It is very common for a new greyhound to be anxious on being left alone in his or her new surroundings, either in foster care or in their adoptive home. In a kennel environment they have the constant companionship of other dogs and losing the sights, sounds and smells of their kennel mates can take some adjustment.
The humans need to leave the house and go to work, run errands, or do whatever else they need to do, leaving the dog alone, or perhaps with unfamiliar animal companions.
Vocalising, destructive behaviour or inappropriate elimination whilst you have left the house can all be signs of separation anxiety.
If you have neighbours complaining, the first thing you are going to have to do is a little public relations work. Explain to them that the dog is new to suburban life and let them know you have a plan but that it may take a little time. If you establish a good relationship with them then they can provide you with feedback about how things are going. If they are not so nice about it, try not to let it add to your stress as the dog will pick up on it.
Here’s my plan, feel free to add to it in the comments.
1. Create a safe space
If the dog has show any signs of being destructive, it is best to create a secure place for them to be during the day where they cannot get in to too much trouble. You can do this by baby gating off a room, for example. This will keep your stress levels down and perhaps save your couch cushions.
You can also use a crate as a safe space. Some greyhounds readily accept the crate as a quiet place to retreat to. Others will need a little more prompting. Make the crate a pleasant place to be by feeding meals and treats in there. If your greyhound really refuses to go into the crate, or makes serious physical attempts to escape the crate, use baby gates instead as they can injure themselves in escape attempts.
2. Exercise, Training & Enrichment
There’s an old saying, ‘a tired dog is a good dog.’ If a dog is asleep then he or she cannot be getting into too much mischief, right? Asleep is almost the opposite of anxious too, yes?
Greyhounds are often referred to as ‘couch potatos’ but this does not mean they need no exercise at all. Young dogs especially need a good walk and even an opportunity to run in a safe fenced area a couple of times a week. A good morning walk will help ensure that the dog goes to the toilet before you leave for the day and will help them settle when you leave.
Obedience training helps you bond with the dog, and also helps wear them out making it easier for them to relax. Teaching greyhounds can take more patience than other breeds but you will be the most successful if you keep the sessions short and use high value rewards. A couple of short training sessions a day will really wear a new dog out at first. With dogs straight from a racing kennel the first thing you will probably be teaching is his or her name!
Enrichment is the act of adding something to the dogs’ environment for them to interact with. You can actively enrich your dog’s life by playing games such as ‘find the treat’ where you hide treats around the house and then set the dog free to use his or her nose. A long lasting treat like a Kong stuffed with kibble, cheese and peanut butter for the dog to work on also helps keep them busy. As they get more skilled at emptying the Kong, you can try freezing the Kong to add a level of difficulty.
Some dogs like to have the TV or radio on for background noise and others don’t. If you are the kind of household where the TV or radio is always on when you are home, it might be good to leave it on when you are out just for the dog.
3. Alone Training
The theory is that you leave for short periods of time, and gradually increase the time you are absent to give the dog the idea that you will not be gone forever.
The key is to keep the dog under the threshold where it starts to feel anxious. You need to return before the dog starts to vocalise or get stuck in to destructive behaviour.
Make sure the dog is tired and has been to the toilet. Put the dog in their safe space with a Kong or other long lasting treat. Don’t make a big deal about leaving and try to sneak out without fanfare. When you come back in, don’t go straight to the dog and make a fuss of him or her either.
The first few times you leave, just walk out the front door and immediately back in again. In those early stages you might want to use the stop watch on your phone to precisely time the period you are away. Once you build up to half an hour you may find that the dog is OK for a whole work day.
Don’t worry if you have to go out for longer than usual and have a setback (dog howling, wrecking stuff or peeing). Just go out for short periods again and slowly build up the time.
If you have really had problems building up any time away without anxious behaviour you could try a pheromone collar or a DAP diffuser to calm the dog in combination with alone training.
To really know how your alone training is going, you will probably have to ‘spy’ on your dog. You could do this either by making an audio recording, setting up a camera, setting up an internet streaming camera so you can watch the dog via the internet, and/or seeking feedback from your neighbours.
5. Blow off steam together
Greyhounds can do just about anything other breeds of dogs do. If you want some ideas here are a few things that Mouse & I do together:
Dancing with Dogs (a combination of obedience and trick training)
Playing with Agility obstacles (you can buy cheap tunnels and jumps online nowadays)
Swimming (OK, Mouse may not be so fond of this particular activity)
Visiting dog-friendly cafes, wineries and friend’s houses