Specific Puppy Challenges

How to Teach Your Puppy to Stay Home Alone

Dogs are pack animals, so it’s not in their nature to be all alone. They love to be together with others, doing their jobs as trusted companions who bring you joy and a better life. People buy puppies to be with them and return some of this love. However, even if we don’t want to, there will be times when you must leave your new puppy alone. Here I’ll tell you how to best teach this to your puppy. I’ll cover the following:

What to do in the first week
How to use a dog yard in this training
How to use a crate in this training
How to train this not using a crate or a dog yard
The actual training: The Slow Process of Teaching Your Puppy That You Leave, But You Return
Make the time fly for your puppy
What to do if nothing helps
Things you should absolutely not do
To sum it all up
Will you help me?

If you don’t teach your puppy to be home alone, it will be much harder to leave her. You’ll be sad to go, and she’ll be frightened and probably make a mess. And your neighbors will surely know that you now have a puppy because of her crying in fear and frustration.

So, you need to work on this right from the day you get your puppy. This way you’ll be able to leave your puppy alone without any heartaches. Teaching your puppy that you may sometimes leave, but will always return can bring both you and your puppy peace of mind. And your neighbors will appreciate it, as well.

What to do in The First Week

Remember, when you bring your puppy home, you’ll take her away from her family. While there, she was never alone, but always with her mother, and probably also with some siblings. And puppies are not meant to be alone at this early age, even if you wait to pick her up when she is eight weeks old. Of course, your puppy will not be alone. You and your family are there for her. And actually this is when you start to build a good foundation on which your training will be build, also your teaching her to stay home alone.

In the first couple of days, she’ll need to get to know you all. So take it slowly during the first few days. Let her get to know her new home and you. It’s important that she feels at home and secure in her new base. One way you can make this change so positive is to give the breeder a small blanket or a pillow for the puppy to sleep in and play with for at least a week before you pick her up. Bring it home with you when you pick her up.

When she goes to sleep the first night, she can sleep in a smell she knows and loves. If it is too late to do this, ask the breeder if they might have something you can borrow or have. It is essential that your puppy feels secure and safe with you, especially the first important days. You do this by keeping her a bit to yourself. Of course, you may want to avoid having a big party for the first few days.

Then you start socializing your puppy to make her confident and robust. Here you’ll see my recommendations on how to do this. These recommendations are important because they will boost your puppy’s confidence. This way, she’ll not be frightened as easily when you have to leave her alone for a while.

Also, by socializing your puppy, you must teach her that you will not always be right next to her, but even if you leave, you’ll always come back. This is big news for her, so you must teach her this as soon as she has settled down.

Follow these simple steps to get started:

  • Begin by walking out of the room and closing the door.
  • Stay behind the closed door for three to five seconds and then return. Avoid making a fuss about it, neither walking out or coming back. Just say, “I’ll be gone a second” or something like that. Pick a line you like, because you need to stick to this sentence every time you leave your puppy to teach her that you go, but you always come back.
  • Repeat this once or twice a day, and as your puppy gets used to it, you can prolong the time you stay away as long as she is calm about it.

However, you must also teach her to be alone for an extended period of time. You can do this in more ways than one, so keep reading to find out what I recommend.

Before you leave your puppy alone, make sure you meet all her basic needs first. That means she is not hungry, you have taken her out to run and to do her business, and she is now calm and relaxed. Let her settle down before you leave, or else the contrast from playing and being outside will probably be too big.

Remember to leave her water at all times. Now you can leave her alone, but only when you have trained her for it. Also, you can choose to do so using a dog yard or crate, or simply leaving her alone in the house.

How to Use a Dog Yard in This Training

If you are fortunate enough to have a dog yard for your dog, this is the place for your puppy and grown dog when you are away, as long as it’s not too cold or hot outside. And be sure your puppy can always find shelter and shade, as well as fresh water in her dog yard.

Even if your puppy is outside, she’ll still be limited. And it will always be a challenge if you don’t teach your puppy to love the dog yard. In much the same way as you teach a puppy to love her crate, introduce the dog yard slowly. Don’t just put her inside and leave.

In the beginning, stay inside with her reading a book or doing something with the door open. Give her time to get used to the place. Then, slowly let her run and play inside the dog yard without you in it. Eventually close the door, just for a short while in the beginning, extending it for a longer and longer time, much like when training your puppy to stay in the crate. You are now ready to teach your puppy that you will leave her, but you will always return – more about this later.

How to Use a Crate in This Training

Most puppies love their crate if you properly introduce it to them. You simply need to teach your puppy that their crate is the place for her to feel good. It will often be a place for her to get treats, bones and praise. But, more importantly, it will be a place for her to rest and feel secure. It will become her den. Here I’ll teach you how to teach your puppy to love her crate.

When you have introduced the crate as your puppy’s new den, it will be natural for your puppy to stay there when you are away. It’ll also help her to learn not to pee and poop inside the house since she’ll hold it rather than soil her own den. So, the crate will be the perfect place for you to leave your puppy when you go out for a short while, like an hour or two.

Importantly, you can’t just leave your puppy or grown dog inside a crate for hours. So if you must leave your puppy for a longer time, arrange for someone to take her for a walk, and also she’ll need to go out to pee. However, you must first teach her that even though you go, you’ll get back again – I’ll get back to this later.

But when your puppy gets older, she’ll be able to hold it and will not need to go out to pee during your workday. So, it will be wise also to teach your puppy to stay home alone outside the crate, yet inside your house.

How to Train This Not Using a Crate or a Dog Yard

Not using a crate or a dog yard means you’ll leave your puppy alone in the house. However, letting your puppy run around the whole house when you leave her isn’t a good idea. The reason is that she’ll have more rooms to search for you in, and more rooms to get into trouble in, too. However, no puppy is the same, so you might find that your puppy relaxes best this way and most grown dogs will probably prefer this.  

Choose a room where your puppy likes to rest and where her crate or bed is. You should isolate her in this room by closing the door or by using a baby gate or dog fencing. This is instead of using a crate for alone time. So, you should create a safe pen for your dog to stay in or create a dog-safe room. That way, you can be sure your puppy won’t get in trouble at home.

To make the final decision on using a safe pen, a room or all the house, find out how your puppy will react. However, before you know this, you need to train your puppy to stay alone. For now, you are ready to start the slow process of teaching her that you may go, but you will also come back.

The Actual Training: The Slow Process of Teaching Your Puppy That You Leave, But You Return

No matter if you use a dog yard, a crate or just leave her inside your home, what comes next is the same:

  • Ask your puppy to lie down and stay. In the beginning, keep it short and then reward her for it.
  • Once she masters that, ask her to stay down for a longer period of time. Soon, your puppy will learn that there is value in relaxing when you ask her to.
  • When your puppy relaxes, start leaving her alone and out of sight by exiting the room where your puppy is in or outside her crate. If your puppy is not in the crate, close the door or gate/fence as you leave the room.
  • Come back shortly afterward, but leave more than once. In the beginning, you just stay away for a brief period. As always when you leave, don’t make a big fuss about leaving or coming back. Just act as if this is the most natural thing in the world.

Perhaps your puppy will find it exciting when you leave. Or, she may get sad when you’re not with her, even to the extent that she’ll bark, cry, whine or howl. Even if it’s heartbreaking and what you want to avoid, it’s extremely important you don’t go back if your puppy acts out.

If you go back when she barks, cries or acts out in any other way, she’ll think it was what she did that brought you back. And, she’ll keep on doing this every single time you leave. So, what should you do if she cries? You’ll need to listen closely for a break, even so tiny. And at that precise moment, return as if nothing has happened and as if you have not heard her.

And the next time you leave, make sure to get back before she cries again. Now it’s time to repeat, repeat, repeat. Every time you train this, try to leave her alone for a bit longer one or two of the times you go, as long as she is calm about it. If you use a dog yard, just prolong the time away and eventually, you’ll get there.

However, training inside your home when leaving the room to go to another room works, but you are only halfway there. Eventually, you must also leave your home and exit your front door. And, this might be a whole new situation for your puppy.

Don’t leave your home to train until she is used to you leaving the room calmly and without much notice of your absence. The first time you train this, open and close the front door a couple of times without leaving. And then return to your puppy as if nothing has happened. Repeat this a couple of times a day.

This way, the sounds relating to leaving mean that you are actually gone. By getting her used to those sounds, she will be calm when she hears the front door open and close. However, you also need to step outside eventually. The first couple of times you do this, stay outside the front door and listen. If she starts crying, remember that you must not react to this.

Wait for her to be quiet for a short while and then get back. Even if she doesn’t react, go back inside after five minutes or so in the beginning. Again, you must repeat, repeat, repeat until your puppy knows that when you leave, you will come back. In the end, leave your home for more than just five to 10 minutes.

To know how she’s coping the first time you leave for a while, talk to your neighbors about it and ask them to listen for you. This will also show them that you are training your puppy to be alone at home. Your neighborly relations will benefit from this, as well, if your puppy starts to cry despite your efforts.

You can also set up a camera or baby monitor and follow everything yourself from a distance. However, you should still talk to neighbors to let them know what you are working on, just in case your puppy cries a bit. Perhaps you’ll even find a partner for looking after your puppy or take her for walks when you are away.

It’s important to realize, like all training, this is a process, so it will take time. Try not to be tempted to rush it. Make sure your puppy understands everything she needs to do before moving further. You might have to stay longer at one or more steps than others, and that’s okay. No puppies are alike, so observe yours and move forward at the pace that fits your puppy best.  

Make The Time Fly For Your Puppy

Once you leave your puppy alone for a longer time, some distractions will help her to “forget” about you. So, it is a great idea to give your puppy something to work on when you leave. Even if it doesn’t last the entire time you are away, it’ll take your puppy’s mind off the fact you have left. And chances are, she’ll fall asleep when she finishes with whatever you gave her.

You can leave your puppy with toys and chew things. Make sure to reserve a toy or a chew thing your puppy really likes. Give this to her to make the distraction bigger. It should not be the same toy or chew thing every time. Take notice of what your puppy likes for now, and take it away a day or two before you leave.

That’ll make her even more excited when you “find it,” and then give it to her. Also, make sure that whatever you give her is strong and safe, so she won’t chew it apart and swallow any chunks. Provide a stuffed Kong toy or something similar when leaving her alone. She’ll know what is coming and may even run to her dog yard or her crate in happy anticipation to the challenge and treats she’ll get.

Stuff the kong with some of her food and treats. Next, seal it with pâté or soft dog food and place it in the freezer. This will ensure she has to work to get the treats and it’ll take her longer to get the filling out. Your puppy may be so completely consumed by this treat, she may not notice you leaving at all.

Although most young dogs will not sleep all the time you’re away, they’ll relax and play with a toy or perhaps even better, a food puzzle of some sorts. Whether it’s a dog yard, crate or in one room, it is up to you to decide what works best for your puppy. So, observe your puppy by hiding somewhere inside or outside your house or via a camera. Remember, some dogs prefer less room to roam when home alone, while others feel more comfortable with more space.

Some dogs love to watch the world outside and can sit quietly and relax, while it stresses others. And this is important to know so you can choose a room without windows, or draw the curtains open. In the same way, some dogs find the TV or radio soothing, while others find the noise more stressful.

Watching your dog will also reveal how your puppy acts with free range to your stuff. If you notice that your puppy is chewing on your furniture, you can return before she does any damage. However, your puppy might find her chewing behavior makes you come back sooner, so she will repeat it.

But now that you know your puppy shouldn’t have access to your furniture, she won’t be able to repeat it, and you can save your furniture. If you don’t stop it, she could grow the habit of destroying things, and this is not the way to go. When leaving for a short while, the best thing to do is use a dog yard when the weather allows or a crate. If you have to leave for a longer time, choose a dog-safe room.

Some dogs do better in a window-free room, as well. If your dog likes it, turn the radio on and tune it to play some soothing, classical music. Leaving the radio on with relaxing music often helps your puppy settle down because she won’t hear so many outside noises to disturb her.

Most grown dogs can run freely around the house when you leave them inside without destroying anything. So, when your puppy is around a year or so, you change her setting. But in the beginning, it’s all about making her feel secure and comfortable and not letting her develop destructive habits.

What to Do if Nothing Helps

If your dog or puppy is scared of being alone and you can’t teach her otherwise, even after you have followed these instructions, she might be suffering from separation anxiety. This is a real fright and to cure it, you must try to figure out what triggers her anxiety.

Does it happen when you grab your coat or keys? Or does it happen when you look for your shoes or put on your work suit? When you know exactly what her triggers are, teach her that they don’t always mean something bad. For example, put on your coat and sit down to read the paper, and then praise her if she doesn’t get scared. Or, grab your keys and start making dinner.

When your puppy discovers what triggers her is not always bad, start to ask her for something while putting on your coat or grabbing the keys. For example, ask her to sit or lay down and then praise her for doing so. This will make her feel something else other than anxiety and it will help her to overcome. Also, change the way to say goodbye and hello, or how much you talk to her during the day.

However, if you still can’t figure this out yourself, contact your veterinarian to get some advice on what you can do. Your dog might benefit from medication. But the aim of giving her medication is to get her to calm enough so you can train her. Then you can wean her off the medication as soon as possible. Just ask your vet, but never leave her crying.

Things You Should Absolutely Not Do

If you have left your puppy alone and she has made a mess, don’t get angry and yell at her. She will not understand that you’re yelling is connected to what she did when she was alone. She might look as if she is sorry, but in reality, she is trying to get you in a good mood by posing in different, cute ways.

Instead, understand that she has not had a great day, either. She has been frustrated, bored, alone and perhaps, even frightened. So, learn from this and decide what to do differently before you leave her again.

To sum it all up

For the sake of both you and your puppy it’s important that you work on leaving your puppy alone long before you actually have to leave her. Doing this you’ll avoid you puppy being frightened and frustrated, worrying if she has been abandoned – and this is the most important part. But you’ll also avoid having an awful feeling walking out the door and you’ll avoid your neighbours being upset because of all the barking and howling.

Will You Help Me?

You’ve now had my tips for how to work on this. Now let’s hear your comments. Is this helpful and did you like my article, please let me know in the comments below and please share this article. If something is missing, please let me know in the comments, so we can make this article the best it can be.

Thank you.

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About Me

My name is Lene Kaufmann and one of my biggest passions in life is dogs and dog training. I’m a professional dog trainer, having personal offline courses in Denmark where I live, as well as writing this blog, making online courses and online coaching to help train puppies and puppy owners all over the world. My training philosophy is using positive choice based training methods to make your puppy regard you as the most important in life. I believe that dogs can be the greatest source of happiness and fulfillment, and it all starts by building the right foundation with your young puppy. I would love to help you do this!