Does your dog freak out the second you leave? While this can be stressful for both of you, it’s actually relatively common behavior, and the pandemic made it worse since so many people barely left the house. Here are 10 tips to help keep your dog calm while home alone:
Understand the underlying problem
Sometimes, dogs act out because they have separation anxiety, but other times it’s because they are bored or simply full of energy. Understanding the underlying reasons for your dog’s behavior will help you pinpoint why they act out when left alone and exactly how to address it. For instance, dogs with lots of extra energy will usually fare better if you exercise them more — but if your dog truly has separation anxiety, then an extra walk might not make a difference.
Tire them out
Many dogs act out when left alone because they are restless and have too much energy. Before you leave the house, make it a point to take a long walk with your dog, have a play session, or otherwise tire them out. It can also help to leave your dog with a puzzle toy or something else mentally stimulating to work their brain as well as their body while you are gone. Make sure that the toy or treat is something that it will take a while for them to work through, such as a dog chew.
Create a routine
Dogs thrive on routine and structure, which is why it’s important to create a schedule for them. You probably have a routine that you go through when you leave the house, such as brushing your teeth and grabbing your coat, and you should create a similar routine for your dog as well. Your “leaving the house” routine might include taking them out to pee and putting them in their crate with a toy. As your dog gets used to it, the predictability will help keep them calm whenever you leave the house.
Make a safe space
Some dog owners don’t want to keep kenneling their dog indefinitely for various reasons. However, a crate can be a great short-term tool to help your dog get used to being on their own if you can’t currently let them have free rein of the house while you are gone. Once your dog gets used to being in the crate without having an accident or tearing something up, you can graduate them to a room and, eventually, to the whole apartment or house. Just make sure to still have a crate or dog bed out so they always have a “den” to return to.
Remove safety hazards
Once you’re ready to let your dog out of the crate, go through your house and remove any potential dangers such as electrical cords and chemicals — basically anything that could potentially harm them. You may also wish to childproof cabinets and doors so your dog can’t get into mischief while you’re gone. If your dog can get up on the counters, then try not to leave anything out on them when you leave, either. This way, you can have peace of mind that your dog will be safe while you are gone.
Use treats wisely
Treats are an important tool in helping your dog learn how to be calm at home alone. They can be used to reward good behavior and to enforce commands such as “down” and “off.” (If your dog misbehaves, don’t punish them. This can make the behavior worse. Instead, ignore bad behaviors and focus on rewarding good ones.) Giving them engaging treats when you leave, such as puzzle toys filled with food and bully sticks for dogs, will also keep them occupied and create a positive experience when they are left alone.
Watch your own emotions
Dogs pick up on their humans’ emotions, which is why it’s really important to watch what feelings you are projecting around your dog. If you are anxious and stressed about leaving them alone, that will also make your dog anxious and stressed as well. Instead, try to think positively about how well your dog will do at home and how they will entertain themselves while you are gone. You might be surprised by how much your feelings were affecting your dog!
Ease into it
Most dogs can’t be left alone for hours at a time right out of the gate. You have to work up to it. If your dog is still a puppy, or very anxious, then start by leaving for very short periods of time — you can do as little as 10 minutes. This will teach your dog that every time you leave, you come back soon, helping to reduce their anxiety. As they become calmer, lengthen the interval of time that you are gone until you can comfortably leave them in the house for a couple of hours on their own.
Put on background noise
Many humans get antsy sitting around in a completely quiet space, and some dogs are this way as well. You might wish to experiment with leaving on the radio or TV to keep them distracted while you are gone. Double-check that the channel doesn’t include anything that might potentially be upsetting or overly stimulating for your dog, such as the recorded barks of other dogs.
Don’t make a big deal about leaving or arriving
A lot of people make a ruckus when they leave the house or return. While we totally understand the impulse to smother your dog in love, the fact is that this teaches your dog that going away is a big deal, which is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to teach them. Instead, slip out the door as quietly as you can and do the same when you get back. If your dog jumps all over you, ignore them until they calm down and then you can pet them.
We hope these tips help you and your dog stay calm and cool the next time you leave the house!