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
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.
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.
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.
Most 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)
- 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?