A puppy relies on the mother dog and siblings – their ‘pack’- for support and comfort.
Although a puppy over two months old can theoretically be left alone for up to two hours maximum, it is far better if they are not left alone until they are around 5 months old. You have to train a puppy to enjoy being alone, and that takes time.
You also need to ensure you don’t leave things around they could eat or chew and are not healthy for them, or cause damage to your home.
You must understand that a little puppy has never been left alone before, and they will feel vulnerable and very stressed when they find that they are suddenly on their own.
They are hot-wired to cry for help.
In the long distant past, a pack of animals always had the mother or another female close by. They guarded and protected their young, and tried to keep them quiet to avoid attracting predators.
A puppy left alone will be scared, and they don’t know that you will be back soon. Leaving them alone too soon can cause separation anxiety in your puppy, and once they go down that track, it is difficult to reverse the habit.
If you can, have a neighbor/ friend/ family member come in to keep them company when you have to go out.
Don’t Leave Them Alone for the First 5-7 Weeks
A puppy learns a lot about life in the first 14 weeks of its life. During this time, they learn the vital social skills that will take them through their life.
They benefit a lot from interaction with their new family, other pets in the home, and learn what is acceptable and what isn’t. If they are left alone a lot, there can be problems when it comes to socializing with other dogs and people.
- Without regular social interaction, a puppy can become fearful of its environment and people.
- They do not know how to interact properly and can become a ‘biter’, nipping people or other animals as a response to their fear, which is a habit that takes a lot to overcome.
- They need to learn to be confident, and can only do that with you there to guide them.
- A puppy can get into all sorts of trouble when they are alone. They can chew things they find (such as medication, clothing, socks, and toys), which can cause health problems. Medications mean an emergency trip to the vets, while chewing on toys and clothing can cause small parts to be chewed off and swallowed, obstructing their airway and requiring yet another trip to the vet.
- They can fall off things and hurt themselves, and chew plants that are poisonous to them. A puppy can do so much harm to themselves without someone there to guide them.
- As well as the above, they don’t yet have total control over their bladder. Puppies can hold their bladder for about one hour every month of age. In other words, a puppy who is two months old can wait two hours to pee, a three-month-old pup can hold it for three hours.
So it is advisable to be close to them during the first few months of their life. As they get to about four months, step up with training them a little at a time to be alone.
Start with five minutes and don’t make a big thing of it. Just hide around the corner for a few minutes, then wander back in. As they come to accept that you will always come back, slowly increase the time.
Train Them to Get Used to Being Alone.
First of all, young puppy’s take a lot of repetition and patience to train. They don’t have the understanding capabilities to hold the learning until they are about four months old.
At four months, puppies begin to understand and retain information.
- Start by leaving them alone for short periods. You may want to start using 5-minute intervals.
- It is recommended that you use a dog camera to watch them while they are alone. If they react with panic, adjust the time and start again. Once they get the message that you will always return, life begins to get a bit easier.
- Then slowly extend the time alone to 30-minute intervals, then 45-minute intervals and so on.
- Using the dog camera to monitor their behavior means you can avert a catastrophe. Most cameras allow you to speak to your dog, so if they start chewing on the furniture or carpet, a stern no should stop them. If they get the message that you always know what they are up to, there should be less destructive behavior.
- Continue with your training until your puppy figures out that you will return, and gets to know what you expect of them.
- When your puppy becomes confident while they are on their own, they are on the way to growing into a confident adult dog, which is what you want.
If you mollycoddle a puppy, you will end up causing yourself grief. You won’t be able to go anywhere without taking your dog. Neighbors have a low tolerance for a howling, crying, barking dog.
You want a puppy that you can leave at home for an hour or so, returning to find a happy pup that has been playing with their toys or catching up on a good nap.
Separation Anxiety – What Is It?
Separation anxiety is when your puppy is fearful to be alone and will suffer anxiety attacks until you return. They often cry continually, howl, or get destructive as a way of coping with their feelings.
Your puppy needs to be trained to be alone for small periods because they have never been alone before.
From the time of their birth, to when they left their mom to come to your home, they were surrounded by siblings, and the mom dog was always there or at least close by to tend to their needs.
- As a member of the new pack (you and your family), a puppy has to learn to be alone.
- They need to develop confidence, and they must know what is expected of them.
- Signs of separation anxiety are when you leave them alone, and they react by whinging, barking, loud cries and causing damage to objects within their reach, or excessive defecation.
Your goal as a puppy mom/dad is to prevent your puppy from developing a severe case of separation anxiety. The objective is to start slowly while they learn to adapt to some time alone. Your goal is to get them to become independent little canine critter.
How to Leave Your Puppy Alone.
While your small puppy tries their best to adapt to being alone, make sure you have all their needs covered.
- Before you go outside or away, play with your puppy and try to wear them out a little. Physical games where they have to run around will often tire them out, and when you go, they will often drop off to sleep. One of those extra deep, very plush puppy beds will encourage your pup to settle for a snooze.
- Even if you have a dog monitoring camera that allows some interaction with them, it pays to have a friendly neighbor, family member, or friend who lives nearby that can step in when there is an emergency. A key left in a lockbox makes access easy for the rescuer.
- Try to leave a bit of background music playing for your small pooch. It just takes the dead silence off the room and makes it feel more like home. Having the television on will make your puppy assume there is someone at home, which may prevent any whining or barking.
- Employ a dog sitter – one that you know is reliable – for whenever you have to go out for a long period, and you can’t get a friend to step in.
- Keep the home warm but not hot for your puppy. Ensure they have enough water, a place to pee, and some snacks to enjoy.
- Plugging in a dog pheromone diffuser near their home alone zone or spraying their bed with the pheromone spray (just a spray or two – don’t overdo it) will help keep them calm.
- Use baby barriers to block off stairs, other rooms, and keep your puppy in one room rather than giving them the run of the house where they may get into mischief.
- Don’t make a big fuss about your return or leaving – you want to teach your puppy that when you come and go is not a big deal. It is just normal.
A puppy always responds well to praise and a lot of loving attention, so praise them for being such a brave puppy when you get home (without going overboard).
Before Your Head Away, Check this List
Before you race away to work or wherever, do a quick check around the home.
Make sure your home is puppy-proof. Check that the room(s) that you are leaving them in is free from any safety hazards or items that can be harmful to your puppy.
- Keep your trash bin undercover and locked away so your puppy can’t explore those tempting smells. They can chew and swallow plastic wrap and other things that can cause internal problems.
- Puppies are attracted to electric cords, so remove them if possible or use sturdy cord covers on chargers and power cables. Biting through an electric cord can result in them getting a shock, burns to the mouth, or worse.
- Stow gym bags, backpacks, diaper bags, or your purse out of reach. Xylitol poisoning is becoming more common as it creeps into sugar-free gum, hand creams, and so on.
- Put any medications away in a locked cupboard. Don’t leave them sitting around within reach of your puppy. Everything they find goes in their mouth, so if in doubt, put it away.
- Some houseplants are poisonous to pets, so put them out of reach of your puppy, who may want to try the chewing test on them.
- Give them a safe space. A crate or a pen with a comfy bed will entice your puppy to use this space. You can encourage them by tossing a small treat every time they go into it when you are home. It is their little private zone within the room where they can feel safe, such as in times of thunder or lightning. Having the crate away from windows will help.
- Make sure poisons like household cleaners, detergents, and glue and packed away. It is a bit like having a human baby around, everything has to go up above the crawl line. But puppies can climb up some things, so be extra vigilant when checking your home.
- Set up baby gates or pens, close some household doors, lock lower cabinets, and keep your puppy safe.
- Keep your puppy grounded. They have fragile bones, so leaping off a sofa or other high furniture where they can risk injury does happen.
- Remote controls, electronic toys, and other items that contain batteries should be put out of reach of your puppy.
A Happy Confident Puppy!
Puppies are adorable, sweet, and so smitten with life that they love exploring. That is why when they are very young, they should have a chaperone who can oversee what they are getting into.
The trouble with puppies is that when they are teething, they will chew on anything. When my daughter and her puppy were younger, the pup chewed the seat off her brand new bike. She was not impressed, but she left the bike lying on the ground, so you can’t blame a puppy for road testing the product!
In some ways, a puppy knows no fear. They go places, eat things, and explore without knowing anything about the consequences of their actions.
Everything gets the puppy chew test. If it tastes every semi ok, it gets swallowed. Bits of sticks, parts off toys, ribbons, shoes (they love brand new shoes – I am speaking from experience here), plastic bits and bobs, and anything else you can imagine.
Keep a close watch on your puppy. If things go quiet, quickly investigate! With luck, they may be sleeping. Or they could be wolfing down a pack of cough lollies they found.
Once they get to four months, they start to get a bit of sense.
But that is why a young puppy should not be left alone. They can get into all sorts of trouble, so always keep an eye on them… especially if they have wandered off and things are quiet!!
Writer: Jean Brewer