During this time of social distancing and restriction, when most or all of your family is locked down at home, you’re able to spend heaps of time with your new pup. It’s fabulous fun for you and your puppy now, but when restrictions are eased and everyone leaves the house each morning, your puppy needs to be comfortable being left home alone.
Teaching your puppy to be comfortable when they are left alone is one of the most valuable lessons you can give them.
When you first bring your puppy home, it is likely the first time they have been separated completely from their littermates. And when you first leave your puppy completely alone in the house, it is likely the first time that has happened as well.
The Puppy Pen
The puppy pen can be set up in your main living area, so when your puppy is placed in it, he still feels a part of the family. If the pen is central in the house the puppy will also learn to accept the normal household & kitchen noises and activities. It should be big enough for a bed or crate, a toilet area and small area for chewing toys.
When you place your puppy in the pen it should be a cue that it is time to rest. You may need to secure the pen at the corners so your pup cannot push it over. Provide a delicious chew or raw meaty bone or chew toys to give your puppy something that will help them relax.
You should plan to be home for the first week you have your puppy so you can help them settle into their new home and routine. Introduce the puppy to the pen by feeding all meals or treats in the pen. This will create a good association to the pen. Once your puppy is settled and comfortable with the pen, you should start home alone training.
To help with a smooth transition, there are 3 stages of alone time you can introduce:
- Puppy is in the secure pen while you are within sight but occupied with another task;
- Puppy is in the secure pen while you are out of sight, in another room;
- Puppy is in the secure pen while you leave the house
Introduce alone time for your puppy slowly, starting with leaving them in a puppy pen with a chew when you are occupied with another activity such as working on your computer. If your puppy whimpers or cries, do not be tempted to turn around or go to your puppy. If you do, your puppy will learn that crying is a way to get your attention, and for sure they will do it again. Wait for the puppy to quiet before approaching them. You may feel more comfortable setting up camera on a tablet or smart phone so you can surreptitiously observe your puppy to make sure that crying & noise isn’t due to their paw caught in the pen.
Your puppy should learn to settle at each stage of the process before moving on to the next step. When you start to leave the house, begin slowly, only leaving the home for short periods of times. Provide yummy food toys when you leave to create a positive association for when the front door closes. It is very helpful to know exactly what your puppy is doing when you leave, so use in home cameras, or record them on a tablet or smart phone.
Once you are leaving your puppy for longer and longer periods, ask your neighbours to let you know if they hear them crying, whimpering or barking. It’s very important for you to know exactly how your puppy copes when alone and having this information will help you provide a smooth transition from constant supervision to snoozy, relaxed alone time.
- Trial all the enrichment items several times to ensure your puppy is safe and they know how to use them before leaving them unsupervised.
- Provide several chew toys in addition to the food toys and rotate all of them to keep them fresh and fun for your pup.
- Only give these special toys and treats when the pup will be left alone. This helps make your absence fun and something to look forward to.
- When leaving your pup, keep your exit and return routine calm and relaxed. Leaving and returning should be non-events rather than exciting ones. When the humans leave and return, it’s just ‘normal’ parts of your pup’s day.
- For all separations, call you pup to their puppy pen, quietly say goodbye, which becomes the cue that you are leaving and good stuff (chew toys and food toys) is about to happen. When practicing, use the same routine and wear your ‘going out’ shoes as you would if you were leaving for work or going shopping.
- Ensure your pup has a place to sleep and rest, a place to toilet, water, appropriate chew items and toys.
- When you begin to practice it helps to have a pup who has had some exercise and is ready for a nap. Therefore, plan your training times.
- Mix up the difficulty (length) of the absence and don’t always just make it harder. Sometimes your departure should be shorter, or stay the same length, sometimes longer. Mix it up so the length of time they will be left alone is not predictable.
Other Things That Can Help
- Put out a call to your family & friends to ask for volunteer dog sitters – a person dropping in at lunchtime for a play or activity outside can help to break up a long day of alone time.
- You might be working from home now, and you could ask your boss if you can work from home in the future if your pup needs more time to learn how to be comfortable for long periods.
- Our dogs are VERY observant. Your puppy will quickly learn which of your shoes or clothes means you are staying or leaving. When you are practicing, ensure you leave home as you would do when you go shopping, leave for work etc. Take the car if you drive or walk up the street if you don’t.
- Don’t be tempted to try leaving your puppy outside while you remain inside. Leave the home area so your dog can’t hear or smell you. Most dogs of all ages know when you’re hiding inside and will whimper, bark or scratch to get to you, regardless of how clever you think you’ve been!
- Your puppy needs to know you are not home, and that they are alone.
Day 1-7 Stay at home with your pup so they are fully supervised and managed. Practice steps 1 and 2 above so that your pup is introduced to being in their pen while you move out of sight. After the first week you can start to implement an alone schedule. An example of what this might look like is below. However, it is important to observe your puppy and work at the rate that they can accept.
Mix up the length of your absence. Toggle up and down so that it doesn’t just always get longer and longer. This helps to stop our pup anticipating what’s about to happen.
Day 8 Leave house for 2 minutes Day 15 Leave pup for 1.5 hours
Day 9 Leave pup for 5 minutes Day 16 Leave pup for 2.5 hours
Day 10 Leave pup for 10 minutes Day 17 Leave pup for 2 hours
Day 11 Leave pup for 20 minutes Day 18 Leave pup for 3 hours
Day 12 Leave pup for 35 minutes Day 19 Leave pup for 4 hours
Day 13 Leave pup for 1hour Day 20 Leave pup for 3 hours
Day 14 Leave pup for 45 minutes Day 21 Leave pup for 5 hou
Day 22 Leave pup for 7 hours
Every puppy is different, and you need to assess how well your pup is handling the alone time and adjust accordingly. Video your puppy on a tablet or use an App so you can monitor your pup’s progress. Don’t rush this process, it is better to take things slowly rather than to leave your puppy home alone too quickly or for too long. Once the puppy has experienced being alone for approximately 3 hours, most pups can cope with the alone time being extended by one-hour increments.
If you provide a variety food-based toys and chews each time you leave, in no time your pup will actually look forward to you leaving just so they can find all the chew toys, treat balls and stuffed Kongs hidden in their area.
The area you leave your puppy should be contained and secure. For many dogs being left inside provides a quieter environment which allows them to settle more easily. There should be an area for the puppy to toilet, which they have been trained to use. But if they are outside, ensure the fences are tall and secure to prevent escapes. They need several shade areas especially in summer, and cover from rain. Provide at least two water bowls so they have a constant supply of cool fresh water, two beds, shelter for protection from rain or adverse weather.
Changes in the home environment can sometimes cause a dog who was previously relaxed when alone, to become anxious about being left. In the future, if you move to a new house, if there is a change to the people living in your house, or you add another dog to your household, it’s a good idea to practice home alone as a training exercise to ensure the changes do not cause separation distress for your dog.
Most puppies learn quite quickly that being alone is just fine. But if your puppy is barking & yelping for an extended period, is destructive or toilets constantly when you leave the house, then it’s time to seek help from a suitably qualified separation trainer. Click here to contact Jenny.