Regardless of how much we adore our dogs, we can’t always be around them. This is why, in addition to creating an amazing home for them, we have to make sure that we also help them be at ease when we’re not there. Of course, this is one of those things that’s much easier said than done, since being on their own can be very stressful for dogs, for some dogs, being left home alone can even lead to separation anxiety (click here for separation anxiety video).
Let’s see how you could help a dog like this German Shepherd Golden Retriever mix to settle by themselves.
First off, you have to make sure that your dog is able to feel relaxed when you are at home, but are not paying attention to him or her. For that, he or she should have their own bed or covered den, in a place where they won’t be distracted. Indeed, when you’re cooking, or doing some type of activity, give him or her a tasty food-release toy in their bed. By doing so a couple of times, they will learn to enjoy their bed when no one is paying attention to them.
Now, if they start following you around, this is perfectly normal, since dogs are social beings, after all, however they need to learn that they can't have your attention ALL of the time, so make sure you spend some time each day ignoring your dog, so that they learn to amuse themselves.
Move a Bit Further Away
Separation is something that can be taught, but it has to happen gradually, with plenty of patience. When your dog is calm and at ease, use baby gates across doorways to teach your little dog that it’s ok for you to be at a distance from them, and they don’t have to worry. Before going through the baby-gate, make sure you leave some treats spread out on the floor, or give them a toy. Stay away for short periods at first, and then gradually build up.
It is very important that if you see your dog becoming very anxious, you go back to leaving them for a shorter period of time. If the dog is not able to calm down at all, it may be a good idea to look for a qualified behaviourist for help.
The Big Step: Leaving Them Alone
Before leaving your pooch in the house, make sure to take them out for a walk to make sure that they’ve gone to the toilet and burned off some energy. Be sure to leave them with water and safe chew toys. It’s also a good idea to have your things all prepared, so that you can be both quick and calm when you’re leaving, so that the dog won’t pick up on your stressed energy and become stressed themselves.
Something else that can help a great deal is establishing a leaving routine, and incorporating a special phrase in it, that’s only used when you leave. Routine is crucial for helping your dog know what will happen next, and for helping them feel safe.
It’s also a good idea to make sure they have a food-release toy, or something that will keep them entertained for at least 15 minutes. The tastier, the better. Another great idea is leaving an old item of clothing that smells like you in their bed, so that they will have something to help keep them safe. Also, be sure to leave the radio or the TV on, to keep them distracted from outside noises.
Finally, it’s important to ensure that you’re not gone for a very long time the first couple of times. If you have a camera you can use to supervise them, that would be best. However, even if you don’t, try leaving for only 30 minutes the first time, and then gradually increasing the time you spend away from the house. When figuring this aspect out, it’s also very important to make sure that you take into consideration how long they can go before going to the bathroom.
Leaving your dog at home alone for the first time, can be quite a stressful experience for both of you. However, if you take care to prepare them for it ahead of time, this can become a more pleasant journey, which they can be eased into slowly. Patience is the key, however, since dogs are social beings, and they do prefer to be around humans as much as possible. Still, this doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to be happy for a while on their own.
For more advice on leaving your dog home alone, check out our videos on Canine Separation Anxiety