once your dog has learned to ‘sit’ for click/treat, make him earn all attention. This will put a gap between whining or other attention getting behavior and your positive response (giving him the attention) and will slowly extinguish the whining, etc. You can then use the clicker to train other simple behaviors. Peruse the site and you’ll find articles (stick to those written by Karen) on how to change unwanted behaviors and train behaviors you want, such as are found here:
An adult dog whines because it is soliciting caregiving or expressing stress; you’ll see any dog in any household look up at the TV with an alert pose if a dog on TV whines! Barking is a pack related behavior in the situation where a dog calls out to its leave taking owner: the dog has no idea this is annoying, it is a natural behavior, it is self rewarding, it is intended to help the “pack member” stay in touch and find his/her way back! So, your dog is developing separation anxiety: common for a rescue dog! Ignoring all vocalization is a must. Your leave taking rituals may have begun to cue this dog, setting him up with anxiety. Also, you may be saying “goodbye” to him, etc., normal behavior among humans but unnecessary for a dog. Here’s a protocol I designed for separation anxiety. you’ll see that the “work” for reward is part of it:
1. You can create an emotional independence in the dog by conditioning a “time out” article.
Simply place the chosen article (something you don’t use for any other purpose, like an odd garden statue) in full view of the dog every day for thirty minutes to one hour and call a “time out”, during which you actively ignore the dog. When you remove the article, reward the dog with praise, but don’t overdo it. Over the course of two weeks, your dog will begin to recognize the article and begin to acknowledge your unavailability (many dogs go to a corner to lie down, or their favorite couch spot, etc.) Once you observe your dog’s recognition of the article, put it in plain sight about ten minutes before leaving the house (but NOT in the room the dog is confined to, the dog will lose its conditioned response.) In other words, use the article as a CUE to the dog that you are not available.
2. Make your dog earn everything for about one month, including pats, entering/leaving the home, etc. (This is called “Nothing in life is free”.) You will be promoting yourself psychologically, which will help the dog to feel calmer.
3. Purchase Turid Rugaas’ book on Calming Signals; observe the dog’s behaviors before you depart to determine if your departure rituals are creating anxiety. Use calming signals just before leaving the house WITHOUT saying “goodbye” to the dog (which can set the dog up for emotional distress.) Dogs instantly respond to these signals and you’ll begin to see that response immediately.
4. Change your departure rituals so you do not inadvertently “cue” your dog. This means doing things differently EVERY day during treatment (which should last about two to four weeks.) If you put your coat on last, put your coat on five minutes before you actually leave the house; if you pick up your keys last, put them in your pocket ten minutes before leaving the house, etc. Again, given two weeks (at least) of this treatment, along with the others, your dog’s extreme sensitivity to your departure rituals should diminish and/or extinguish. When you RETURN home, ignore the dog for a few seconds, and then ask the dog to “sit” and acknowledge him/her; keep your homecoming attention short and sweet. If there is any destruction around (torn objects, etc.) IGNORE IT. What you don’t want is the dog to fear your RETURN as much as s/he fears your leave taking.
5. Do not allow the dog free “run” of the house when you are gone; this places a heavy emotional burden to “protect” on the dog, and might increase stress (which accounts for excessive barking!) Put the dog in a protected space (kitchen, well ventilated and spacious laundry area, etc., NOT the basement or the garage). Keep “special” toys there the dog doesn’t have at any other time, like a “kong” with a ½ teaspoon of peanut butter, a squeaky toy, etc. The dog will begin to anticipate this treat and associate it with your leaving the house. Leave a radio playing (on soft music or calm talk shows) and a light on when you are not home, and if possible move your answering machine (at full volume) into the room with the dog and leave your dog “messages” during the day.
Dogs that have been rehomed often develop separation anxiety; dogs that have been heavily bonded to a person that is then “lost” (not seen again for whatever reason) can suffer serious anxiety at the leave taking of the “new” human caregiver; dogs that have moved with their human family to a totally foreign environment are emotionally “lost” and may develop separation problems. Some dogs are generally anxious or high strung and have a greater tendency toward emotional distress. Ask your veterinarian if your dog may benefit from a course of medication while you are using behavior modification to change his/her separation related problem behaviors.
Regarding the training class: be sure no coercion is used for any reason; find a clicker trainer (not a pet store chain, stay AWAY from those both for training AND grooming, they’re the pits.) Ask for references and check them; observe a class or two before bringing your dog. The last thing you need is a training scenario where there are giant out of control dogs (which can sometimes happen).