While many dogs are quite happy to be left alone at home while we are at work or play, others may become distressed when we leave. Affected animals may bark, potty indoors, and/or chew destructively. Some dogs may not leave physical evidence of their stress, but may instead tremble, pant, whine, or drool excessively. Severely affected dogs are said to suffer from “Separation Anxiety”. This is stressful for both pets and people. Helping your puppy to adjust to time alone may be an important part of the transition to post-lockdown life. Even older dogs who have experienced our pre-COVID 9-5 work days may benefit from a refresher course in “How to Be Home Alone”. Prevention is the key.
- Decide where your puppy will spend time when home alone. This could be a room with a baby gate across the door, an X-pen, a crate, or even an outdoor pen. Some puppies do better with a view, for others this may trigger unwanted barking. It is not a good idea to allow free run of the home right away…or maybe ever.
- Your puppy will need access to water no matter how long you will be gone.
- Make sure that the space is safe and secure. No cords to chew, lamps to knock over, plants to dig up, or other hazards.
- Depending on how long you expect your puppy to be alone, you may need to provide a potty option. This could be a pee pad, a litter box, or even a length of sod. A good ballpark for puppies is their age in months is the number of hours they may be left alone, but every puppy is unique, so work within your puppy’s limits.
Once you have decided where your puppy will be spending time when you are not home, it is time to teach your puppy that it is okay to be alone in this space. You may have already started this sort of confinement training in the context of house training. If so, you will be ahead of the game.
- Introduce your puppy to his new space. You can toss in some treats or a toy to encourage the puppy to explore the space.
- Once your puppy is willing to go into the space, you can briefly shut the door/gate while the puppy is eating the treats.
- Gradually build up the time the puppy spends in his space. Start to move away from the door/gate as the puppy is searching out treats. Return and reward with another treat. You can alternate between letting the puppy out and moving away again. Try never to let the puppy get distressed by your absence…the goal is to give the puppy something to do instead of worrying about you. If you have a treat-dispensing toy such as a Kong, you can use this to keep the puppy occupied while you move away.
Once you have taught your puppy that it is okay to be alone in his space while the family is in other parts of the house, it is time to teach the puppy that it is okay for him to be alone when there is no one home.
- Decide on a routine for leaving and try and keep it low-key. No long drawn-out, drama-filled, goodbyes and hellos.
- Consider offering the puppy a stuffed Kong or other toys as you are walking out the door. Make sure to take this into account when offering regular meals. In fact, the Kong could be your puppy’s whole breakfast if needed.
- You may find that leaving a radio or the TV on can be helpful.
- Leaving the puppy with an item of recently worn clothing that you do not mind getting messy with the puppy may help by providing a comforting and familiar scent.
- An Adaptil diffuser or collar (available from Centennial Animal Hospital) may also help calm the puppy.
- If you have the option for a webcam, you can check up on your puppy and make sure that he is resting quietly.
Most puppies will adapt readily to this routine if you go slowly, reward calm and quiet, and don’t ask too much, too soon. If you need to leave the puppy for a long time before he is comfortable with being in his space alone, consider asking a neighbour or a family member to stop by and let the puppy out.
Please check out www.rspca.org.uk/dogkind for additional information. If you are concerned about your puppy’s behaviour when you are gone, and need more help than is provided here, please call Centennial Animal Hospital to schedule a talk with one of our team.
Other helpful resources
Canine Foundations (certified dog trainers) & their Facebook page posts: