I’ll be home soon

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One of the most common canine behaviour problems is being left “home alone.” Dogs are social animals; they enjoy company and dislike being alone. However, in today’s world it isn’t practical to spend every minute with your dog they have to spend time alone.  We must teach our dogs to be happy to be alone to avoid serious problems.

Dogs are often labelled with separation anxiety; when actually the majority of time this probably isn’t the case. Anxiety is a serious disorder and most dogs don’t have any anxiety when left alone. They are either bored with excess energy to burn which they do by chewing, digging, barking etc…and they probably only do this when the owner is absent because the dog has learned that if he does this when you are their he gets into trouble; but when you’re not their he his having fun, dogs don’t come knowing that humans don’t like their possessions being destroyed. A dog often misbehaves in your absence because you have tried to stop normal and natural dog behaviours with punishment, instead of teaching your dog what is and what isn’t acceptable in the house. Often the label “separation anxiety” is an excuse for a dog that hasn’t been trained.

The earlier you begin, to teach your dog to be happy home alone the better. The following is easier with a puppy but you can also follow the same procedure with an older dog.

Having a dog is not a part time hobby you can’t just unplug him and pop in the cupboard, when you have to do non-doggy things such as go to work or do the food shopping. A new puppy needs lots of attention (companionship, education, and play), but he must be taught how to entertain himself when you are not there. You must teach him to settle down and be happy at home on his own. Otherwise, spending time by himself is not only going to be a very lonely place it is also going to be a stressful place. Right from the start, even when you are home make frequent quiet time alone moments, part of your dog’s daily routine. When you can’t give your puppy your full attention for example, when you're watching TV or cooking dinner, have your pup lie down on lead or in his crate, release him for short play-training or toilet breaks around every half an hour. For a young puppy, you can't have too many rules.

When playing with your pup, have him settle down quietly for short breaks every one or two minutes. Initially have the pup stay still for a few seconds before letting him play again. After a minute, interrupt the play session once more with a three-second settle-down. Then try for four seconds, then five, eight, ten, and so on. Getting your puppy to settle down quietly when playing is hard at first but if you are persistent and patient your puppy will soon learn to settle down quickly and happily. They will learn that being asked to settle down is not the end of the world, or the end of the play session, but is just part of the game and the quicker you settle down the quicker the fun play starts again.

If you teach your puppy to be calm and settle when told, you will have years of fun and excitement together. Alternatively, if you let your dog play indiscriminately as a puppy, he will no doubt want to play indiscriminately as an adult. He will become hyperactive and uncontrollable because you have taught him to act that way. He will be hard work as a puppy and he will be out of control as an adolescent, leading to a lifetime of isolation at home instead of going out and having a good time with the family.

Give your puppy plenty of toys whenever leaving him on his own. Chew toys that you can fill with their dinner such as Kongs and busy buddys are an excellent idea. If your puppy is happily being rewarded for chewing his toy by food falling out, he will learn to enjoy spending time chewing his toys and not yours and because he is occupied chewing he won’t worry that he is by himself.

Background noise such as a radio or the TV can also help. The sound will provide white noise to cover outside noises. The sound of a radio or TV is also reassuring, since it is normally associated with your presence.

Make leaving and returning to the house as calm and boring as possible, don’t make you coming and going a big deal. When you walk out of the kitchen to the living room, do you bid a fond, emotional goodbye to your dog? I wouldn’t have thought so. Therefore, act as if you are just leaving the kitchen when you leave or come home.

Teaching your puppy to enjoy time alone in his own safe area, whether that is a crate or a dog bed for short amounts of home alone time or a larger puppy proof area for longer home alone times when you are at home, prepares your puppy to be happy when you are actually away from home. Never spending time away from your puppy when you are at home quickly encourages him to become overly dependent. This is the main cause of dogs becoming anxious when left home alone.

Teach your puppy to enjoy his own company and to develop self-confidence. Once your dog is confident, independent and trained, he can enjoy free range of your house and garden for the rest of his life.

 

Summary

·         Although socialisation is very important, puppies also need to spend time alone.

·         Puppies should spend time alone when you are home to prevent an association of being locked away only when you leave home.

·         With a new puppy they should be gradually introduced to longer and longer periods alone. Don’t leave young puppies alone for long periods of time.

·         Even adult dogs new to a home shouldn’t experience significant time alone in the first few days. Again, gradually build up the amount of time spent alone.

·         Teaching a puppy to be comfortable when home alone will initially involve confinement in a crate for short amounts of time or in a puppy proof area if you are going to be away longer than an hour. This will stop them chewing on things they shouldn’t or going to toilet in places that they shouldn’t.

·         They will show less anxiety if they spend their time alone in areas that are familiar to them.

·         Give your puppy a food-stuffed toy every time he is confined or left alone, this will keep him occupied for the first critical half an hour or so while you are gone.

·         Hide treats and toys in his confinement area for positive associations with the area.

·         Arrivals and departures from the house should be calm and nonchalant. Avoid high arousal and elaborate hellos and goodbyes, leave these for play sessions once you have been home awhile.

 

·         Teach your dog a settle cue. A dog that will listen to you and settle when told is a dog that you can spend quality time with anywhere.

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