Being alone is not a natural state of affairs for a highly social animal such as a dog. But teaching your dog to stay home alone is no different to any other skill: do it gradually, with many practice sessions, until it becomes automatic.
What you are doing in fact is teaching your dog that you leaving = you returning. This is the 2 slices of bread part of the sandwich, your absence is the filling which you can add later. But first, your dog needs to know that there will always be a second piece of bread behind the filling.
The 3 P’s of how to successfully train your dog to be left:
1. Prevention. Don’t just go out and hope for the best. If your dog happens to be ok, then it’s fine. If your dog isn’t ok you’ve just created months of work to try and resolve the problem. You have no idea before you try it which kind of response you will get from your own hound, it’s just not worth the risk.
2. Preparation. Desensitise your dog to the various cues for you leaving – picking up your keys / phone / bag, putting on your coat (important to do this in summer too, otherwise come the autumn your dog suddenly has a new happening to get used to), applying lipstick / checking your hair in the mirror (if that’s what you do). And, of course, going out of the door and coming back. Remember: when you leave, you return. So there’s really nothing for your dog to worry about.
3. Practice. Really, just do it. Work through the above list multiple times, EVERY DAY. Put your dog in the place they will be left so they get used to it and give him / her a yummy food toy to unpack such as a stuffed Kong or filled bone. Go in and out of the house as if you are playing some kind of bizarre game, until your dog is not even looking up when you move.
4. After lots and lots and LOTS of practice, you can start increasing the amount of time you are outside the house by small increments. 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30… 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10… Once you can be outside for over 20 minutes (sit in the car if it’s cold and raining) without your dog being at all bothered (set up your computer / Go Pro to check your dog is calm) you are ready to venture further afield.
5. Finally, when it’s time for you to really go, no fuss. No sad faces, kissing or long goodbyes please. Just behave as you did on the training sessions. Make sure your dog is tired and toileted, give the Kong or other food toy in the usual place and leave. Keep your first absence short enough that your dog can’t tell the difference between the training scenario and really being left (30 mins to an hour should be fine).
Well done! You have successfully proofed your dog to be fine with being alone. Now you can start to extend the leaving time. Remember, young puppies need to toilet regularly and will sleep for shorter periods than older dogs, but as long as you increase the amount of “filling” gradually, your well-prepared 2 slices of bread will stand you in good stead for the rest of your dog’s life with you.
NB: If your dog is getting stressed at you leaving the room or going out of the front door please find a qualified behaviour consultant to help you. Home alone issues can be complex, but are also resolvable with professional advice and time. However, they inevitably get worse if not addressed so don’t imagine your dog will just “get over it” – they won’t.
(Image via: http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2008/12/carnegie-deli-pastrami-sandwich-nyc-mitosis.html)