is your dog ok when left home alone?
I’m sure if we could we would spend all our time with our dogs, taking them with us when we go out and chilling with them at home. However, this is not practical or healthy. It is important our dog is safe and comfortable when left home alone. Simply because, this may happen at some point. Even if you work from home and are rarely away, there is going to come a time when you leave and they’ll need to cope on their own. The earlier you can start this process the better.
For some dogs and puppies being left alone is a matter of course. They are confined to a secure area, like the yard or a laundry, given a few toys and then left. Some do just fine while others really struggle and find this quite traumatic. There is another way, that takes being left alone in stages rather than an all in approach.
Home Alone – Stage One
Create a safe place that your dog enjoys spending time in. This can be a crate, play pen, laundry, small room, the yard etc. It simply needs to be safe and secure, meaning your dog has access to a comfy resting place, water and shelter from the elements. Make it a great space. Place games in the pen, feed them here and allow them rest time in the pen too. Where and when possible avoid confining them to the space, if they wish to leave let them.
How do I know my puppy enjoys the space?
When given the freedom to choose, you see your dog going in to this space with no prompting from you. They are happy, relaxing and opting to spend time here.
Your dog/puppy can see and hear you but cannot access you. Confined to their safe space, by closing the crate or the pen but in such a way that you can still be seen. Just on the other side of the pen or baby gate. Sit nearby and read a book or watch a show, be relaxed and not engaging with pup. It is a great idea to leave them with a game or puzzle feeder they particularly enjoy. You may only do this for a few minutes and gradually increase the time. I’d recommend being about to have your dog settled in a relaxed manner before progressing to stage three. There is no rush, this isn’t a race.
Your dog/puppy can hear you but cannot always see you. It is in this stage of the plan we move away from their safe space and shift out of sight. In stage two we let them chill in the pen, so we already know they can chill out and self amuse when in their space. Now we simply set them up to do that while moving around the house or chilling out in another room. A great time to practice this is when your pup has had a good run and play. They are now more likely to rest or enjoy some quiet chewing time.
Again, start with just a few minutes and increase the time as your pup indicates they are having no trouble at all.
At this point in the plan, your dog loves being in their safe space. They chill out there and amuse themselves no matter where you are in the house and what you are doing. The longer they are able to do this the better.
So, stage four is leaving pup in their safe space where they cannot see or hear you. This is the stage where we introduce home alone time. For this first time it does not need to be long, 15 to 30 minutes. We already know they can chill out when they cannot see me but I am at home. Now we simply explained on their current skills to chilling when I’m not home. Gradually increase the time in increments.
Remember with puppies, toilet breaks. It is important that you leave them a place to toilet. Alternatively, toilet them prior to being left alone and return before they will need their next toilet break.
How do I know my dog was ok home alone when I cannot see them?
This is a great question and there two options.
- Place a camera on your dog and observe them while you’re gone. Or watch the video later, before your next home alone session.
- Use their body language as a guide. If they are calm, happy, asleep when you return then they were likely chilling in their pen. If they are whining, been destructive, highly excitable and showing signs of being agitated, then we need to go back to an earlier stage and make some adjustments to our plan.
This aim of this plan is to increase the criteria a little at a time. It reduces the stress we expose our dogs to keeping them happy and relaxed. I’ve seen dog and puppies get to stage four and do their first home alone session in a couple of days. Others take much longer. Every dog is an individual so go at their pace, doing what works for them and you’re sure to have success.
This plan isn’t working for my dog, what do I do?
Separation related anxieties are, unfortunately, a common problem among dogs today. If you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed the intervention of a professional trainer or veterinary behaviourist will be highly beneficial. This is a guide only and it will benefit from the personal touch.
Feel free to reach out via the contact form and let me know how I can help.