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Forget fancy tricks like sitting pretty or distance control for film shooting… What most wolfdog owners are really curious about when they see Vulric’s life on Instagram is how he copes being left at home alone, without special containment, not causing any trouble with howling or destruction.
The truth is that it was our hardest training challenge to date. Separation anxiety is common in wolf hybrids, but also plagues many dogs of all sorts of breeds and backgrounds. Even with all the best intentions and setup, things can throw sensitive puppies out of balance. In Vulric’s case, he was coping well with being left until I flew out for a business trip and didn’t come back until a week later. All hell broke loose then – it’s like he never wanted his owners to leave again, because he didn’t know when and if they would come back anymore. Cue 4 months of madness.
At first we thought he would relax once we were back in the routine, but unfortunately it wasn’t so simple. He howled for us and paced around the flat. He even once started clawing at the window. Clearly this was dangerous and hugely upsetting for him, so it could not continue.
We decided that the best thing to do is to hire a professional to work with, so we got a trainer. This was a behaviour that we were aggravating and were not prepared to handle without help. We promptly had a session and got advice on not leaving him alone until the issue is resolved, and desensitizing him to the rituals of us leaving the house.
We worked painstakingly to get him relaxed to the sound of keys, putting on shoes and jackets, opening and closing the door a hundred times a day, without actually leaving. Then we hit a roadblock – we could not influence his experiences when we were out of the house.
Furbo is a home monitoring and interaction camera, designed specifically with dogs in mind. It has a really impressive fish eye lens that captures the entire room, dual way sound so you can hear and talk to your dog, and it can store and toss treats from a simple swipe on the app. This was a game-changer for our training.
Now we could build associations of us closing the front door with the positive chirp of the Furbo releasing the treats! Rather than desperately looking out the window as we walked away, triggering panic and distress, Vulric was focused on the camera that would send treats. We even had the idea of placing a snuffle mat in front of the Furbo, so the treats would fall in it. Sniffing for treats is very calming to dogs, and it certainly had a positive effect on Vulric.
Once we could leave him alone, the question became how long he can be left, without regressing on our hard work. Furbo does not only allow us to actively check in, it also has a barking alert, which is now our favourite feature. It clearly differentiates between sounds. The app doesn’t take note if we watch TV or talk, but send an immediate notification if Vulric barks or howls. Don’t worry, nowadays Vulric only barks if something odd is happening. He doesn’t make a peep when neighbors come in and out of the building, or the dog walkers pick him up. Being able to see and hear him through Furbo allowed us to gauge how long he was happy being left alone – if he is snoozing on his back or playing with his toy, we know he doesn’t mind being left a little while longer. Furbo gives us peace of mind when we are out.
…And when we aren’t checking in on Vulric and are all at home together, Furbo also captures the ridiculous real life of instagram dog parents: