It’s essential to TEACH your puppy that being alone is OK!
We get it; it’s hard not to spend every waking minute with your adorable, cuddly new puppy! But having your puppy be the center of your universe can set him up for anxiety in the future. Take deliberate steps NOW to build your puppy’s tolerance for being left alone, so he can grow into a well-adjusted pet who can cope with the demands of your life.
Being alone does not come naturally.
Up until the day you brought your puppy home, she was likely surrounded almost 24/7 by her litter mates. All that time, screaming and barking have served her as THE strategy to reunite with the litter or mom, should she ever find herself alone. Adjusting to a new reality in which she will often be alone is a HUGE transition for your puppy!
There are simple strategies to teach your puppy that being alone is OK.
- Create a positive association with being crated. Crate training helps you potty train your puppy AND teach him to relax when left alone. To create a great association with the crate, make it a guaranteed source of good things. Feed your puppy dinner in the crate, leave yummy stuffed KONGs in the crate, and offer the most comfortable bedding in the crate.
- Practice confinement to your puppy’s crate or ex-pen when you’re home. Your job? Ignore (yes ignore!) your puppy. Then frequently reward him with a bit of food or a tasty chew as long as he stays quiet. Start as close to the crate or ex-pen as needed to set him up for success, then gradually create more distance. Having your puppy eat meals and stuffed KONGs in a crate while you’re relaxing nearby is invaluable settle-down practice.
- Leave your puppy with something GREAT to chew, like a stuffed KONG or bully stick. Start with short absences, perhaps just 10 minutes in another room, and build from there. If you have a screeching monkey of a pup, ignore for a few minutes and see if she will quickly calm down. If not, talk to your trainer; we can help!
Set your puppy up for home-alone success by providing exercise and entertainment.
- For some puppies, a food bowl is just waaay too easy! Try a food dispensing toy for a hands-off way to satisfy your puppy’s brain and jaws. “Buster Cube,” “Kibble Nibble,” and “Tug-A-Jug” are a few of our favorite products. They dispense your puppy’s kibble meal slowly as she manipulates the toy, and produce a puppy who is not only fed, but also mentally-enriched and a bit tired.
- Exercise your puppy before leaving him alone. Play with him, take him for a short walk, or do some quick training; it releases endorphins and burns off excess energy! (Chances are it’ll be good for you, too!) It’ll be easier for your puppy to settle in to his KONG or chew toys (or just a nice nap) if he’s not vibrating with pent up energy.
Leave and return calmly to help your puppy realize being alone is no big deal!
- Interact with your puppy minimally for the 10 minutes or so before you leave. You don’t have to ostracize him; but playing, cuddling, training, etc. and then suddenly leaving can be a bit of a shock to your pup. Plan that 10 minutes for him to settle into his KONG or chew and lower-level of interaction with you before you walk out the door.
- Making a BIG fuss over your puppy right when you return is a great way to train him to be over-excited and out-of-control when you arrive. We know it’s hard, but greet him calmly. And of course, when you do let him out of his crate, take him straight to an appropriate potty area!
If your puppy is really struggling to adapt to being alone, get help.
Most puppies will adapt to this reality of life with humans with minimal stress. If the above strategies do not seem to be producing a puppy with growing confidence and comfort being left alone, it’s time to consult a trainer before things get worse.