Teaching Dogs How to Cope at Home Alone: A Comprehensive Guide
Introduce Alone Time Gradually
If you have never left your dog on their own, you must have realistic expectations and set realistic goals. Going from not leaving them at all to leaving them for a few hours is a no-go.
When we teach dogs that it’s okay to be left alone, we want to start by doing that for very short periods of time. Even a few seconds can feel uncomfortable for certain dogs, so remember to proceed slowly and go at their pace.
Consider consulting a qualified professional to support you with this.
Provide a Safe and Comfortable Space
Where does your dog feel safe?
You want to designate a cosy area for them to relax and rest. This could be a crate or a playpen, but it doesn’t have to be. Dogs are all individuals, and you should experiment with things and see what they prefer. Do they feel more comfortable in a crate? Or are they happy to have the whole run of the house and settle on the sofa?
Safety will also be very important, so make sure you leave your dog in a space where they can’t hurt themselves.
Meet Their Needs for Physical and Mental Stimulation
Never underestimate the importance of getting your dog’s needs met. Physical exercise is vital to their well-being, but mental stimulation is also extremely important to help dogs feel happy and fulfilled.
I’m a huge fan of scent-related activities as they provide many benefits, from boosting your dog’s confidence to helping them become calmer and more relaxed.
You will want to practice your separation training once your dog’s needs have been met and when they are calm and relaxed as opposed to when they have a lot of energy to burn.
Teach Them to Settle and Switch Off
Generally speaking (although there are always exceptions to the rule), if your dog can’t settle with you being next to them, it might be even harder for them to switch off when you are not there.
Teaching them to settle and be calm and relaxed is one of the most important skills a dog could learn. Start by teaching them to settle in your presence, with you calmly sitting next to them, then slowly progress to you moving around the room, out of the room, briefly out of sight, and so on.
Consider including some training to prevent barrier frustration too if you are using doors and baby gates to separate areas of the house.
Work on Creating a Calm Environment
Having on the radio or a white noise machine could help muffle sounds from the outdoors and help your dog feel more relaxed and at ease. Please note that this won’t be a miracle cure for your dog’s sound sensitivity.
If your dog gets easily stressed and spooked by noises, you must discuss that with your vet to rule out any pain and discomfort that might exacerbate the situation. This said, having some background noise can potentially help dogs who don’t have major sound-related issues.
Offer Enrichment Opportunities to Encourage Independence
Interactive toys, puzzles, food-dispensing toys, and scent-related games can help keep your dog mentally stimulated and give them something else to do rather than following you around the house and always wanting to get involved.
Remember that to encourage real independence, your dog needs to have control and be able to follow you around if they want to. The idea is that if you are boring enough, your dog might start to choose to engage with their enrichment activities on their own accord.
Your dog’s ability to make independent choices will be related to how safe they feel too, so if you have just welcomed a new puppy or dog home, go easy and work on building a safe relationship first.
Keep an Eye on Your Dog
Using a camera allows you to observe your dog and what they do while you are away, so that you can have the confidence that are calm and relaxed when you leave them.
Don't Let Them Cry It Out
If your dog is getting distressed, don’t let them cry it out. This is very outdated advice. Instead, go back to them, and the next time you practise, make it easier for them to succeed (e.g., keep your absence shorter).
Consult a Professional
If, despite your best efforts, your dog still struggles with being left on their own, discuss it with your vet, as they can refer you to a qualified behaviour professional who will help you identify the root cause of the problem and implement a programme that’s tailored around your and your dog’s needs.
Remember that every dog is an individual and that their comfort level with being left alone may differ – as always, patience will be key!
If you encounter any issues during the home-alone training process, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can book your free 15-minute consultation here.
This blog has been brought to you by Giulia, the owner of My Kinda Dog.
Giulia is a qualified and experienced dog and puppy trainer covering Bristol and surrounding areas.
She offers private puppy training sessions, private dog training sessions, and scentwork classes.
Giulia is passionate about helping people understand, communicate, train and thrive with their dogs.
You can see her here with Ruby, her beloved canine companion.
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