If you have recently become the guardian of a new puppy, you are no doubt enjoying lots of cuddles and games with your delightful new fur-friend. If you’re home more than normal at the moment, it’s easy to spend most of the day in each other’s company. The first step in helping your puppy be confident and comfortable in their new home, is developing a strong bond with you, the #1-human. Those cuddles and games are important in the bonding process, so go fo it! Once your puppy has settled in, they also need to learn that being alone is just fine as well. If you are struggling to help your pup learn to be alone, here are some guidelines to get them on track with this very important skill.
As part of your pup’s toilet training and management strategy, you might have already established a confinement area or pen for them. This area is a safe place for them to rest when your attention is elsewhere, a place for them to be when you go out, and a great place for a nap during the day. If you haven’t already set this up, it’s not too late.
The key with this special area, and to introducing alone time, is that your pup must LOVE being there! It’s not a prison, it’s a wonderland! There should be a toilet area, a bed, chew toys and a water bowl. When it’s mealtime, they can be fed in the pen. Introduce favourite chews in the pen, because chewing (on appropriate items) is a great calming activity for dogs of any age. Ensure the chew-project is appropriate for their age, size & chew style. Let your pup audition various chew items in the pen and see which suits them best. Remember to always supervise your pup with chew items to ensure they are safe.
A general note about the process below: Your pup should not be worked up at any stage. By breaking down the departure steps, our aim is for our pup to ignore us! Your “coming and going” need to be a normal part of the day not a stress filled event. If your pup is crying incessantly or barking, go back to an easier step for a short period, and when you do move ahead, make the next step a smaller increase in difficulty level.
Your aim, at each step, is to return while your pup is relaxed.
If, during one of the steps below your pup suddenly starts crying or barking, often they will not be able to calm themselves down and their distress will continue to escalate. In this instance, it’s best that you return and gently calm them down with a soothing word or gentle pat through the pen. Make a note of how long you were out of sight so that you can choose an easier step when you next do the training.
Step One: Start the training when your pup has had a play and a run around, they’ve pooped and peed, and are ready for a nap. Place them in the area and give them a chew. You should hang out nearby, in view but make it clear you’re not available – turn your back, check emails, make a phone call. Give them their favourite chew to help them settle.
Don’t rush through this step, your pup should learn that the going into the pen is a cue to chill-out. Hang out nearby in view, so they feel safe.
Step Two: When your pup is lying down, or happily engaged in chewing, you can start to move partially out of view. Partially out of view means they can still see that you’re nearby, but not all of you. Toggle between fully in view and partially out of view.
Step Three: You guessed it – toggle between moving out of sight and partially in view. If your pup is worried about this, spend a little longer on Step Two. When you do start Step Three, the move out of sight should be very small.
Step Four: When your pup is not worried about you being fully out of sight, you can start to incorporate you walking to the front door the sound of the front door opening. Some pups will be fine with this. If your pup isn’t fine with this, you need to slice the steps into smaller increments. You might walk partially to the front door, then return. You might turn the front door handle without actually opening the door. Adapt the process to your circumstance and environment.
Step Five: You’re out the door. Keep watching your pup through a camera so you can monitor progress. Don’t always make the absence longer and longer – if your pup is at all concerned, they might anticipate that each step is just getting harder, making them uncomfortable.
Here is an example of how to extend your absences day by day:
Day 1: 1-minute Day 8: 30 minutes
Day 2: 3 minutes Day 9: 1 hour
Day 3: 10 minutes Day 10: 1 hour 15 minutes
Day 4: 15 minutes Day 11: 1.5hours
Day 5: 12 minutes Day 12: 1 hour
Day 6: 20 minutes Day 13: 2 hours
Day 7: 40 minutes Day 14: 3 hours
And then you just continue to extend the duration as required. Once your pup reaches about 3 hours happily alone, you can move ahead in increments of about one-hour.
Activities such as sniffing and searching for food not only entertain our pups but help them to relax. To create this, use a snuffle mat, scatter feed by sprinkling dry food in the pen, or hide cardboard rolls containing special food in the pen. Not only do they help create a calm relaxed pup, they help to create a good association with the pen.
Food toys that make a loud noise or are designed to be knocked about, like a treat ball or a wobble food dispenser, are exciting. A pup that plays with these is likely to be very excited and fired up after using them, which is counter-productive to our aim in this instance. Save these exciting food toys for other times.
Observe your puppy, know what they are doing when you go out of sight. If you don’t have an in-home camera, it’s easy to set up a FaceTime, Skype or Zoom session on two devices so that you can observe them. This gives you the information you need in deciding if it’s time for your pup to move ahead or go back a step for short time.
All pups are different and learn these steps at different rates. In any of the training you do with your dog over their lifetime, it’s always important to observe and work according to the dog you see in front of you. If your pup is struggling, go back a step and ask yourself “how can I split the training into smaller steps to help my puppy succeed?”. By being observant and choosing appropriate steps, your puppy will be happily snoozing at home alone before you know it.
If you are not sure how to proceed, click here to contact Jenny and so you can help your puppy learn that it’s OK to be home alone.
© Jenny Harlow July 2020