Staying alone calmly – how to make it work with your dog, too
Separation anxiety is more common among dogs than you might think. Dogs don’t like to stay by themselves, since this isn’t a natural canine behavior. When humans domesticated dogs, we established a genetic fixation for them to live in a social community. This is the only way that dogs can ensure their survival. We give them a supply of food and water and meet their needs. But above all, we are there for them – as social partners.
But this natural predisposition doesn’t mean you can’t teach your dog to stay alone calmly as well. On the contrary! Once your dog has learned to enjoy peace and quiet, calm and time alone at home, it will be perfectly happy to be left on its own for a few hours at a time. After all, let’s be honest: we just can’t get around those minor emergencies, grocery shopping for the week, or an appointment with the hairdresser. And dogs just aren’t allowed everywhere. By that point, we simply have to find a solution for our furry friend. Regular training in small steps lets your dog build experience and learn that staying alone doesn’t necessarily have negative consequences. Your dog will learn that you always come back, which also teaches it to relax even if you aren’t there.
Preventing issues caused by separation
Have you, like many others before you, ever come home to find the place absolutely torn apart? In most cases, this is the first time that we as owners realize just how serious the situation is. But from the dog’s perspective, the psychological strain started much earlier. The good news is that you can find a solution for the two of you as a team. Offer your dog a sense of security. Be there for it and treat it with understanding.
What makes a stable bond between human and dog so important?
Having a firm bond with your dog is the basis for relaxed, harmonious coexistence. But here, as elsewhere, it is important for the bond between you and your dog to be balanced. Only a balanced bond provides guidance and a firm footing and gives your dog a sense of security. One reason your dog might feel stressed when it stays by itself is that the bond between you has grown too strong, so it is out of balance. Do you find yourself lovingly referring to your dog as your “shadow”? Does it follow you through your home, everywhere you go? If so, you should take steps to loosen the bond between you. You can talk to your dog trainer to find a solution.
This article contains a few tips for what you can do to prevent separation anxiety and simple ways you can communicate to your dog that it can relax when it is alone.
Before you start training, you should clarify the following question: Where do I want my dog to stay while I am gone? Most of us dog owners think the dog would like to have the entire house or apartment to itself, but some dogs find that stressful. Your dog may well be unable to settle down with so much stimulus around it. That’s why we recommend choosing a room where your dog feels comfortable and secure.
Set up a basket, blanket, or dog bed that your dog already associates with a positive feeling in your selected room to give it a safe and secure place to go.
Now that you have chosen a spot, it’s a good idea to introduce a goodbye routine. Routines are positive, familiar behaviors that make everyday life with a dog easier. These structures give you and your dog a firm foundation. Going through the same actions over and over is comforting to your dog, because it always knows what to expect.
Introducing a goodbye routine
Here’s an example of what a goodbye routine might be like.
Get your jacket and keys. Your dog can actually even tell just from the jacket whether it is going to be allowed to go out with you or is supposed to stay home. Now go to the kitchen and get a couple of small treats for your dog that are easy for it to swallow.
With your dog, go into the room where you want your dog to stay while it is alone. Once there, you can send it to its blanket or basket. Now you can say goodbye to your dog with a phrase like, “I’ll be right back.” Then put the treats at your dog’s spot, turn around without a comment, and walk to do the door and close it behind you without looking back at your dog. It is important not to look at your dog again. He could perceive the eye contact as a request and follow you.
Staying alone calmly with the right training
You can start training your dog to stay by itself for a few seconds today. This should be the start of a routine for your dog, making it completely normal for you to open the door to your home and go out without it.
You can practice going out the door or into other rooms in your home ten times a day. Close the door behind you, go to the mailbox, and come back inside. The important thing is not to pay attention to your dog while you are leaving through the door and to ignore your dog for a moment after coming back. This exercise will show your dog how meaningless opening and closing the door is.
The many repetitions will make this training boring for your dog after a couple of days, so you can slowly increase the amount of time. At first, you went outside for just a couple of seconds, and now it’s five seconds. Don’t come back inside until your dog behaves calmly during the process. We recommend that you log the amounts of time in a training journal. This gives you better control and makes it easier to see your shared successes. You can gradually make the requirements more challenging as you practice. If your dog has reached the point of lying down calmly in the room for five seconds when you come back from the mailbox, you can extend the training units. Now go outside for 20 seconds. If it stays lying down calmly when you come back after 20 seconds, you can increase the time to 40, 50, or 60 seconds. We recommend extending the time intervals a little bit at a time every day.
If you are at two minutes today and things are going well, you can train for four or five minutes tomorrow. If you repeat this practice daily, your dog will have learned to relax and stay by itself after a couple of weeks. It is best to practice leaving your dog alone after it gets enough activity. That will mean it has less energy and is more relaxed during practice.
Getting enough activity, and the right kind of activity, for our dogs is a good way to help them practice staying alone, since they are happy and relaxed. Be sure to find an appropriate activity geared toward your individual dog and its needs. Before training, you can go for a walk with your dog, for example, and then leave your home to practice. Varying the time intervals is a good idea here. Depending on how strenuous the physical activity was for your dog, you might go outside for just five minutes or leave it alone for ten minutes, depending on how far the training has progressed. Adjust your training in staying alone to your dog’s daily activity levels.
If you follow all of these tips, there’s nothing standing in the way of your dog staying alone calmly. We hope you and your dog have a great time training!