STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE: TEACH YOUR DOG TO BE HOME ALONE
You're probably familiar with this feeling: You have a long workday ahead and your dog has to be home alone. It makes you feel uneasy and worried for your dog because you know it hates being alone at home.
Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, separation anxiety can be a problem. If you experience the dog howling, scratching furniture, or finding urine on the floor when you've been away, it may be signs that it doesn't feel comfortable being home alone.
But fortunately, it's something you can change – even if you think you've tried everything. It's about staying persistent and combining several approaches.
But how do you do it specifically?
Well, you just need to follow this guide where we provide 5 concrete steps that you can follow and use to establish more structure in your dog's home-alone training.
1. START WHEN THE DOG FEELS SAFE
Our step-by-step home-alone training actually begins with some preparation before the actual training. Dogs are social animals, and it's not natural for them to be left alone. But fear not – it's definitely possible to train them without causing stress or unease.
One of the most important pieces of advice is to start the home-alone training only when your dog feels comfortable and secure in the home. Never start before this is the case. If the dog is calm and relaxed when you're in other parts of the house – maybe with a closed door – then the real training can begin.
2. HAVE THE RIGHT MINDSETEven though you may think that it's the dog who needs to get used to being home alone, you also need to adapt to it. It can be a source of stress for you to be away from your dog.
You may be thinking: Is my dog unhappy at home while I'm away? Can the neighbors hear it howling and barking?
This stress is also felt by the dog when you're about to leave. The dog mirrors your state of mind, and if you're a bit stressed about leaving the dog alone at home, it will sense it.
One of the most important aspects of training your dog to be home alone is that you need to prepare yourself as well. Both you and the dog will have a much better experience of being home alone if you both have a calm and relaxed mindset.
3. PRACTICE BEFORE ACTUALLY LEAVING
Once you're confident that both you and your dog are calm and comfortable with the situation, the actual training can begin. In this step, patience is key, as with any other aspect of dog training. Train the dog gradually over a long period of time before it actually needs to be alone.
- Initially, the goal is to practice going towards the door without actually going out. This means putting on your shoes and jacket, grabbing your keys, and giving the dog a treat. Instead of going out the door, you take off your shoes and jacket again. It may feel a bit silly to act this way, but it's necessary to persist even if it seems odd. Repeat this process for the first few days, ideally 3-4 times a day.
- After a couple of days of this "acting it out", repeat the same process, but this time acutally go out the door for 20 seconds at a time.
- Over the next several days, gradually increase the time you spend away from the dog. Go to the backyard, down the street, or to the supermarket for a minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and so on.
- After 2 weeks, gradually increase the time by half an hour or an hour. However, make sure not to progress too quickly.
- Only after 4 weeks, your dog can start being home alone for a full workday. However, be aware that in certain cases, it may take several months before the dog can be home alone for a whole day. It all depends on the dog.
Note: There are several things to keep in mind during this process:
– Do not go to the dog if it starts howling or barking. Otherwise, it will learn that barking pays off because you come running. It's important not to go inside until the dog has stopped howling or barking. If it continues to bark, come in when the dog takes a break.
– If the dog keeps barking, you may be progressing too quickly in the process. Therefore, make sure to go back to a previous step. This way, you ensure that the dog is with you every step of the way.
4. SAY HELLO AND GOODBYE IN THE RIGHT TONE
When you're about to leave, both when it's real and as part of the training, it's important to use a command that becomes a kind of ritual meaning "I'm leaving."
Use the same phrase with the same tone so that, after a while, the dog understands what this command means. It could be "I'll be back soon." It's important to say this command in a friendly yet firm tone. The key is not to make a big fuss about saying goodbye.
The same applies when you come back home. It's equally important not to make a big fuss about your return. It should feel as natural as possible. Therefore, greet the dog in a calm and quiet tone and engage in other activities in the room, so the dog understands that it's completely normal. This applies both during the training period and afterwards.
If you comfort the dog before and after it needs to be home alone, it will think it needs to be fearful and worried when you leave. So you shouldn't focus on comforting the dog. You need to be completely calm and neutral when you leave and come back. This is again connected to having the right mindset.
5. MAKE THE EXPERIENCE PLEASANT
To address separation anxiety, it can be a good idea to have something safe and familiar at home, such as the dog's bed. It can also be beneficial to keep the lights on and have the TV or radio playing.
Overall, the goal is to create something positive that gives the dog a pleasant experience of being home alone. For example, place your dog's favourite blanket in the bed or give it a bone to enjoy for a longer period or a treat that makes the dog associate being alone with something positive.
HOW LONG CAN THE DOG BE LEFT HOME ALONE?
One of the questions we typically hear is whether it's possible to leave the dog home alone for 8 hours. It makes sense since that's usually the length of a typical workday.
However, we do not recommend leaving the dog alone for that many hours because it wouldn't be able to hold its waste and would need to go outside. Often, it may be necessary because you can't leave work. But if you have the opportunity, it's really beneficial for the dog if you can come home during the day. Alternatively, you can make an arrangement with your neighbour to check on the dog or use a doggy day care or similar.
As you train the dog to be alone at home, it will gradually feel more comfortable with it and can stay at home without barking or causing trouble. The most important thing is to be aware that it is a slow process, and patience is often the key.
Last but not least, it's important to emphasize that there are many different approaches to training, and in some cases, it may make sense, for example, to give a treat before you leave, while in other cases, it may be better not to. You can choose the approach that suits you best. The most important thing is to be consistent.
We hope that this guide can help you and your dog on your journey and provide both of you with a sense of security when being home alone.