We all want our puppy or adult dog to be comfortable hanging out at home alone. We want our dogs to feel relaxed with us leaving the house, and us being away from the house. During the course of pandemic, most of us have had extra time at home with our dogs. While this has been delightful for both the human and dog, this does mean that our dogs have had much less experience in practicing being alone.
This blog is written for those who want to learn how to leave your puppy home alone for the first time. It is also written for all dog owners who are looking to transition their dog back to being home alone more of the time.
This blog is general information only. If you think your puppy or adult dog may be severely distressed at you leaving or attempting to leave the house, please contact usfor specific support.
Leaving your puppy home alone is not normal
Canines are social creatures. They are not designed to be alone for long periods of time and if left alone for too long too often, behavioural issues often occur as a result. Keep this concept in mind when starting to leave your puppy home alone. It is easy for us to get frustrated when our dog barks or whines as we leave, or if the neighbour tells us our dog was barking. Instead of getting frustrated, we need to respond to what our dog is telling us, which may be that they don’t feel ok alone.
We need to help our dogs feel safe and relaxed being alone. Once we change how they feel about this situation, their behaviour will change. You can help your dog feel comfortable being alone.
Meet your dog’s needs before practicing home alone time
We want our dog’s emotional and physical needs met before we start practicing alone time. Give your puppy some mental stimulation in the form of training or sniffing or foraging; and some physical stimulation of play, walks, digging or chewing. You can also practice some doggy yoga to leave them in a calm state before practicing puppy home alone time.
Cover the basics and make sure your puppy isn’t in pain, isn’t hungry and doesn’t need to go to the toilet when you start to leave your puppy home alone.
The picture below of a dog’s emotionalcupgives a good idea of how we want our dogs to feel. If you have a situation which empties your dog’s cup, don’t choose these days to practice leaving your puppy home alone. For example, your pup may be having a particularly bad teething period where they are in pain, or they may be feeling a bit over stimulated due a busy day. These feelings are not conducive to your puppy being calm when left alone.
Build up your puppy’s home alone time gradually
Ideally we want our dogs to be bored with the idea of us leaving. This means we need to practice leaving our dogs alone so many times that our dogs get bored with each of these potential triggers of us getting ready to leave including: showering, dressing in particular clothes, putting shoes on, packing a bag, picking up keys etc. We then also need to practice the alone time as well where we aren’t at home.
More importantly, we need to practice at a level of intensity where our dog is not worried or distressed. If you are extending the duration and your dog is distressed, they are creating an association that you leaving is distressing. The right duration will vary depending on your dog. For some dogs, five seconds of you being out of sight will be distressing for them, for other dogs eight hours will be their limit. If your dog is getting distressed, reduce the time frame so you are always practicing at a duration where they are not distressed. Remember, we want them to be peaceful ambivalent with us leaving. Depending on your dog, this may mean that you are walking out the door for literally five seconds before turning around and coming back in again. As your puppy feels comfortable with this, you can then slowly increase the duration.
There are a variety of camera options to choose from so you can check in how your puppy is going home alone. We like Alfred as a free option.
Pair your puppy’s home alone time with something nice and relaxing
Give your puppy a puzzle food toy, a lickimat or a chew to be engaged with while you are introducing puppy home alone time. The activity of chewing and sniffing will help calm them down, and the tasty food will be a nice association with you leaving. Whatever type of food puzzle or chew you leave your puppy with, make sure it is one they will not choke on accidentally.
How do I leave my puppy home alone right now if I haven’t practiced?
Hopefully you are reading this before you are going back to work outside of your house full time so you have the opportunity to build up the alone time gradually.
Without the practice, it can be a bit daunting for you and your puppy to transition to 8-10 hours of alone time. To help with this transition you can get neighbours, family or friends involved in providing some much needed human contact. You can also look into hiring a pet sitter to come and visit in the middle of the day.
While dog day care may be an option for some pups, we find that most puppies become over excited in these places. While this is usually a ‘good’ form of stress, this continued experience of heightened stress can lead to long term issues such as an inability to settle or regulate emotions and general hyperactive behaviours.
Happy practicing everyone!
We’d love to hear your success stories! It can be daunting at the beginning if your pup or dog is unhappy with you leaving for even a few minutes. I remember when we first got our second dog Henry. At the start I thought I’d never be able to leave the house again. But with practice we got there.
As noted above, if you think your dog is extremely distressed when you leave the house please contact us for specific support.
Tara Ross – Blog author and Fur Get Me Not Trainer