< Updated – 07APR20 >
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OBJECTIVE: To teach your dog that it is safe to be left alone.
Dogs are social animals, and most will actively seek out our companionship. They can quickly become accustomed to having us around all the time, which is not a
good thing if they will need to spend some time on their own. As much as we might want to believe we will always be with our dog all the time, that scenario is improbable.
Whenever a new dog is brought into a home, especially a young playful puppy, people tend to interact with them constantly. This interaction is an essential part of socialization and bonding. Because it is so enjoyable for you and the puppy, you both interact often. That is due to an elementary rule of behavior; behavior that is rewarded will be repeated. If you and the puppy are both enjoying the interaction, which is pretty standard, then you are both being rewarded.
You must make sure that you are not setting your puppy up for a big disappointment when you must eventually leave him at home alone. Including some “alone training” right from the beginning will be beneficial to both your puppy and you.
Older dogs, depending on their previous circumstances, might also need to learn how to cope with being alone. For example, a dog that was housed in a shelter or kennel situation where other dogs and people were always around may have trouble coping being by themselves. Senior dogs who have dealt with being alone in the past may start to become anxious when you leave.
Dogs that have not learned to cope with being alone can become frightened. Their anxiety may trigger exhibit extreme vocalizations and destructive behavior. These dogs may be diagnosed by a veterinarian or veterinary
behaviorist with separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety are suffering, so please do not delay seeing your veterinarian if that is the case. Separation anxiety will not resolve on its own and typically requires medications and a behavior modification program. The goal of alone training is to prevent separation anxiety.
If you have not already done so, start leaving your puppy/dog alone for brief duration’s throughout the day. He needs to learn that 1) people are not always around, and 2) that you will come back. You may be surprised to learn that your puppy eventually discovers crate time is perfect for some much-needed napping.
Steps to Teach Your Puppy to Cope with Being Alone
- Place your puppy’s crate in a part of the house where you can still hear him but one where he will not be disturbed by family members or other pets in the house.
- Take your puppy out to go to the bathroom immediately before putting him in the crate. That way, if he immediately starts to whine, it is not because he needs to urinate or defecate.
- Provide your puppy with a safe toy, such as a Kong stuffed with a small portion of his kibble, to keep him occupied while in the crate.
- Do not make a big deal out of leaving. Just pop the puppy in his crate and leave. Your puppy may start to whine or bark when you leave. Such vocalization is normal for a puppy that has not yet learned to cope with being left alone. Your first impulse may be to return to the puppy and to try to calm him; however, that will be counterproductive. If you want him to stop whining, you must make sure you do not reward the puppy for whining. Do not pay attention to your puppy, and do not let him out of the crate until there is a lull in the whining. Reward him for being calm and quiet.
- The first time you leave your puppy alone, wait for him to be quiet for at least 5 minutes before you let him out.
- When returning to your puppy, be very low-key and non-emotional. If you make leaving or returning into a big deal, with lots of cuddling and petting, your puppy is more likely to be stressed by your arrivals and departures. You can, and we hope you do, miss your puppy when he is not with you.
- As always, when letting your puppy out of his crate, take him outside to see if he needs to go to the bathroom.
- Practice the above steps at least once a day for several days. You will gradually increase the length of time your puppy is left alone. Like all training, we want to work in small achievable increments that the dog can handle. If your puppy is not housetrained, you will still need to take him out for bathroom breaks. Do not worry about him not getting enough exercise. On average, a dog sleeps 17 hours per day. You will have plenty of time to give the puppy exercise and to interact with him during the remainder of the day.
- Your goal is to eventually to be able to leave your adult dog alone in your home, without you worrying about them becoming anxious or destructive. The more your work on this while your dog is young, the quicker you will get there.
If your puppy will not settle or if they exhibit destructive behaviors, you need to discuss this situation with your trainer or your veterinarian immediately.
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