Bringing home a new puppy can be so daunting! There is a laundry list of things to worry about, and often times alone time training isn’t at the forefront of our minds. But it is very important to help your puppy get into the flow of being left alone, even if you are working from home or retired. Practicing leaving helps them learn that every time you go out you always come back! I recommend clients start with the activities below in the first week.
To be clear, what we are talking about is setting your non anxious puppy up for success. If your puppy or dog is already afraid of being left alone you will want to work with a qualified trainer. You can reach out to me directly or another qualified separation anxiety trainer. So if you just brought home a puppy and want to know how to help them get comfortable being left alone, read on!
Prepare: There are things we can do that help our puppies respond better to the training. Make sure they are all played out, sleepy (but not asleep), they have eaten, and have also emptied their bladder. It also helps to have a pet cam set up so you can see how they do without you!
Have realistic expectations. Do not bring home an 8 week old puppy and expect to go back to work the next day. In fact, I encourage people to take 7-10 days off when at all possible. Whether you are adopting from a rescue or bringing home a dog from a breeder most of the time puppies have never been away from their littermates at 8 weeks old. Their entire life has just been upended and moving to a new home is stressful especially if there was a long drive or a trip on an airplane to get there. It will take a few days for their stress levels to return to normal. Take the first week to get to know your puppy, build trust, and take things at their pace. They are just learning that this new place is permanent and you are here to stay!
Play Peekaboo. If your puppy is fresh out of a litter chances are they really have never been alone before, and it is perfectly normal for this to be a little scary to them! Start with an easy game of peekaboo. Have your puppy safely in a play pen and go out of sight just for a couple of seconds before returning. Practice this until your puppy is comfortable with this game.
Play hide and seek. Once your puppy is comfortable with peekaboo you can play a game of hide and seek! Start by hiding in a place that is easy for them to find you. If they don’t find you quickly and start to get worried just call out to them and let them follow your voice to find you. You can gradually increase the difficulty of your hiding spot. When they find your hiding spot you can reinforce them with some cuddles and praise.
Desensitize to the door you normally exit through. You can work on this right away. Have your puppy somewhere that they can see the door but will be unlikely to be able to rush out. So in a play pen or behind a gate is recommended. You can work through steps like walking towards the door, turning the lock, opening it a crack and closing it, standing on the other side of the door, and leaving just for a second or two. It’s important to only increase the difficulty as your dog is ready. So do each step 10x or as long as it takes for your dog to be unfased by it.
Practice Departures. So if you’ve been working through steps 1-4 and your puppy is doing well you are ready to practice departures! I generally recommend people start with small departures around day 5 of their puppy being in the home. Leave through the main exit door and use the schedule below. You don’t need to do these all at once! Randomly practice throughout the day. It’s really helpful to have a camera set up for these.
Go out of the door for:
30 seconds, then come back and go out again for
1 minute, then come back and go out again for
1 minute 30 seconds, then come back and go out again for
3 minutes, then come back and go out again for
5 minutes, then come back and go out again for
If your puppy shows any signs of fear or anxiety at any point come back.
Always make sure that you are going at your puppies pace! Dogs will never love it when we leave, but we can help them feel like it's no big deal. If your dog is showing signs of anxiety like excessive vocalization, howling, heavy panting, drooling, pacing, destructive behavior or accidents then you may want to work with a specialist to help you create a plan tailored to helping your dog feel safe with alone time.
Want some one on one support navigating alone time with your puppy?