Teaching your dog how to be left alone
Right now, many of our children are returning to school and many of us are preparing for the most significant ‘return to normal’ since the Coronavirus pandemic began. Sadly, this also means a significant change for our pets too. After close to six months watching us work from home or having family and children around all the time, they are going to have to adjust to being left alone once more. And for pets like Murdock – the star of our puppy diaries blog series – they could be left alone for the first time ever. So it is important that you do some work with them first to ensure that they are happy and settled when you leave.
According to the RSPCA, some dogs are quite happy to be left alone for short periods – but others can become very distressed or even destructive when they are separated from their owners.
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Research has found that around 50% of all pet dogs have reacted badly to being left alone at some point during their lives. When dogs become destructive there is a popular conception that they are doing this as some sort of act of revenge on their owners for leaving them behind - either by destroying property or making noises to upset the neighbours - but this is simply not the case. In actual fact they are just exhibiting distress at being separated from you. This means that they may howl, bark, yelp, whine, relieve themselves indoors or start shredding things. And unless you find evidence of this behaviour or your neighbour tells you they were howling - it is possible that you won’t realise that your dog was distressed whilst you were out.
So how can you avoid distress and destruction? You can train your dog that everything is going to be OK! We’ve got some useful steps from the RSPCA to help you train your dog to be left home alone.
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Teaching your dog how to be left alone
Teaching your dog how to be left at home should be included as a very important part of your dog’s training. It will prevent any problems from forming so that your dog never becomes anxious when left alone and does not develop full blown separation anxiety, which can be harder to treat.
Before you begin training make sure you have plenty of time and that you are not going to be interrupted. It is a good idea to take your dog for a walk first and make sure that they have been to the toilet, so they won’t get distracted and will remain calm. Create a space at home where your dog is going to feel comfortable and secure, for example position their bed somewhere quiet and away from draughts.
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Step One: Start by encouraging your dog to go and sit or lie in their bed and stay there whilst you are in the room. Treat your dog and praise them for staying in their bed. If your dog has not been trained to stay in their bed before, you may wish to start by teaching your dog to settle. You may find our previous blog post on teaching your dog to settle a good place to start before you begin this stage of training.
Step Two: Ask your dog to stay in their bed and move away from them (within the same room). Return and give them a reward.
Step Three: Repeat this routine, moving progressively further away (within the same room) for longer periods of time. Every dog is different so build it up gradually depending on how your dog is progressing with their training. If your dog moves, don’t reward them – but NEVER punish them. Just go back a step and build it up gradually until they get it.
Step Four: Ask you dog to stay and leave the room for a moment, the return and reward your dog. Then try it again but shut the door behind you and stay outside for longer periods of time, Once your dog gets used to this and is staying nicely with no signs of distress, begin to vary the length of time that you are out of the room.
Step Five: Once you reach the stage where your dog is happy to be left for up to an hour it should be fine to leave them for longer periods.
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The key thing to remember when training your dog is that it should be a positive experience NEVER punish them - but treat them with rewards for positive behaviour and make positive associations with treats, toys and praise.
Every dog is different so work at a pace that suits your dog and be patient with them, don’t be afraid to go back a step or start over if they aren’t picking it up straight away. Don’t extend the training to the point that it becomes distressing for your dog. Regular exercise will help your dog to use up excess energy and lower their stress levels before you leave and if you have an active dog, try leaving them some toys to keep them busy when you’re out. If you believe that your dog is showing signs of serious separation anxiety, the RSCPA has more tips on their website to help you and your dog.
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Leaving your dog alone for the first time? Perhaps you’ve already done it and have some pro tips to share – let us know in the comments section below.