The topic “staying alone” is a present topic for many puppy and dog owners. There are dogs where this works relatively easily without great effort. Others have more problems with it and must work actively on the topic. Of course you want to spend as much time as possible with your four-legged friend, but there are always times when you have to leave your dog at home. So that this works well, one should train this situation as early as possible.
Although Finja and Summer are no longer puppies and with their 6 and 6.5 years out of the woods (are Labbis ever?), the topic is still an important one for us, which has kept us busy for a long time and still does.
A look into the past
For a better understanding we jump back in our minds to April 2013, when our puppy group at that time made a call for a temporary home for a black Labrador. The puppy was about 10 weeks old, just moved in with his foster family, where he should stay for one year and then be trained as a guide dog for the blind at the age of about one year. But living together there did not work at all. The idea of the foster family, how life with a puppy would be, seemed to differ from reality. However, we did not know more at that time.
Already when Finja had moved in with us about half a year before, we could imagine to have two dogs at some point. But many advisors and also my friend Eric from the dog review site www.petdogpals.com told us that it only makes sense when the first dog is out of the woods, so there were no concrete plans yet. However, it was clear that due to our living, working and housing situation there would be no problems to get a second dog.
Back to the inquiry in our puppy group. We had quite close contact to our breeder at that time and somehow the call was so busy that we wanted to know more about the cute black mouse and the background. Who would not get along with such a sweet creature? Who wouldn’t take some changes or even strains to give him a good start in life with this dog look we could see on a picture?
A puppy in need
We learned that the family who had taken the puppy in at that time never quite agreed on a dog. The father, who wanted a dog and had pushed the registration as a foster family, was working all day. The rest of the family, we were told, thought the thought of a dog was quite nice before, but was not willing to make the necessary effort in everyday life that a puppy requires. The dog was rather tolerated than welcome.
And so it happened that this little puppy was already left alone for several hours a day at the age of about 10 weeks. We do not want and cannot judge how these circumstances came about. But there is no question that this condition is traumatizing for a puppy. The puppy is used to live in a pack, always other animals around him. Closeness. Romping. Cuddling. Already the move out is a crass change for the dog to which he must slowly get used to. This time was not given to the black mouse.
Fortunately, the breeder and the guide dog school acted courageously and without delay. However, there was still no place to stay until then. After consultation with the breeder and our dog trainer we decided to take the puppy to us for some time until a new foster family for the first year was found.
Even before this happened, we were asked if we could imagine that WE could be exactly this foster family for one year. Relatively quickly, but not lightly, we made a decision that definitely affected our lives.
Three becomes four
So we now had a godfather dog besides Finja, who would leave us after one year and be trained as a guide dog for the blind.
We had no special tasks except to socialize the puppy in a normal way and show him the world. We fulfilled this task. With Finja we were on the road a lot anyway and got her used to all kinds of situations. The living together with Finja worked out very well and after a few turbulent first days, in which they played and romped almost continuously, some peace and quiet returned.
The puppy did really well, oriented himself super to Finja and learned simple commands very quickly, almost from nothing. The puppy was also absolutely fearless and threw himself courageously into every adventure. Big dogs, rumbling garbage cans, flying newspaper and of course all other living creatures – everything wanted to be inspected extensively and immediately. “Hello world, here I am. Let me hug you.” Finja on the other hand was much more thoughtful as a puppy and showed respect for new, unknown situations. However, the openness showed itself now and then a bit extreme. The otherwise good leash handling was sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly lost.
This behavior is of course not beneficial for a guide dog. The dog must lead in a controlled and predictable way and must not jump up and down where he wants to. In consultation with the school for the blind we have therefore laid down some rules and exercises to ensure that this behavior does not become more pronounced.
In addition, very early on the problem appeared that the puppy could not stay alone well (how can you blame him after his first family…). Despite Finja’s company and diligent, almost daily training, it always caused panic when we left the apartment – even if it was only for 2 minutes. Barking, howling and lying stressed in front of the door were the symptoms of this fear of being alone.
Just to get it out of the way: despite all efforts, these patterns of behavior persisted. Therefore, after a final test with about one year, the guide school decided that the young dog would not be sent to the training for guide dogs. It would have taken too much time to train the problems.
And although we had contractually confirmed at the very beginning that we would return the dog at the age of one year, the question that followed was like a release for us: “Can you imagine keeping the dog?”, the head of the guide dog school asked us.
We didn’t have to think for a second, as we had been looking forward to the moment when the sponsor dog would have to leave us again with deepest sorrow. It was clear from the beginning and we could prepare ourselves for it. And yet one cannot tell the heart for whom it beats. And love cannot be rationalized away.
So now there were four of us. Like, really.
Whoever hasn’t guessed or suspected it so far: this black ball of wool was Summer, our black Labrador devil. And exactly this was now an inherent part of our family.
Summer may stay
Due to the traumatic time in the first family, Summers problem was still big after almost a year with us and challenged us again and again. Because that way, cinema visits or longer shopping trips were not possible for either of us. With Finja it was super easy back then and she had 0.0 stress when she had to be alone for a few hours. Because we had practiced this from a very young age and she got used to it carefully. Summer on the other hand always had panic and cried really hard. She didn’t care that Finja was with her, she always needed a person as a reference point. So it was a really long and very small training with her. Now she can stay alone for a few hours, but you can still feel that it is a kind of relief for her when the pack is together again.