Being particularly social animals, dogs love the company of their pack. Nevertheless, every adult dog should be capable of staying on its own for short periods of time. This will need to be trained early on in life, as a fully-grown dog that has never been left alone will struggle to adapt.
Gentle Training: Leaving Your Puppy Alone
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When a puppy first moves into its new home, it will never have experienced being on its own, having enjoyed the company of at least its litter mates at all times during the first few weeks of its life. Immediately after moving the puppy in is not the ideal time to start leaving it on its own, as your little one already has a lot to get used to without this added stress. It is also very important at this point to take the time to build up the bond between you and your dog, which is a key prerequisite if you ever wish to leave your puppy in relaxed solitude. After a few days of letting your four-legged friend settle in, you can gently start off with short exercises to get it used to everyday life.
Start small – for example, when your puppy is busy with a new toy or a tasty bone, leave for a minute, coming in and out of the room it is in multiple times to get it used to the idea that you will always keep coming back, and to get it used to the idea that feeling briefly alone is perfectly normal. The next step is slightly more difficult, with you leaving the room when your puppy is not engrossed in food or toys. Keep the time out of the room to a maximum of two minutes, returning in a very calm, relaxed way – this will teach your dog that you leaving and coming back is the most normal thing in the world! If your dog complains when you are away, simply ignore it and shorten the amount of time you are away for next time. Be sure to offer plenty of praise if your dog has been well-behaved!
Leaving the house
If you have managed to reach the full two minutes with the room exercise, then try leaving the house itself for up to three minutes. You should not leave your puppy alone when it is sleeping. Do not say goodbye before leaving the room, rather treat the whole thing as something very common. By exuding calmness, your dog should not pick up on any signals that make it feel nervous. Practise this short departure several times and in different ways – leave as though it’s a normal day, leave without a jacket on, then try putting on full outdoor gear before your set off. All of these “going out” variants should become perfectly normal for your dog and, as your puppy gets used to these short periods of being alone, increase the time gradually. Pop to the post office or local shop, but do not make big jumps in time and be sure to keep timings unpredictable – return once after five minutes, another after fifteen, then ten. This will get your dog used to flexible time periods, rather than leaving it expecting you to return after a set number of minutes. A puppy toy or chew bone can also be a great way to keep your puppy occupied while you are away. At this early stage it may still be a good idea to keep within earshot of your house, at least for a few minutes, so that you can hear if your dog is whining or barking. However, under no circumstances should you respond to any of these noises, as they will only encourage these unwanted behaviours. If everything goes smoothly, you should be able to continue increasing the time your puppy is left alone. Up until your puppy reaches the age of four months, it should not be left alone for longer than two hours.
There can be many reasons why your dog does not relax when you leave the room, even if you have followed the training tips as closely as possible. For example:
- You may have extended the times too rapidly. In this case, take a few steps back and keep the exercises short, as in the very beginning, until your puppy feels safe again. Only then can you begin increasing times again.
- The bond between you and your dog may still be uncertain, so put extra time and effort into building this bond.
- It may simply be that your dog is not ready yet to be left alone for a long time. Dogs under the age of four months should never be left alone for more than two hours.
- Loud noises, slamming doors or thunderstorms – if your four-legged friend finds something frightening whilst you are away, then it will learn to dread the times when you are not there. Never try to practise leaving your puppy alone when there are storms raging or when there are bound to be loud noises such as fireworks.
- If the ranking order has not been clearly defined, staying alone can be problematic – if your dog sees you as the boss, naturally it will want to come with you!
- Before leaving your dog alone for any period of time, it needs to have let off steam with a nice long walk or some playing. Only a dog that has been stimulated and satisfied will be happily left alone.
Remember – practice makes perfect! Even if you enjoy every minute spent with your young dog, there are bound to be times when it is simply better to leave it at home. For example, when you want to go to the cinema or walk around a crowded market. Take it slow every step of the way and remember to think positively and exude serenity, as these calm feelings will be picked up by your puppy.