How to leave your dog on their own

Your dog is used to being the centre of your world when you’re at home. So when you leave, this can feel separation anxiety. Some dogs go to the toilet when left, some may display destructive behaviours and others may bark or howl.

All of these behaviours are a symptom of how your dog feels then they’re left on their own. Going to the toilet is a relieving act, so if your dog messes when left they will feel a form of stress relief. Chewing is a natural act for a dog and can help them feel relaxed. Barking can either be your dog trying to get your attention or a defence mechanism, while howling is generally a definite sign that your dog is not coping  at home alone.

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Fix the problem not the symptom

All too often people concentrate on fixing the symptoms of a behavioural problem and not on the underlying reason. The key to helping your dog cope at home alone is to ensure they’re happy about the idea in the first place.

Exercise and training

Exercised your dog before you leave the house. Don’t wear them out, as this means they’ll drink lots of water when they get home and will need the toilet sooner rather than later. They just need to stretch their legs and go to the toilet.

It’s also worth doing a few minutes of general training with your dog before you go out. This will help exercise their brain and give them something to process later.

Prepare a home alone box

Creating a home alone box is a great way to train your dog to enjoy time on their own. Your box should include the following:

  • a couple of stuffed Kongs
  • an antler or pigs ear
  • a few dog biscuits wrapped individually in sheets of newspaper
  • empty toilet rolls with chew sticks inside or poked through the sides
  • an empty plastic bottle (minus the ring and cap) containing a few bits of kibble
  • their favourite toys or anything else they really love to play with.

Let your dog watch you prepare the box – a low sided box is ideal – so that their emotional state is one of happiness and expectation. Next draw your curtains so that they can’t be distracted by the outside world and put on the tv or radio to help mask the sounds of people or cars passing by.

Build up your time away

Just as you’re about to leave, place the box on the floor and encourage your dog to have a rummage. Then calmly and confidently leave the house. The first time you do this only leave for a short amount of time, less than twenty minutes. When you enter the house again immediately pick up the box and bits they have taken out and put them on the side. It won’t take long for your dog to realise that this box of delights only comes out when they’re going to be left on their own. 

As your dog’s confidence grows you can reduce the amount of stuff you put in the box and slowly increase the time you’re away. Dogs are creatures of habit so it’s easier to teach them to cope home alone in the early stages if they can predict a routine. Once you’ve cracked it you can be a little more spontaneous.

Think about evenings

While many dogs can learn to cope home alone for a working day, they are very sociable animals and it can be upsetting if they’re also left them alone in the evenings. If you work full time and then have a busy evening ahead, think of ways you can minimise the length of overall time your dog will be left.

For example, do you have a friend or family member who is willing to dog-sit for you during the day or evening? Will your plans allow for you to take your dog with you? If you have a very hectic social life that keeps you out of the house on a regular basis and your dog is suffering from anxiety, you may need to consider if this is the right time in your life to own a dog.