5 Tips To Train Your Dog To Be Home Alone
It is getting to that time where a lot of people are starting to head back to work. Whether it's for two or five days a week, many pet parents are leaving their dog alone at home for the first time in a long time or even ever. Because of this, I have had many of our clients ask me how to help them prevent separation-related behaviour. I decided to write a blog with some tips on exactly this topic, and I hope you find it helpful.
Some signs of separation anxiety in your dog
stress as you are getting ready to leave the home
overexcited when you return home
excessive barking or crying
your dog tries to escape as you leave your door
Tips to Teach Your Dog to be Alone at Home
1. Teach Your Dog 'Place'
Using the command 'Place' is so important for so many reasons, but in this case, we will use 'Place' to teach your dog it's ok to have space from you. Use 'Place' while you are home in the same room but with some distance between you. Start to do this regularly, so your dog learns that they are ok not always being attached to you and that you are going to come back. Once you have mastered using 'Place' while in the same room, start to challenge your dog by going into others areas or rooms in your home while they continue to hold their spot.
We have made a helpful chart at the end of this blog that you can use as a template to record your progress while teaching both 'Place' and also for when you begin to desensitize your dog to you leaving your home.
How To Teach Place
You don't need to use the word 'Place'; you can also use the word 'Bed' or 'Mat' or whatever you see fit!
Lure your dog over to your designated 'Place' area and when all four paws are on the mat, reward them with a treat and then ask them to 'Lie Down.' Practice this over and over again until your dog associates their mat with lying down. Remember to praise your dog and use treats every time they complete the 'Lie Down' on their mat. When your dog has made this association and will go to the mat and lie down automatically, you can introduce the 'stay' command. Have them hold or stay for 5 seconds at first, then 10, and so on and so forth. The more you do it, the better they will get at it.
2. Ignore Your Dog When You First Walk in The Door
This is a hard one because it can be so counterintuitive! If you are like me in the past, you want to get down and hug and kiss your dog when you get back to them. Unfortunately, this type of greeting is absolutely the wrong way to behave when we come home. We need to act calmly to teach our dogs to be calm. Only when our dog is calm should we reward them. We reward the behaviour that we want to see. Once they make the connection that certain behaviour is getting recognition, treats and affection, they will repeat it. The reason we do this is that we are trying to make our coming home and going away no big deal!
3. Don't Leave Your Dog Alone Too Long!
It's important to warm your dog up to being left alone. If you haven't been leaving them alone already during this last year, start with only short periods of time. As you have success with the short periods of time, you can increase their time left alone. When it gets time to leave your dog for the day while you are at work, hire a reputable dog walker to break up the day. Hiring a dog walker will help them to get their energy out and, in turn, help them to be calm while waiting for you to come home.
4. Leave Your Dog Something to Occupy Them
Whether it's a favourite toy or interactive game, we should leave our dog something fun for them to occupy their time while we are away. Make sure when you do this, it is something that they will not potentially chew up in pieces and swallow while you are away. Any toy that you leave your dog with should be a toy that you have safely observed them playing with previously. We always recommend to our Dog Walking Toronto clients to leave a frozen kong with yummy treats in the middle for after the walk. If we leave our dogs something fun for them when we leave, we will help to condition them to have a positive response when we leave.
5. Crate Train Your Dog
If you cannot trust leaving your puppy alone because they are a safety risk to themself and or your place, crate train your dog! For many dogs, crate training will help them to be calm, and they see it as a safe place for them to retreat. Having your dog be ok with being in the crate while you are home for short periods of time is also very helpful and similar to teaching them 'place.' Crate training, while you are home, will teach them that it's ok to have space from you. Make sure you always make this space a positive place for them to go. Do not ever use this as punishment; this is a happy space!
Read our Blog on Tips to Crate Train Your Dog
Because I love lists and writing things down, I made a worksheet to document your dog's progress and to help keep you focused on continually working at this until it's mastered. You can reprint and use the same worksheet for 'Place' and also for exiting the home. Remember, like anything, the best results come with regular repetition.