The Coronavirus lockdown has been a great time to enjoy the company of your dog while working from home. You may even have adopted a new puppy to keep you company in these trying times. Dogs, being the social animals that they are, will quickly have adjusted to having your company all day. However, as restrictions ease you may need to return to the office more frequently and need to leave your dog home alone. Unfortunately, if you suddenly leave them alone for long periods, you may find that they engage in unwanted behaviours, like chewing furniture, digging up the yard, or incessantly barking. So you will need to take some time to train your dog to be home alone and help them to transition to a new way of life.
Train your dog to be home alone
Here are some simple tips to make the transition easier for you and your best friend.
Greater periods of separation
Start by going out for a short time to get your dog used to periods of separation. Make sure that everyone in the family sets off together. At first, you can go outside for a few minutes, before coming back. Then gradually increase the length of time that you are separated from your dog. Perhaps a quick walk around the block or a short trip to the shops.
Then gradually extend the length of time that the whole family is away at each outing. Until you are able to comfortably leave your dog alone at home for a few hours at a time.
If your dog is particularly anxious when you all leave the house, provide them with some distractions. Perhaps you can keep their favourite toy aside and bring it out as you leave. Or look at hiding some treats in a suitable toy to divert their attention while you make your exit.
In addition, look for toys that can provide ongoing enrichment while you are away, like puzzle toys. You may also want to rotate the selection of toys available so that your pup feels like there is something ‘new’ to play with each time you head off.
Relatively recent research is also showing the benefit of music in calming dogs in shelters. Leave the radio on or play some of your favourite music so that your dog doesn’t feel quite so alone while you are at work.
Slowly does it
Make it a priority to keep your dog calm when you are about to leave the house. Ensure that you have prepared everything you need to take along with you. You don’t want to be rushing around to find your keys, or racing in and out of the house looking for your spectacles and bits of computer gear when its time to leave.
A relaxed demeanour and measured pace on your part will help to signal to your dog that all is well in his world. In addition, be prepared to spend some time to settle an anxious pooch before you finally leave them home alone.
Mimic your routine
In the training phase, make a point of doing the same things that you would do when you normally leave for work. Mimic your usual routine of packing up your lunch, gathering your spectacles, wallet, and keys, and picking up your jacket and computer bag as you get ready to go.
Then depart via the door that you would normally go through to go to work. Whether that is front door, side door, or garage. This way, your dog will become accustomed to the cues that mean you are leaving. Don’t make a fuss of your dog, just quietly gather your things and head off.
A happy place
When you train your dog to be home alone it helps them to have a happy place they can spend time in. This is their safe space where they feel relaxed and secure. For some pups this may be a crate, for others, a specific room in the house, or a section of the yard that they particularly enjoy. Their happy place will be filled with familiar smells and contain some of their favourite items. Those may be blankets or toys, or an old T-shirt covered in your smell.
If you are leaving your dog inside, you may need to use baby gates to control the areas that they can access. This way you avoid accidents on carpets and prevent them from barking hysterically through the windows. Reducing their line of sight with triggers for barking (e.g. passers-by, other dogs, and cars) can also help keep them calm throughout the day.
Try to include the area where your dog would normally sleep within the happy place you are making. This will have positive connotations for your dog as it is a place of rest, relaxation, and contentment.
Remember that this is a step by step process to train your dog to be home alone. You will need to build their resilience over a period of time. Ideally, initially, you will practice leaving your pup alone multiple times in a day for short periods. Then as their comfort level with the process grows, you can build up to fewer occasions of being alone, but leave them for a longer duration.
Start with a workout
In the ideal world, the best way to prepare your dog to be home alone is to give them a physical and/or mental workout not long before you leave. If possible, a fast-paced walk, a very energetic playtime, or a focused training session to start the day will help you to tire out your dog. Making them more relaxed and more likely to want to sleep once you set off for work.
With social distancing reducing the capacity on public transport, and more cars on the road, your travel time to work may have increased considerably. So this may not be a practical solution for you. You may need an alternative entertainment or stimulation plan.
A new entertainment plan
While the tips to train your dog to be home alone are simple enough, things may not always work out that way. You may be expected to go back to working in the office at short notice, or your puppy may be more anxious than anticipated and struggle to adjust. So you may have to adapt and develop a new entertainment plan.
If you aren’t able to spend a lot of time with your pup, consider utilising a dog sitter to help you to manage the time that they spend alone. A professional pet minder should have plenty of dog behaviour experience. They can break up the day with personalised visits to entertain and stimulate your pet. Keeping them content while you are work and giving you peace of mind when you cannot be home.
Another good solution, especially if your dog has enjoyed multiple, regular walks during this period of isolation, is a professional dog walker. You can schedule a walk during the day, which can complement the training you have already invested in and break up the day for your pooch. The walk will maintain their health and exercise routine, provide stimulation, and help burn off stress hormones like cortisol and stimulate positive hormones like serotonin.
In addition, your dog will be tired out from the activity and sleep well after a good walk, making them less likely to engage in destructive or unwanted behaviours. A dog minder and dog walker also offer you the convenience of having someone come to your home.
Another option may be to consider doggie daycare, however, you will need to factor in how you manage the pick up and drop off times for your pet as you transition back to work.
A short note on separation anxiety
Despite your best efforts to train your dog to be home alone, they may still suffer from separation anxiety. This may include incessant barking while you are out, pacing and drooling when they think you are going to leave, or chewing inappropriate items or toileting in the house when they didn’t do this before.
You can read more suggestions on separation anxiety from dog whisperer Cesar Milan.
Back to normal
I trust you have found these tips to train your dog to be home alone to be useful. All that remains is to wish you and your dog an easy transition back to a new normal following the lockdown. Stay safe and have fun.