Teaching your puppy to settle and to be home alone and happy is one of the most important steps in puppy training, though for many it is also the most overlooked! Dogs are naturally social animals and so being alone does not come naturally to them. Many owners find themselves frustrated as they are unable to go anywhere without company!
It is therefore our responsibility to help our puppies feel as calm and confident as possible while on their own. With some time and patience, you can have your puppy home alone and happy in no time!
Important note: Before discussing the training, it is important to note that puppy’s emotional state needs to come first. Many owners will try and get a jump start on separation training by practicing departures from the first day the puppy comes home. While this is a great idea in theory, it can lead to further distress as your puppy will feel confused and abandoned from the day they come home! Instead, when you bring a puppy home, for the first few months of your puppy’s life, you should focus on settling them in the space and ensuring they are happy and comfortable before being to leave them.
Step 1: Teaching Confidence Around Barriers
The first step of prepping your puppy for separation is getting your puppy confident around barriers. Having your puppy understand they cannot always have everything they want when they want it will help with not just separation training, but general frustration tolerance and impulse control.
Deciding where your puppy will be left is a crucial step in this process. Most puppy guardians will opt to leave their new puppy in a crate or pen when left, to prevent them from practicing destructive behaviour or toileting in the wrong place. Getting them comfortable in their crate will help to prepare them for eventual departures.
When looking to select your crate, you should opt for a crate that is big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down, but no larger. Though this may seem cruel, there is a practical reason for this! Puppies are taught by their mother at a young age not to toilet in their resting space, and so are less likely to toilet in their crate. If the crate is too large, they are likely to use half for sleeping and half as a toilet! If you want to buy a larger crate for your puppy to grow into, then using dividers to break down the space to help prevent this problem.
If you are planning to use a pen, then you can make this slightly larger. Giving your puppy a place to rest, a place to toilet and even some toys to play with are all acceptable in this space!
Encouraging your puppy to rest in their crate or pen at other times of day (with the door open if your puppy isn’t quite there yet!) will help to build positive associations that this is a place of rest. Giving them a stuffed kong to lick and chew in their pen will help accelerate process. While your puppy is resting or chewing, you can practice opening and closing the door to get them comfortable with this, while rewarding them for staying calm.
This can also be done around baby gates and doors. If your puppy is worried by you going to the bathroom, for example, you can scatter some treats outside the door while you are out. This keeps you puppy busy looking for treats while you slip in and out of the bathroom. If you are planning an activity that may take longer, such as getting changed or bathing, giving your puppy a kong or activity toy to do on the other side of the door will help to build up a positive association with you being on the other side of the door!