Puppy adoption rates skyrocketed during the pandemic. Now, dog owners who spent most of their puppies’ first months home with them are returning to work. But before you do that, you need to train your puppy to enjoy alone time.
Doing so will ease your puppy’s fears, which will reduce stress for both of you!
Before you decide how to train your puppy, you need to learn what motivates your puppy.
Know your puppy to teach alone time
For food-motivated dogs like Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers, treats work best as rewards.
But if your dog isn’t food motivated, you can try other techniques. Instead of food, try using play or praise. If your dog is nervous, try using sound, a cozy place, or toys to distract him.
Puppies, like children, are curious. They like to put everything in their mouths, so before you leave your puppy alone, take time to puppy-proof his space. If you leave your puppy alone, it’s essential to ensure he can’t be injured.
That means although it might seem like a good idea to leave your puppy with plush toys or blankets, that could be dangerous if your puppy still chews on everything.
Putting your puppy in a crate will ensure your puppy won’t fall down the stairs or get into something that could cause injury.
Feed meals in a safe space
Before you leave your puppy home alone, let your puppy spend time alone while you’re still home. Puppies who are used to spending time with their people can struggle when left alone.
Put your dog in a safe area. You can use an exercise pen, a crate, or a small room like a bathroom.
Feed your puppy in that space, so he learns it’s a safe, fun space. If you’re using a small room, you can try playing with your puppy there.
Let your puppy have access to the safe space at all times. That way, the puppy won’t associate it with punishment or being left alone.
Give your toys special toys or treats that he only gets in his safe space.
Once your puppy willingly goes to the safe space on his own, you can start alone time training.
Start using your puppy’s safe space
Before leaving the puppy alone, put him in the safe space with a chew toy or other interactive toy. Options include a Kong filled with peanut butter or a lick mat covered with pumpkin or banana.
Freeze the Kong or the lick mat after you add food. Then when you give it to your puppy, the treat will last longer. If your puppy is teething, the cold will ease the pain.
Use chew toys or interactive puzzle toys if your dog isn’t food-motivated.
After you give the puppy a treat or toy, calmly leave the room.
Wait a minute, then return and give your puppy a treat and quiet praise. Repeat the process, leaving the puppy for longer periods each time.
You want the puppy to know you’ll always come back. Start with two to five minutes and work up to an hour or two.
Monitor your puppy during alone time
If your puppy cries, don’t just let the puppy out. If you do, that teaches the puppy that whining will bring you back and release him.
Wait until your puppy calms down, then go in and give your dog a treat or quiet praise.
If your puppy consistently panics about being left alone, go back to feeding meals or playing with the puppy in the safe space and shorten the time you leave the puppy alone.
If your puppy panics, it likely means you left him alone for too long.
You want to use alone time to teach your puppy to be confident and happy.
Never use your puppy’s safe space as punishment.
Entertain your puppy during alone time training
Once your puppy is comfortable staying alone, give your puppy a food toy or a chew toy when you put him in your crate. Never leave your puppy alone with a toy that he could eat or destroy to prevent choking risks.
If possible, place the crate near a door or window or turn on the radio or TV to provide background noise.
Don’t use blankets or towels in the dog’s crate if he still chews on them. Instead, use a crate mat.
If your puppy struggles with being in a crate, consider using a playpen or gate to create a bigger safe space. That will let your puppy have more room to move around or play.
You can still use food toys, chew toys, or another active toy, to keep your puppy busy.
Don’t feel guilty about leaving your dog in a smaller space. There’s no reason to let your dog have a full run of your house.
Just remember to keep the safe space relatively small. If your puppy has room to go potty without getting his bed or blankets dirty, he’ll be more likely to do so.
If you have a small room like a mudroom, laundry room, or bathroom, you can also use that to create a safe space for your puppy. Consider using a relaxation system or a radio to provide background noise. Make sure you remove any items from the room that could be dangerous for your pup.
Final thoughts on teaching alone time
If you must leave your puppy alone, remember it still has a tiny bladder and will need regular potty breaks. In general, puppies younger than 10 weeks need to out about once an hour, according to the American Kennel Club.
As your puppy ages, it can spend more time alone. Dogs 10 to 12 weeks old need potty breaks every two hours. By three months, dogs can wait three hours, and after six months, dogs need to go out every six hours. Even adult dogs can’t wait more than six to eight hours without being able to go outside.
If you can’t come home to let your puppy out, get help from a neighbor or a dog walker.
Don’t rush training alone time. Doing so will be stressful for your puppy and you. Use these tips and be patient. If you stay calm, your puppy will follow your lead.
Sara B. Hansen has spent the past 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching Dog’s Best Life in 2011. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Her previous dogs: Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ [email protected].