One of the first things that people worry about when getting a brand-new dog is how to train a puppy to be left alone. With our busy schedules, it’s important that a puppy learns to be alone pretty quickly. Unfortunately for us, puppies also often have a hard time being left alone. They’ve spent most of their lives with their moms and littermates, and their life has completely changed in a short amount of time.
Preventing separation anxiety in puppies and teaching them puppies to be calm while alone are important goals for your new puppy to ensure that they will grow into productive and healthy adult dogs. Here are some of my favorite tactics to get started.
When you first get your puppy, start by leaving her in her crate while you’re in the bathroom, then while you’re out shopping, then for a full workday. This teaches her that you being gone is totally normal and not a big deal. Starting small and working up to long periods of time is key to success while crate training.
Don’t be gone too long, too quickly, or you may really upset your puppy. You can rely on dog walkers or dog sitters to help keep her company if you’re at work for more than a few hours. This will also aid in her socialization with other people so she isn’t fearful of strangers as she grows older.
Avoid the common mistake of taking your young puppy everywhere until she’s too big … then leaving her for an eight-hour workday. This will confuse her, as she won’t be able to understand why she all of a sudden isn’t allowed to go with you. This can cause separation anxiety and can negatively affect your training.
Puppies also can’t hold their pee for more than a few hours. Leaving her alone while she’s still working on potty training is a recipe for disaster! While you’re in training, be sure that you can be available to take her out every two hours until she has that down. Slowly, you can increase the time. Crate training while training is important because dogs typically don’t want to soil their bed and they will be able to learn both quickly.
While you’re home, I don’t recommend using the cry-it-out method. This can increase anxiety about being left in the crate. However, there is a fine line…
If your puppy is whining but is slowly settling down, then don’t take her out. But, if she’s getting worse and more upset rather than calming down, don’t ignore her. But, you don’t want to teach her that she needs to cry to get let out. The whining is hard to hear, but they will calm down and get used to their new surroundings. Give it time. Allow them at least 15 minutes before you let them out. Chances are good they will calm down on their own.
Before throwing them in the crate and leaving, introduce her to it with positive experiences. These can include: eating her food in the crate, treats or cuddling her favorite toy. Set it up in a room with the door open and let her explore it on her own. If she is put in the crate without proper introduction, she may have a hard time with it forever.
If you do let her out because she’s crying or very upset, have a quick potty break, then come back inside and put her back in the crate (with a treat and a command). This teaches your puppy not to panic or cry in their crate, and aids with potty training.
Give Your Puppy Plenty to Do
If you have a young puppy, chew toys are your best friends. And I’m not talking about soft squeaky toys or Nylabones – I’m talking about the good stuff. Use bully sticks, pig ears, and stuffed Kongs to keep your puppy content while you’re gone.
I almost never leave a dog alone without something to chew on. This helps prevent separation anxiety because they keep busy, and helps save your shoes from a bored puppy! These can be given to a puppy both inside and outside of a crate.
To make this more exciting, hide the chews around the puppy’s area, scatter kibble, or use puzzle toys. An added added challenge will also release dopamine, thanks to the seeking system of the brain, making the pup feel even better about being left alone!
Exercise Your Puppy Properly
An energetic puppy will be far more upset about being left alone than a well-exercised puppy. Be sure to wear your puppy out before absences with plenty of playtime or walks. This will also ensure that your puppy’s bladder is empty, keeping your house and their crate safe from accidents!
Be sure to slowly but surely introduce your puppy to alone time, exercise her properly and be sure that she’s got plenty to chew on while you’re gone. Also, don’t forget to utilize your tools: crates, pet pens and toys!