Step by step guide: Teach your dog to be home alone

photo: Katherine Taylor @junior_the_copenhagen_lab

You probably know it: You have a long working day ahead of you and your dog must be home alone. It makes you sick to your stomach and makes you worry for your dog because you know he hates being home alone.

Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, separation anxiety can be a problem. If you find that the dog howls, has made scratch marks on furniture or that there is urine on the floor when you have been away, it may be a sign that it does not feel safe being alone at home.

But fortunately, this is something you can change - even if you think you've tried everything. It is about holding firm and combining several initiatives with each other.

But how exactly do I do it?

Yes, you just have to follow this guide, where we come up with 5 concrete steps that you can follow and use to create more structure in your dog's home-alone training.

1. Start when the dog feels at home

Our home-alone training step by step actually starts with the preparation before the actual training. The dog is a herd animal and it is therefore not natural for it to be left alone. But don't fear - it is of course easily possible to train it for this without it becoming stressed or uneasy.

One of the most important pieces of advice is that home-alone training should only begin when your dog feels comfortable and safe at home. Therefore, never start until this is the case. If the dog is quiet and safe when you are elsewhere in the house – perhaps with a closed door – the training can begin.

Dog in a dry suit lying on a couch

photo: Emma Bearman @gundogtales

2. Have the right mindset

Although you might think that it is the dog who has to get used to being alone at home, you have to get used to it too. Being away from your dog can be a stress factor for you.

Maybe you think: Is it unhappy at home alone? Can the neighbors hear it howl and bark?

It is this stress that the dog also feels when you go out the door. The dog is reflected in your state of mind, and if you are a little stressed about having to leave the dog alone at home, it can feel it.

One of the most important things about training your dog to be alone at home is that you also have to prepare for it yourself. Both you and the dog will have a much better experience of being alone at home if you both have a calm and the right relaxed mindset for it.

3. Practice before you actually go outside

When you are sure that both you and your dog are calm and comfortable with the situation, the actual training can begin. In this step, arm yourself with patience – as with everything else in dog training. Train the dog little by little for a long time before it actually has to be alone.

  • Initially, it is about practicing walking out the door, without actually doing it. This means putting on your shoes and jacket, taking your keys and giving the dog a treat. But instead of going out the door, you put your jacket and shoes back on. It might feel a bit silly to make plays like this, but it is necessary that you keep going, even though it may seem crazy. You must do this process for the first few days - preferably 3-4 times a day.
  • After you have done this "act" for a few days, do the same thing again, but where you go out the door for 20 seconds at a time.
  • Over the next several days, you must increase your time away from the dog very slowly. Go out into the garden, down the street, down to the supermarket for a minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.
  • After 2 weeks, you can increase the time by half or a full hour continuously. However, again, make sure it doesn't happen too quickly.
  • Only after 4 weeks can your dog start being alone at home for an entire working day. However, be aware that in special cases it may take several months before the dog can be alone at home for a whole day.

NOTE: There are several things you need to be aware of in this process:

- You must not approach the dog if it starts howling or barking. Because then it learns that it pays to bark, because you then come running. Therefore, it is important that you do not go in there until the dog has stopped howling or barking. So if it keeps barking, come in when the dog takes a break.

- If the dog keeps barking, you may be moving too quickly in the process. Therefore, make sure to go back in the process at one of the previous steps. Then you are sure that the dog is with you all the way.

4. Say hello and goodbye in the right tone

When you are on your way out the door - both in reality and as part of the training - it is important that you make a command that becomes a form of ritual that means: "now I go".

Say the same phrase in the same tone of voice so that after some time the dog knows what this command means. It could be "I'll be back soon". It is important that this command is said in a friendly but firm tone of voice. The most important thing is that you should not make an exaggerated farewell.

The same applies when you return home. Here, it applies in the same way not to make a big deal out of your coming back. It should appear as natural as possible. Therefore, say hello in a quiet tone of voice and start doing something else in the room, so the dog knows that it is completely normal. This applies both during the training period and afterwards.

If you comfort the dog both before and after it has to be home alone, it is confirmed that it must be scared and worried. So you must not do that either.

You must therefore be completely calm and neutral when you leave and come back. This again is also connected with having the right mindset.

5. Make the experience pleasant

To do something about separation anxiety, it can be a good idea to have something safe and recognizable at home - for example the dog's dog basket. It can also be advantageous to leave the light on and leave the television or radio on.

Overall, it is about doing something good that gives the dog a positive experience of being alone at home. For example, put your dog's favorite blanket in the basket or give it a leg that it can enjoy for a longer time or a treat that associates being alone with something positive.

Dog looking at a treat

How long can the dog be home alone?

One of the questions we typically hear is whether you can leave the dog alone at home for 8 hours. This makes good sense, as it is typically the length of a normal working day.

However, we do not recommend leaving the dog alone at home for so many hours, as it would then not be able to hold its stool and needs to go outside. Often, however, it will be necessary, as you cannot leave work. But if you have the opportunity, it is really good for the dog if you come home during the day. Otherwise, you can also make an agreement with the neighbor to come and check on it.

As you get the dog trained to be alone at home, it will of course also feel more secure about it and can be at home more and more without barking or making trouble. The most important thing is that you are aware that it is a slow process - and that the key word is often patience.

Last but not least, it is important to state that there are many different approaches to training, and in some cases it would make sense, for example, to give a treat before you go, while in other cases it might be better not to. You can choose the approach that suits you best. The most important thing is that you are consistent.

We hope that this guide can help you and your dog along the way and give you both a sense of security and naturalness about being alone at home.

Good training!

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