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Home Alone Training: How to Leave your Puppy Alone

Welcoming a new puppy into your home is an exciting and joyful experience. However, many new puppy owners may not be aware of the potential challenges associated with leaving their furry friend alone. One of the most common and debilitating conditions that can arise is separation anxiety. In this blog, we will explore the concept of separation anxiety and provide actionable tips to minimise the chances of your puppy developing it. We’ll discuss considerations for leaving your puppy alone and coming home to ensure they remain happy and confident.

Introduction to Home Alone Training

Starting home alone training early is crucial for new puppy owners. Proper training not only teaches your puppy to feel comfortable and secure when alone but also involves creating a safe environment to prevent injuries and protect your home from damage.

While home alone training covers various aspects, this article will focus on minimising the chances of separation anxiety, one of the most debilitating conditions that most pet owners want to avoid.

Separation anxiety in puppies is triggered by environmental stressors and can lead to destructive behaviour, excessive barking, and general distress when left alone. By implementing home alone training, you can significantly reduce the risk of your puppy developing this condition.

Brief on Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a complex behavioural issue that affects many dogs, regardless of breed or size. It is believed to be a genetic predisposition, triggered by environmental stressors and specific situations.

Scientists have not yet identified the exact stressors that lead to separation anxiety, but it is widely accepted that the irrational, phobia-like negative experience of being left alone plays a significant role. The anticipation gap—the difference between the negative experience of being left alone and the positive experience of being reunited—intensifies this negative experience.

In this article, we will focus on two main areas:

  1. Considerations for leaving your puppy alone at home and what to watch out for.
  2. Managing the positive association when you return home.

By addressing these areas, we aim to limit the stress your puppy experiences and reduce the likelihood of separation anxiety developing.

Anxiety when alone operates through the classical conditioning process, where your puppy begins to associate being left alone with a negative experience. The nature of this conditioning can cause negative associations to propagate if not addressed early on, leading to escalating levels of anxiety over time. On top of escalations of anxiety, it can also lead to anxiety of other things. Therefore, it is crucial to handle these situations with care to prevent long-term behavioural issues.

How to Limit Stress When Puppies Are Left Alone

Reduce Stressors When Alone

Reducing stressors is essential to prevent your puppy from associating being alone with anxiety. Puppies are naturally social and not independent, so it is crucial to monitor their behaviour when left alone.

If your puppy starts barking or showing signs of distress, it’s crucial not to let them endure stress for extended periods. Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to sensitisation and negative associations, potentially triggering separation anxiety. To prevent this, closely monitor your puppy’s behaviour and recognise when their distress signals are persistent and intense.

When you notice signs such as continuous barking, whining, or other indicators of significant stress, you must intervene promptly. Ending the alone time and providing comfort and reassurance can help alleviate their anxiety. Gradually work on increasing their tolerance to being alone while ensuring they do not reach a point of overwhelming distress. This approach will help them build confidence and reduce the risk of developing long-term anxiety issues.

Gradual Alone Time

One common mistake that handlers often make is introducing toys or treats as a way to distract the puppy from stressors, which only provides a temporary solution. This approach does not teach the puppy to handle stress on their own and can even create false security blankets. Instead, it is crucial to gradually expose the puppy to being alone in measured increments, and when signs of distress appear, pause the exposure to prevent prolonged stress and negative associations.

Start by leaving your puppy alone for short periods and gradually increase the duration. This approach helps your puppy acclimate to being alone without experiencing overwhelming stress. Monitor their behaviour closely during these sessions to ensure they are coping well.

Vary the Alone Time

Dogs are perceptive creatures. Ensure that the time when you practice them being alone is varied, so that they do not start to predict when you will be gone. Consistent and predictable routines can lead to anticipatory anxiety in puppies, which may exacerbate separation issues. By varying your departure and return times, you help prevent your puppy from developing patterns that trigger stress and anxiety.

When to Seek Professional Help

If the stress signals are displayed upon onset of leaving or immediately, and you suspect that separation anxiety has already developed, it is essential to take action promptly. Reach out to our CSAT Specialists for an assessment to determine the best steps for your pup. Our Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers (CSAT) are experienced in diagnosing and creating tailored training plans that address your puppy’s specific needs. By seeking professional help early, you can ensure a compassionate and effective approach to alleviating your puppy’s anxiety and promoting a healthy, balanced relationship with their alone time.

Please see our separate article for more details on what separation anxiety fear-based desensitisation protocols entail.

Limit the Excitement and Positive Association Upon Return

Avoid Overly Excited Greetings

One common mistake owners make is rewarding their puppy with excessive affection and excitement upon returning home. While it’s natural to be happy to see your puppy, this behaviour can increase the anticipation gap and contribute to higher levels of anxiety when they are left alone.

Maintain Calmness

When you return home, maintain a calm and composed demeanour. Greet your puppy gently and avoid overly enthusiastic reactions. This approach helps reduce the contrast between the emotions of being left alone and being reunited, minimising the anticipation gap.

Monitor, Assess, and Fine-Tune

Observe Behaviour

It is important to note that the causes of separation anxiety are not fully understood. The best we can do is limit the chances of it occurring by observing our puppy’s behaviour and making necessary adjustments.

Individual Differences

Keep in mind that some dogs may never develop separation anxiety, even under significant stressors. Conversely, some may experience anxiety despite all preventative measures. Recognising that separation anxiety is influenced by both nature and nurture is key.

Seek Professional Guidance

For more detailed information and personalised guidance, consider reaching out to our professional trainers to understand our puppy holistic development programme. They can provide insights tailored to your puppy’s specific needs and help prevent severe behavioural issues from developing in the future.

Explore our complete range of dog training services and discover how we can support you and your furry friend on your journey together!

Can You Sleep with Your Puppy?

Contrary to popular belief, sleeping with your puppy does not cause separation anxiety. Dogs that are securely attached to their owners can feel normal when left alone, while detached dogs may experience intense anxiety.

Can I Let My Puppy Bark It Out?

While it may be tempting to allow your puppy to bark it out, monitoring their behaviour is crucial. If your puppy stops barking after a short while and seems to settle down, it might be an indication that they are learning to cope with being alone. However, if the barking or other distress signals are prolonged, it is unlikely that your puppy will stop on their own. In such cases, allowing the distress to continue can lead to increased anxiety and potentially exacerbate separation issues.

When prolonged barking or distress is observed, it is necessary to intervene and end the alone time. Providing comfort and reassurance can help alleviate your puppy’s anxiety, making it critical to address these moments promptly. Gradually re-expose your puppy to being alone in short increments while closely monitoring their reactions. This balanced approach can help your puppy build confidence and resilience, ultimately reducing the risk of developing long-term anxiety problems.

Can I Give My Puppy Puzzle Toys When Alone?

Puzzle toys are an excellent way to stimulate your puppy’s mind and alleviate boredom when they are alone. These toys challenge your puppy to solve problems and keep them engaged, reducing the likelihood of destructive behaviour.

While puzzle toys address boredom, it is essential to monitor your puppy for signs of stress. Being sufficiently stimulated does not mean that anxiety is absent. Watch for any signs of distress and adjust their environment or routine accordingly.

Does Crate Training Alleviate the Risk of Separation Anxiety?

Crate training helps your puppy feel comfortable and safe in a confined space. It can be a useful tool for house training and providing a secure area for your puppy to relax.

However, crate training alone does not address separation anxiety. The two behaviours—being comfortable in a crate and being comfortable when alone in the house—are distinct and need to be addressed separately.

Use crate training in conjunction with home alone training to ensure your puppy feels secure in various scenarios. This holistic approach helps build their confidence and reduces anxiety.

Should I Ensure That My Puppy Is Never Alone?

Avoiding alone time entirely is not advisable. Puppies need to experience gradual increments of stress to build resilience. The key is to find a balance between exposing them to manageable stress and ensuring they do not become overwhelmed.

Gradually increasing alone time helps your puppy realise they can handle being alone. This process builds their confidence and reduces the likelihood of developing separation anxiety.

Monitor your puppy’s reactions to being alone and adjust the duration accordingly. Controlled exposure helps them adapt without becoming excessively stressed.

Should I Leave the TV or Radio On?

Leaving the TV or radio on may seem like a good idea, but it is not effective in preventing anxiety when alone. Dogs are highly perceptive and can distinguish between the presence of a human and background noise.

Your puppy will still experience anxiety if they are left alone, even with the TV or radio on. Genuine human presence is what provides them with comfort and security.

Conclusion

Separation anxiety prevention in puppies is essential for their well-being and harmonious living with their human family. By understanding the triggers of separation anxiety and implementing home alone training, new puppy owners can significantly reduce the risk of this condition developing.

Remember to reduce stressors when your puppy is alone, maintain a calm demeanour upon return, and monitor their behaviour closely.

For further guidance and support, reach out to our professional trainers who can provide tailored advice for your puppy’s specific needs. By taking these proactive steps, you can ensure your puppy grows into a confident, well-adjusted dog capable of handling alone time without anxiety.

For more tips and resources on puppy training and care, stay tuned to our blog and don’t hesitate to reach out for personalised assistance. Together, we can create a happy, stress-free environment for your furry friend.

Picture of Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster has trained various species in zoos, rehabilitated companion animals, and championed animal welfare standards. He represented Singapore in the Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group, focusing on amphibian care and conservation. Now, his main focus is in canine fitness and conditioning as well as essential canine skills.

Picture of Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

With over a decade of study in the animal behaviour and welfare sciences, Qiai earned her Masters from the University of Edinburgh and has since devoted herself to the welfare and behaviour of pets. She has worked as an animal behaviourist since, and her expertise lies in addressing pet behavioural issues such as fears, phobias, anxiety and aggression.

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