Settling & Being Alone by Cath Rivron

All by themselves - How to help a hound to settle

I have not provided specific treatment advice for – please seek professional help.

The racing life does mean that hounds are accustomed to spending periods of time without close human company, with hounds as neighbours and with the bustle of human activity around them. They are rarely truly alone. Kennel life follows predictable routines with predictable human contact. Consistency and predictability of routines and handling should be number one for adopted hounds while they settle in because most of pet life is unfamiliar. They will take time to decompress and get used to so much happening so close. While usually good with people, they will take time to get used to the increased physical contact that comes with adoption.

There are many reasons why a hound struggles with being left alone. These include;

  •  Pain
  • Anxiety – While not always an abnormal response, the aim should always be to reduce or relieve it as much as possible. Can be general or situational including;
  • Separation anxiety, hyper-attachment to primary caregiver. Until a diagnosis is made it is recommended to say “separation related behaviour”.
  • Distress when alone, if you are the only familiar thing and you leave, they may not have other coping strategies for the scary environment.
  • Noise phobia, scary noises happen when you were out = problems leaving next time.
  • Dementia/old age changes, health conditions, changes to household.
  • Temperament – Anxious Greyhounds are NOT normal but they are common. Do not let anxiety define your hound – they are so much more! Anxiety is not a choice but treating it is a choice that you can make for them.
  • FOMO – some hounds just don’t want to miss out on what we or other dogs are up to.
  • Unmet needs – hungry? needing exercise? playtime? Frustration can lead to break out behaviours like chewing, bin raiding and barking. Are they actually toilet trained?
  • Environmental triggers – What’s observed through the window? Passersby, dogs barking, deliveries, a cat?!

To investigate the underlying cause, start with a factual description of what is actually happening without the use of interpretation or labels. Video footage is important. Think about what your absence means literally for your hound. For noise phobia, being trapped can intensify the response, maybe your hound is only "trapped” in the crate when you leave. Is your absence the only factor that is required for the behaviour to be displayed?

The strategies below can be helpful for any hound, with or without a diagnosis or a problem and when it is too soon to know (newly fostered). The aims are to build inner reserves of self-confidence independent of human involvement; to teach hounds to enjoy themselves and make choices relevant to them; to fill their positive emotional bank account; to work at their pace giving guidance instead of teaching. Because the points are not reliant on the bond between dog and owner, they can be done by anyone, allowing much to be achieved in foster care. Apart from point number 1, the following list is in no particular order. They should be viewed as foundation requirements for a happy hound!

1. Treat them as if they were not your dog (Newly adopted/fostered)

Meet all of their needs with minimal fuss. Think about what you would do with someone else’s dog that was staying –

you would not be as physical or push unknown boundaries. So don’t do it with a new hound either. If they have time and space they will decompress and acclimatise a lot better and you will see them seeking and embracing contact a lot more. Don’t flood them with love in week 1!

2. Learn canine body language

3. Settle and a self-settle protocol

Toss treats onto your hound’s bed when they are on or near it (or for them to discover when they return to it). Aim for bed = treats = happy place and therefore distance from you = rewarding = repeated more by choice. Choose a bed location where your hound will be central to your activity. They need to be able to see and hear you without moving. Toss treats to their bed to reward them for being there and scatter treats there if you need to leave the immediate area. Give a tasty alternative to following you! Gradually you will move the bed less and your hound will settle themselves more. Please email for detailed instructions if wanted.

A self-settle protocol is meeting certain needs in a particular order to reduce arousal and promote a calm mental state. Start with exercise – as much free running and sniffing choice as possible for the time you have and for age, stage and location. This does not mean exhaust them! The focus is on choice of brief physical activity. Next play a toss-the-treat-eat-the-treat game for a few minutes. If they know any basic cues, you then practice these for treats. This is not a training session. For a foster or newly adopted hound you can do “treat for name” or skip this part. Then do some calm long body stroking or gentle massage. This is not cuddles but steady smoothing with gentle even pressure down the length of the body. Finish with a food licking item or chew that can be worked on quietly for a good length of time. To begin with, hounds may not be very good at food toys so make getting the food easy, getting harder as they master it.

4. Reward voluntary relaxation

Say good dog and throw a treat (without being seen) for calm quiet activities that you “catch” them doing.

5. Food activities and chewing

A study found providing a food option that occupies a dog for 1 hour after a departure is more likely to see them settle for the remainder of the time alone.

6. Meet their needs - otherwise they may try to

7. Practice absences (NOT for separation anxiety)

Give them a food toy or scatter some treats and leave/enter the room while they are busy. Shut doors when you go to the bathroom. Leave your hound outside for short periods, with a bed, on nice days.

8. Adaptil can help

9. Set up the situation to suit the hound

My boy cried if shut in a closed room at night, but was fine with the outside door open. Some hounds love their crate or prefer the veranda. Choice within acceptable limits can be all they require to settle themselves

* A more detailed settle training exercise can be emailed to those wanting one. Contact Cath Rivron