Dogs, Puppies, and people can, at times, find it difficult to be alone and content. Unfortunately, for all of us, it is a vital life skill. Most people are not lucky enough to be able to take their dogs with them wherever they go, and are not willing to give up their jobs and social lives to stay at home with their dog.
Does this sound familiar? Making this kind of sacrifice doesn’t have to be a consideration, because there are simple steps you can take to train your dog and yourself to deal with the separation in a healthy way. So, what do we do? As a dog trainer, these are the steps I recommend my clients take when facing this challenge:
Step One: Train yourself
In my years working with dogs, the thing I have seen create the most separation distress in a dog is a built up goodbye from the owner. Your arrivals and departures should be a complete non-event. If you are getting worked up, your dog will pick up on this and get a little anxious as well.
When you leave the house, try not saying anything to your dog. Get your stuff and just walk out. When you come home, try being home for a few minutes before you even greet your dog at all. This can be a difficult practice at first, but if you make this the expected routine it will become easier and easier for you and your dog.
It can also be very helpful to practice your comings and goings, without actually going anywhere. At some point during your day try the following exercises:
- Get up, pick up your keys, put them back down, and sit down.
- Get up, put on your jacket, grab your keys, and then sit back down.
- Walk out the front door, then walk right back in.
The more you do these things without actually leaving, the less concerned your dog will be about them. This is one part of an incredible protocol for Separation Anxiety in dogs, but these small steps can be very useful in preventing any issues.
Step Two: Your Dog Crate – You and your dog’s new best friend
There is no better tool for working with a new dog in your home than a crate. Crates can be misused, but when used properly they are an amazing management tool that can make your life a whole lot easier. This is especially true if you are struggling with house training your dog, or worried about your dog being destructive when left alone. Even if you no longer need to crate your dog when they are home alone, it’s a great skill to keep up in case they ever need to board or stay overnight at a vet clinic.
While crating is not necessarily a natural instinct for dogs, it is something that makes living with them easier. By making it a part of their routine, we can make it a very pleasant thing for them. Most properly crate trained dogs will actually seek out their crate if the door is left open. Susan Garret’s Crate Games is our favorite method to crate train a dog. It is important to remember that only good things happen in the crate. It should never be used in a frustrated or punishing manner.
Step Three: Don’t be afraid of spending some time away from your dog
Even when you are at home, it is good to give your dog some alone time. If you’re not sure how to go about doing this, try some of these exercises to get started:
- Practice some crate time while you take care of a few chores.
- Let your dog spend some time alone in the backyard. (while you supervise out the windows)
- Take some short trips to your car alone.
If your dog is used to you always being around they will not know what to do with themselves when you have to leave. This is even true when we bring a brand new dog into our home.
When we first bring home a new dog we tend to have an instinct to spend as much time with them as possible. Prove to them that they are now loved, and focus on bonding with them. It is actually much more important to teach your dog to self soothe, and problem solve on their own. Practice things like the magnet game and capturing calmness; you can reference this video to get a good handle on what those exercises look like:
Step Four: Teach your dog to entertain themselves in a positive way
When they are alone our dogs have a tendency to get bored. They usually figure out ways to entertain themselves, and typically they are not ways that we enjoy. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Getting into the trash
- Destroying our personal belongings
- Counter surfing
Why not teach your dog to do productive things with their boredom instead?
When you leave them alone, provide your dog with puzzle toys to work on. Frozen kongs, and toys with their daily meals in them are great ways to keep your dog occupied. You can also hide a few of their favorite toys around the house for them to find and play with. Getting into this habit will also allow you to have a more mentally tired dog when you get home, which will create a much more relaxed atmosphere for you to enjoy the bonding time you share.
Overall, teaching your dog to be alone is a very important skill for you and your pet. However, it can be a very overwhelming thing to teach without any guidance. Daycare programs, like Pup Academy and Dog Behavior Boot Camp, can be very useful in helping to teach your dog these skills. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact our training team or the staff at DogBoy’s. We are here to help.
The most important step to remember is to enjoy your dog throughout your lives together, and help them enjoy life with you to the fullest.
Lonely Stan by Raffi Asdourian
Jake in the Crate by mara