Leaving Your Dog Home Alone: How to Make the Transition
As much as you want to, it's not possible to take your furry BFF with you everywhere. Then again, you may have been home more than usual lately or raising a new puppy who isn't ready to be on his own. Still, you'll have to leave the house at some point, and the prospect of leaving your dog home alone can be scary for you both.
No matter the reason, you'll need to teach him how to be alone before you leave the house for extended periods of time. If not, he may develop separation anxiety at your sudden absence or change of routine.
Teach Your Puppy Home Alone Skills
Being your pup's personal entertainment director can do more harm than good. If he doesn't get idle downtime, he won't know how or when it's OK to relax and may act out as a result of boredom. Puppies need distraction-free time to recharge and process everything they're learning.
When you give your buddy free time — plus your praise when he behaves — he will learn to calm and entertain himself. Practicing this will build his trust. He'll realize that even though you're not always right there with him, he can handle being on his own and you will come back.
A crate can be a great tool for teaching your puppy to be content spending time alone. First, build positive associations with the crate by making it a "fun" place. Feed him while he's in there, or give him special "crate only" treats and toys. You can also move your napping pup into the crate, so he'll know it's a secure place to sleep.
You'll need to work up to keeping the crate door shut. At first, let him out right away if he wants, then lengthen his time inside with each next attempt and stay close by. Once he is comfortable with the crate door closed, give him a favorite chew toy and leave the room. Then return immediately with a treat and praise. Gradually stay away longer — a couple of minutes at first, then 15 minutes, then a half-hour — until he gets the hang of it.
You shouldn't leave your puppy home alone for more than an hour or two until his bladder is fully developed and he's potty-trained. Teaching him to be comfortable with alone time is a step toward him staying home by himself when he's old enough, though.
Adult dog vs. puppy
If you have adopted an adult dog, you'll also want to ease into leaving him by himself. The process is the same as what you'd do with a puppy, but you may need more patience since older dogs can be set in their ways. Start by going outside for a few minutes while your buddy stays inside, then come back and reward him with praise for trusting you'd return. Stay outside a bit longer each time you go. When he can cope with that, leave for short errands before trying longer outings.
Ease Your Pup Into Being Home Alone
Although some dogs do OK having the run of the place, your canine companion might feel more secure confined to a smaller area of your home or in his crate. Maybe you've tried gradual time increases but still come home to a chewed-up chair, potty surprises, and a howling dog. This could be a cue from your dog that whole-house freedom is too stressful. It's OK to dial back the amount of space and test out what works best, whether it's one floor of the house, one room, or his crate.
It may seem like you're placing him in doggy jail, but a properly trained dog sees his crate as a secure space to sleep and chill.
Crating will also keep him out of trouble, giving you peace of mind.
Help Your Dog Cope With Separation
Here are a few more tips to help make leaving your furry friend by himself less stressful for both of you:
- Walk or engage him in at least 15 minutes of exercise before you leave. This will help him burn off extra energy and feel more relaxed.
- Keep your comings and goings low-key. Don't teach him that your departure is a big deal by making a fuss saying goodbye or greeting him when you get home.
- Load him up with chew toys and interactive toys. Fill a treat-dispensing toy with frozen canned food or peanut butter to keep him occupied and happy.
- Set up a dog monitoring system so you can keep an eye on him throughout the day and address any unwanted behaviors you see.
- Create a calm environment by playing soothing music or leaving the TV on.
Keep in mind that you shouldn't leave even grown dogs alone for more than six to eight hours at a time. If you'll be gone longer than that, hire a dog walker, leave your dog at daycare, or arrange for someone to check in on him. Talk to your vet if your dog displays nervous behaviors like chewing on his crate, chewing on himself, soiling his bedding, whining excessively, refusing to eat, or sleeping more than usual.
The first time you tell your buddy goodbye for the day will still sting a bit. But if you make the transition gradually, soon enough, leaving your pup home alone will be no big deal for either of you.