Leaving your dog home alone for the first time

A friend of mine recently adopted his first dog. He asked me a few questions about what to expect, and one of those questions was what should he do to make his dog comfortable when left home alone?

I thought this was a good question to bring up on the blog because this is often a stressful time for the new dog and the new owner. I thought some of you might have some good advice.

It’s not just new dog owners that face this dilemma. I know every time I have a new foster dog, I worry about leaving that dog alone for the first time.

Here are my tips for leaving a dog home alone for the first time

Tips for leaving your dog home alone for the first time

1. Lots of exercise beforehand.

Whenever anyone adopts a new dog, I recommend a long walk at least once a day, every day. Assuming the dog and owner are healthy and capable, this walk should be at least 45 minutes and preferably more than an hour.

Walking is a bonding ritual. It is something most dogs enjoy, and it helps them get comfortable with the new owner and a new routine. It also helps the dog get rid of any pent-up physical, mental and emotional energy. The calmer you can get your new dog, the better.

“The calmer you can get your new dog, the better.”

2. Take a day or two off from work.

Most people know ahead of time if they will be adopting a dog. If at all possibly, I recommend you adopt the dog when you can take at least two days off from work. That will give you some time to help the dog adjust to your routine before you have to leave for eight hours. If you can take a week off, even better.

During your days off from work, you should start leaving your dog home alone for short periods so he starts to get used to being alone in the new environment.

3. Begin leaving the dog alone for short periods.

It’s not a good idea to just leave the dog for eight hours right off the bat. Start with just five minutes while you step outside to get the mail. Then try 10 minutes later that day. Then 20. And so on. Work up to 45 minutes. Then an hour.

4. Use a kennel or block off a small area of the house.

Woman in a dog kennel

I prefer to leave most dogs in a kennel (also called a crate). A kennel keeps the dog safe, and it also keeps my property safe. I do not feel one bit sorry about leaving a dog in a kennel, not even if it’s for hours at a time.

If leaving your dog in a kennel is not an option for whatever reason, I would recommend you leave the dog in a small area of the house. Maybe a bedroom with the door shut or a baby gate in the doorway. Maybe a bathroom or a kitchen area.

With time, you can always give the dog more freedom.

5. Use puzzle-type toys such as Kongs.

Kong-type toyMost new dog owners have been told about how helpful Kong-type toys can be, but here are some tips to make the Kong more interesting to the dog:

  • Cut back on the dog’s meals (or feed the meals in the Kong) so the dog will be more interested in it.
  • Use something really smelly and tempting to stuff the Kong such as cooked hamburger, canned dog food or peanut butter.
  • Freeze the Kong over night so the dog has to work harder to get the food out
  • Leave two or three Kongs to keep the dog entertained longer. Make one with food that’s really easy to get out and make the other two more difficult but with more tempting goodies (hot dogs, pieces of chicken, etc., with frozen peanut butter)

Other tips:

  • Stay calm yourself. If you are anxious, your dog will also feel anxious.
  • Don’t feel sorry for the dog. This dog is lucky to have a safe, warm place to stay.
  • Leave music or TV on for some background noise.
  • Stick to a routine. Leave the dog in the same place every time.
  • Don’t say “goodbye, Buddy!” Instead, ignore your dog and just leave.
  • Don’t expect perfection. There’s always an adjustment period that could take a few weeks. Don’t assume your dog has separation anxiety if he cries or whines. He may just be testing you or he may just be a little anxious in the new place. Ignore the whining and he’ll most likely adjust.

How about the rest of you?

What are some tips that worked for your dog?

13 Readers Commented

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  1. Emma on February 25, 2014

    We are in the process of leaving my little sister out of her kennel when Mom leaves. We only use the kennel for puppies or nose work, so she needs to learn to behave with us when Mom is away. She already was out once for a few hours when she broke out of her portable kennel. She just wanted to hang out with Katie and I and she peed once, but she was only six months old. Now we are starting to leave her out for shorter periods of time. She is not destructive and doesn’t cry, we just don’t want her to have accidents.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 25, 2014

      I like to proceed with caution as your mom seems to be doing. Set the dog/pup up for success and then slowly increase her freedom. I’m glad your little sister is doing so well and making good progress.

  2. Sylv on February 25, 2014

    This reminds me of when we first started leaving Diva out of her crate. Suki had “house privileges” by the time we got Diva, who was crate trained. At first we would leave Diva in her crate in the bedroom, and Suki in the main part of the house. The first time we decided to leave Diva out in the bedroom, not crated, we carefully dog-proofed it and the ensuite bathroom. We were just going to run one errant, and considered it a good training exercise.

    We were gone for about an hour, and Diva did great. No problems at all. Suki, on the other hand, destroyed a baseball cap I’d left on the counter.

  3. Kimberly Gauthier on February 25, 2014

    My boyfriend took several days off when we brought home Sydney and Rodrigo and Scout and Zoey (4 years later). Worked like a charm!

  4. Sarah at Lolathepitty.com on February 26, 2014

    Great tips – we love giving them Kongs or something (safe) to keep them busy while in their kennels. I am also a big supporter of varying the length of time you are gone. Thanks for posting – sharing 🙂

  5. Edith on February 26, 2014

    As a new dog owner years ago, crate-training our new 7-month old pup was the best advice we ever got. I just had to learn not to feel sorry for my pup and be very matter-of-fact about it. We’ve used it with our 2nd as well. I have found that when I let my dog out, it works best to keep my voice calm and make it no big deal just like putting him in the first place. Our dog is now over 4 and we don’t use the crate regularly, but he does at times go in it on his own. It’s a safe place and he knows it.

  6. Linda on February 26, 2014

    I wish you had a like button because this post is very GOOD!


  7. Linda on February 26, 2014

    Shish, found the like button!!!


  8. Dawn on February 26, 2014

    These are some great tips, especially the very first one. It is amazing how well a tired dog does in a crate. I got so lucky with Maya and Pierson. Maya was super easy to crate train. I was allowed to work from home by that time, too, so it made leaving her for only short periods much easier. I’ve still been working from home ever since I got Pierson. I was not able to crate train him, but when he started developing separation anxiety, I managed to work him through that and now have no trouble leaving him alone and with run of the house.

  9. Lana on June 22, 2015

    Hi! new reader and commenter…we have had our Malamute Rufus for 5 years and he came to us from a shelter so incredibly well behaved. Never had to crate train, he was never destructive. Just the sweetest boy ever. We are out of the house quite a bit and wanted to get Rufus some company. Yesterday we adopted a sweet girl of Husky mix named Lola. We had to leave them both alone today as our dog sitter bailed on us! I am freaking out a little….Lola was very destructive to herself in the crate so we left her out of it. We did put her in a guarded off part of the house but I am very worried about what awaits me at home. Did give both dogs an intense walk this morning and they have access to our backyard all day. Fingers crossed! Great advice here