Learning how to handle being alone is difficult for a dog for they are not solitary animals. They therefore need to learn to cope with these instances which our inevitable with our lifestyles. Here is some useful advice for this tricky training.
Training a puppy to be alone is often a sensitive subject, because owners usually don’t appreciate the importance of this. This leads to a lot of failures. The owner must be confident, calm and sure of themselves in order for the dog to learn and understand quickly.
In towns and in apartments, dogs need to be able to be alone without howling and barking or showing other signs of upset (destruction, etc.). Someone who has never heard the howling of a puppy left alone in an apartment cannot understand the gravity of the situation!
You need to avoid this. And if approached by a neighbour complaining about noise, do not downplay the situation, it is unlikely that your neighbour has made it up.
Warn your neighbours when you buy a puppy: this will avoid any complaints in the first few days! And beware, just because you can’t hear your dog whimpering when you press your ear against the door for 3 minutes after leaving, doesn’t mean that he is silent for the rest of the day! CCTV shows that your dog can bark and howl at any time throughout the day in your absence.
You must understand the importance of this training, because, even if no one else has to hear your dog barking, he can still react negatively to being alone if he is not used to it. If he is not able to be alone, his anxiety will affect his behaviour and other disorders may appear (mutilation, destruction, depression). Dogs are social animals, so understanding loneliness is not innate.
When should you teach your dog to be alone?
Managing loneliness can be taught from the first day in the home. Naturally, the first days will be filled with discovering this new home but you must not get your dog used to being around people constantly.
It is especially important to teach a puppy to be alone if you get one during your holiday. Do not wait until you go back to work, this will be too much for him. If he has spent two weeks, constantly being around you and the family, he will react badly when all of a sudden the house is empty.
Training is progressive and you will go out for longer and longer periods of time to ensure this. At the start, absences should be very short, to reduce the chances of upsetting the dog.
It is essential that during training, you do not make your departure a ritual, that is to say, do not give him clear or repeated signs that you are about to leave him alone (such as looking for your keys, putting on your coat, making a fuss over him etc). Ensuring that you avoid making this a noticeable moment for the dog, is a key to success.
Initially it is important that the puppy does not sense that he will soon be left alone or nor that he sense your own anxieties. If the master himself feels guilty or afraid to leave the animal alone, the animal will show signs of anxiety before the actual departure, which will increase the guilt of the master and disrupt the process. The starting point of this vicious circle is the behaviour of the owner.
By placing importance on a situation that should be menial (the owner leaves and the dog remains alone), a double anxiety is created (that of the owner and of the animal). A dog is an emotional sponge, and the fear of owner just feeds their own fear.
Avoid, for example, filling the dog's bowl before leaving as if you’re not going to be back for a fortnight. He can wait until the evening to eat. The puppy will like that you are taking care of him with so much attention but then will be amazed and disappointed to see you go.
It's useless to stroke him like you’ll never see him again or to flood him with compliments. The feeling of abandonment will be much stronger after such a moment of tenderness. But you are not obliged to go on the sly, by skirting the walls! The dog must see you go.
The important thing is to maintain a balanced and natural tone that your dog can copy while he awaits your return.
You just have to plan your departure and not start, for example, a big game of fetch five minutes before leaving him alone. The simplest approach is not to pay much attention to him for the 15 minutes before leaving. Just leave him quietly in his corner.
Prepare your keys and coat in advance! This will stop you from searching and worrying the puppy at the same time. Take the dog out so he can tend to his needs before leaving, but not at the last minute! To avoid this turning into a "sign" of departure. This outing is useful for puppies who can not hold on very long.
Also be careful not to leave any fragile or dangerous objects within their reach.
However, do not hesitate to give him something to keep him busy: toys, objects to gnaw on, a basket to sleep in, etc. Dogs usually enjoy moments of solitude to rest, but puppies have frequent and intense needs for activity, and it is better that he channels his energy into some toys rather than your furniture!
Do not forget his need for activity
We often forget to mention it, but for a dog to stay calm in your absence, it is necessary that his needs are met elsewhere! And especially his need for socialising and activity: so do not forget to play with him and take him on plenty of long outings.
If his needs are not met, when left alone, he will combine the absence of his owners and a lack of activity which will increase the risk of unwanted behaviour.
To summarise, leaving a dog alone:
- Get him used to short absences as soon as possible
- Warn your neighbours about possible noise
- Ignore your dog for a short while before going out and upon your return (neutral attitude).
- Take your dog out in advance before leaving
- Let him see you leave
- Provide him with something to keep him busy
- When you are together, provide your dog with plenty of activity
- Taking a break from work to look after your puppy and failing to introduce him to life as normal
- Giving him signs of your imminent departure or ritualising your departure
- Locking him in a room
- Leaving secretly
- Opening windows