Updated: Oct 5
With COVID-19 still raging, many dog owners are finding all their time is spent at home with their canine companions. On the face of it, this may sound like a wonderful thing! However, we must tread carefully. At some point, people will once again be permitted to leave their homes and resume something resembling a normal life. This change will thrust your puppy or dog into a tailspin if they are now accustomed to having access to you 24/7!
ITS IS OKAY TO BE ALONE
When training our dogs or puppies, there are plenty of must-have behaviors and skills we trainers ramble on about. However, one skillset that is oftentimes overlooked is the ability for the dog or puppy to settle and be comfortable away from their people.
Why is this skill so important?
Puppies or dogs who are incapable of settling away from their people are at risk of developing anxiety and self-destructive behaviors. If we are not careful, we could cultivate an expectation our puppy or dog must always be with their person, otherwise they cannot function. This is wholly unrealistic! There are countless times during a normal day when a dog owner must do things that have nothing to do with their puppy or dog. If dog owners never take the time to teach their canine friends how to cope with this, they can end up with a distraught and stressed pup!
Alright, since this is so important, how do we go about teaching our puppies and dogs to be okay being alone?
Using crates and/or x-pens or baby gates are extremely helpful tools. Let me stress this: these tools should NOT be viewed as a punishment or something the puppy or dog dreads. Rather, when used properly, these tools will become welcomed and safe places for our puppy or dog to rest in. In other words, they should look FORWARD to going in their crate or gated area.
If you have never done something like this before, start off small and set your puppy or dog up for success. Have the crate, or gated off area, in the same room as you. Play, train, walk or hike with your puppy or dog first to get them tuckered out. After cooling them down, using some super yummy treats and lead them to the crate or gated off area. Once inside, hand them a special chew, such a frozen stuffed Kong, raw meaty bone, or bully stick.
If your puppy or dog has never been in a closed crate before, consider keeping the door open with an x-pen around it to start with. You can then incrementally work up to having the crate door closed.
With the puppy or dog in their designated area, sit yourself in the same room and just hang out for a bit. Read a book, check your email or social media, do some work on a laptop or watch some T.V. After a few minutes, your pup should settle in for a nap. Success! You have officially started to teach them their spot is a good and safe place to be and they do NOT need to be on top of you all the time. Yay!
Plan for this first session to take around 10 minutes, but if they are soundly sleeping, see if you can stretch it to a half hour or even a whole hour. When they wake up, don’t make a big to-do about it. Simply ask them to do a SIT before releasing them from their spot and then go about your day the way you normally would (more often than not, they will need to go potty after napping, just as an FYI).
Working incrementally over a series of days, start going into other rooms while they are resting. In the beginning, be in a place where they can still see you. If they are doing well, move into another room where they can only hear you. Over time, move around the house and even go outside, walking around the block or doing some yardwork, as they are resting.
Another approach that works well is crating or gating them overnight while you are sleeping. Giving your pup a big fluffy beddie toy or blanket they can cuddle with, in addition to their comfy bed, can really help.
As you continue to progress, you will want to do short trips out of the house as they are in the safe spot. Running to the supermarket for instance. Remember: train, play, walk or hike with them ahead of time. You do NOT want to put a bouncing-off-the-walls-hyper dog into their crate or gated area! That is asking for trouble.
With time and consistency, your puppy or dog will learn being in their safe spot is a great opportunity to get a yummy chew and then rest.
WHEN TO USE HUMAN ONLY TIME
Here are some of the times you should consider having your dog in their crate or in the gated area:
· When you are eating your meals
· When you are on a conference call for work
· When you are watching movies with family
· When you are taking a nap
· When you need run errands out of the house
Hopefully, you can see how beneficial teaching this skill is. Human-only time is a precious thing that can also help lower the temperature or stress-levels in your household. Do you get frustrated by your dog begging at the table, making a racket during your work calls, or interrupting your movie every 3 seconds? Teaching human-only time with safe spots for your puppy or dog to rest in is the perfect solution!
Stay safe out there everyone and enjoy your pups!
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!