Building independence and the ability to be comfortable when not with you is an important life skill for your dog or puppy. Dogs are social animals and it’s natural that they want to be with us, however there will inevitably be a time when they either need to spend time alone, or be separated from their family, whether that be overnight at the vet, or, more commonly, when they spend time at boarding kennels.
The time you spend teaching your dog to be OK on their own will pay dividends in the future – not only in reducing your dog’s stress levels but allowing you to feel happier about leaving them!
Without consciously making the time to teach the skill of independence, it’s easy to accidentally put it off, but the best time to start is while your puppy is young, as soon as they are settled into your home.
The aim with building independence is to start at the easiest possible level by very gradually exposing your dog to absences and building up the duration of your visual and physical separation.
If your dog is used to a crate this is the easiest way to start, or alternatively a room in your home where your dog is already comfortable, that you can section off with a baby gate (rather than go immediately to closing the door). Note that the smaller space of a crate can make settling easier than in a larger space, so do consider crate training if you haven’t already. You could also start by initially tethering your dog next to you, perhaps to the table or couch leg, to prevent them simply following you as you move around the room.
Pick a time your dog or puppy is tired (easy with puppies as they need a lot of sleep!), or perhaps after a walk or energetic play session for an adult dog. After a bathroom break, pop your dog in their crate, in the room behind the baby gate, or tether them next to you. Initially you will stay very close, sitting right next to the crate or just the other side of the baby gate. Minimise interactions; you are aiming to normalise this as a regular part of your dog’s day.
Wait for your dog to settle, ideally, he or she may even take a nap! Stay at this level of difficulty until your dog is comfortable, make sure you’re set up so you don’t need to leave your dog (even for a bathroom break) if he or she will not be able to cope with your absence. A puppy may fight sleep initially (especially if overtired), and may vocalise for several minutes before settling, this is why we stay close initially, so they feel safe as they learn to settle.
Once your dog is settling and coping at this level (this may happen over a few training sessions) build to casually moving around the room, perhaps busy yourself with a chore like folding laundry!
Gradually vary the duration of the exercise and start to leave the room for varying periods of time. The first time you leave the room it will be very brief (perhaps 1-2 seconds), however you’ll gradually build and randomise the duration, so that your dog learns that every time you disappear you always come back, and it’s no big deal! If your dog is comfortable in another room for a couple of hours, without visual or physical access to you, you should feel comfortable to progress leaving the house. There are various apps or in-home cameras you can utilise to check on your dog while you are out – if you’ve progressed through all the steps, you will likely observe your dog sleeping or resting while you’re gone.
The advice above is general in nature; remember to consult a qualified trainer if you need more help. If your dog becomes panicked or distressed, or you are having trouble progressing, stop and consult a trainer for assistance.
Veronica’s Canine Concepts
Veronica Sewell CPDT-KA
Mobile: 0412 627 272