Welcoming a puppy into your home is a lifetime commitment. You want to bond with him and teach him the rules of the house. But as much as we would like to be with our puppy all the time, for most dog owners, this is unrealistic.
This reality creates a lot of stress in many pet owners. Particularly if their puppy isn’t fully housebroken, as it can lead to lots of anxious thoughts while working late or enjoying a night out with friends.
It’s important to realize that canines as a group are very social animals that tend to form pack tendencies. But even with this fact in mind, most dogs are able to stay by themselves for at least some amount of time without displaying anxious or destructive behavior, such as peeing where they shouldn’t.
And as much as you love your puppy, independence is healthy. That means you shouldn’t create a situation where he’s overly dependent upon you. Instead, try to get him used to spend some time on his own so he doesn’t panic and see it as a bad thing.
The good news is that leaving a puppy alone at home for the first time isn’t only possible, but it’s also easier than you think. The only thing you need to remember is that most accidents happen out of boredom or loneliness on your puppy’s part.
How Long Can You Leave A Puppy Alone At Home?
Realistically, the answer depends on the age of your puppy.
Adult dogs should be able to hold their urine temporarily when there’s no ideal opportunity for relief. With a puppy, you need to make him feel safe and ensure that he won’t get bored while your away.
In general, a puppy needs a bathroom break once every hour for each month of age. This means that a 1-month-old puppy needs to relieve himself every hour, while a 5-month-old puppy can wait longer for relief.
Training your dog to use pee pads is a wonderful way to acclimate him to a schedule so that he knows there’s a safe, designated spot to relieve himself inside.
Bear in mind, no matter what amount of puppy pads you use or how well your dog is trained, it’s poor form indeed to leave him alone for more than 6-8 hours at a time. With any longer of a span for real outdoor potty breaks, even the best pads may experience absorbency issues.
The Ultimate Guide to Leaving a Puppy Alone at Home for the First Time
1. Set Some Time Off
Bonding with a new pet takes time, especially at a very young age. When you first bring a puppy home, keep in mind that he’s probably anxious at best and outright terrified at worst.
Don’t just pick up your pup, drop it off at your place and leave a few hours later to go to work. Be sure to time it so you have at least a few days free to connect with your new canine companion.
Show him around the house, and make him as comfortable as possible before leaving him alone. That way, he will have a chance to get to know you better and trust his new environment.
Then, do a test run. After a few days home, check how your puppy reacts when you go out and lock the door behind you. You can even wait outside for a couple of minutes to get an indication of how simple (or hard) it will be to leave him on his own.
2. Know His Needs
You cannot expect your new puppy to react well to training and bonding if his basic needs aren’t met. This means ensuring that ample food, water, warmth, and affection are available.
Before you even think of bringing a new puppy home, be sure that you have the time, patience and resources to raise him right. Much like human babies, puppies need constant attention and feeding.
Estimate your puppy’s feeding requirements by looking at his food label, calculating or consulting with a vet/pet nutritionist. Then, spread out the meals evenly throughout the day (preferably up to 4 times).
You can also free-feed your puppy, but doing so has some disadvantages. For one, your puppy will have a hard time getting on a proper feeding schedule later on in life. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to obesity and other health problems.
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, puppies cannot hold their urine in for too long. If you know you will be away from home a lot, do not set your puppy up for failure and make sure to potty him to use pee pads as soon as possible.
3. Find a Comfortable Bed
Selecting your dog’s bed is one of the first things you should do before bringing him home, as this is one of the spots he will be most likely to immediately imprint upon.
Get a bed that’s appropriate to your puppy’s size, as well as one that will make him feel as safe, secure and comfortable as possible. You also want to look for a material that is machine washable since even the best pet owners can expect to experience accidents from time to time, particularly in the puppy’s first 6 months. This Donut Cuddler (Amazon) has some great reviews.
4. Consider a Dog Crate
Crating is an excellent option for a puppy who experiences separation anxiety. Aside from providing him with an area that’s associated with comfort and safety, crates can even serve a double purpose as a dog bed.
Most puppies love the sense of security a durable crate provides, and they consider it their den. If your puppy is typically anxious, then there’s no question that a kennel is right for him.
5. Pick Some Chew Toys
No matter how cute your puppy is, his tendency to chew is probably one of the most annoying problems. A young puppy will happily chew everything from your books to your shoes to furniture if there’s nothing else available.
Amongst the plethora of dog toys on the market, it’s important to keep in mind that a puppy has different needs than an adult dog. Similar to how human infants become cranky during teething, a puppy is no different.
Therefore, you want to seek out toys that are specially rated for a puppy. Chew toys have different textures and materials that help to provide stimulation to the gums while minimizing discomfort.
6. Prepare Frozen Treats
Cold helps numb sore gums. Therefore, if you have a puppy, you should always have a stuffed chew toy in your freezer.
Use a chew toy that you can freeze (Like this one from Amazon) and fill it with canned dog food, plain non-fat yogurt or peanut butter, and throw it in the freezer.
Once needed, take out the toy, give it to your puppy and walk away. Not only does this help to soothe swollen gums, but this also helps with destructive behavior issues.
7. Set Up a Playpen
You shouldn’t let your puppy roam freely before he’s fully housetrained and knows his limits. This isn’t only about convenience, but about safety as well.
Just as you want to be sure your puppy doesn’t have an accident on your floor, you want to also be sure he’s not messing with electrical wires, household chemicals or anything else that could be dangerous. I’ll talk more on this later.
Additionally, as well behaved as your puppy may be with you and your family, remember that a protective nature is instinctual. So don’t let strangers suddenly approach your puppy, and take measures to put him in confinement or a separate room when unfamiliar people visit your home.
A dog playpen is an excellent solution, but go for the metal exercise pen which your dog can’t chew. I’ve used this every time I was out of the house and even while I was home. If you’re looking for a solid one, check out MidWest Exercise Pen (Amazon).
And while we’re at it, please avoid folding the pen when you come home from work. This only makes it difficult for your puppy to get used to his new space. If you leave the playpen open, your pup will start to recognize it as a regular part of his day to day surrounding, and imprint upon it as a safe space.
8. Install a Pet Gate
Another way to isolate your puppy from the rest of the house is by using a gate.
I talked about the importance of confinement in the previous tip, but if your puppy becomes claustrophobic inside his pen or you simply don’t have enough room for one, you can try the next best thing. But make sure you get the height right, especially if your puppy is a jumper.
9. Make Your Home Safe
Although confining your puppy while you’re away is a good place to start, you need to be sure your home is as safe as possible for him.
- Cover power outlets and use cord protectors
- Hide harmful household supplies and medications
- Empty bookshelves and other high shelves
- Get rid of poisonous houseplants
- Search for a dog-proof trash can
This will help your puppy stay out of trouble and minimizes the potential for disaster if he does happen to escape his crate while you’re gone.
10. Get the Temperature Right
Do you live in an area of extremes, where it can get very hot or very cold?
Just as you want to be cool in the summer, your puppy needs to have relief from the heat as well. Tower and ceiling fans normally do a great job and are generally safe. Not only that, it’s cheaper than turning on the air conditioner during the hot summer. A dog cooling mat can also be used on humid days.
When it’s too cold, leave your puppy extra blankets. Some people prefer heater fans, though you must be present to supervise due to potential fire damage.
11. Keep the Light On
Fear of the dark isn’t limited to children only, many pets dislike total darkness as well. Be sure to take this fact into consideration, and avoid leaving your puppy uneasy and alone in the dark.
If you leave your house in the morning, it’s easy to forget to turn on the lights. But depending on when you return, you may find your puppy shaking and whining. A small desk lamp near the playpen or the pet gate should be more than enough.
12. Shut down Any Noises
Make sure to close the windows and leave some sort of background noise to mask the sounds of honking cars, yelling neighbors, barking dogs, and scary thunders.
Whatever noise is frequent when you’re home with your puppy is most likely very soothing. A noisy fan, and even your favorite music would surely be better than a quiet apartment.
You can also turn on the National Geographic channel. The beautiful nature images along with the narrator calming voice might help your puppy relax and fall asleep.
There are also wonderful channels and videos on YouTube that are all about calming dog music.
Here’s an example:
13. Use Your Old Clothes
Puppies find calm in the smell of their owners, that’s because your scent is like a security blanket for them and it makes them feel as though you’re nearby even when you’re not.
So whenever you can, put yesterday’s t-shirt to good use and make it easier on your pup to stay home alone.
14. Beware of Overindulgence
I know how much you love to pamper your puppy, but it’s not advisable to overdo it. Believe me when I say that the more attention you give your puppy, the more he will depend on your presence and the less confident he will be while you’re away.
Over spoiling can lead to an anxious puppy that will most likely chew furniture, pee around the house, and bark all day.
15. Set Quiet Times
I know it’s not easy, but you have to ignore your smooshy little puppy from time to time. The worst thing you can do is make him believe he needs your attention to be happy or to feel safe.
Whether you’re watching a movie or eating your dinner, simply give your pup a cold shoulder. He can lay quietly anywhere he wants in the house, or if you prefer, in his bed or crate. The purpose of this exercise is to build confidence and teach your puppy to stay calm and relax even when he’s not getting any attention from you.
However, don’t stretch it. When it comes to puppies, small steps are the best way to go.
16. Get Him Tired
Everyone knows that a tired dog is a good dog, so make sure to exercise your puppy before you leave him for the day. Take him for a nice walk or throw him a ball, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that you exhaust him until he starts panting.
You should also add mental exercises and dog puzzle toys to your puppy’s routine as these require him to use not only his body but his brain as well, which can be pretty tiring.
17. Come in and Leave Quietly
You need to make sure that entering and leaving the house is done calmly, which means no petting, cuddling, hugging or kissing.
Leave the house without interacting with your puppy at all, and wait until he settles down when you come in the door. Even if it means to ignore him while he’s jumping and barking at you. Giving in to his demands will only make things worse and may promote separation anxiety.
18. Watch Him from Afar
I know it sounds a bit exaggerated, but stay with me. I used to monitor my dog all the time when he was young. I installed a camera near his playpen so I could see and hear him while I was out of the house. For me, it was very helpful and it provided me with the peace of mind I was looking for.
If you’re a bit obsessive like me, look for an easy to setup camera that can be accessed from any device and make sure it has a remote pan and tilt, as well as night vision in case the lighting is poor.
Some cameras have extra features such as motion tracking, noise detection, two-way audio, activity alerts, and treat tossing if that’s something you’re interested in.
19. Ask for Help
Commit to having at least one local dog sitter and a dog walker on your phone contacts, and use it as a backup plan in case you’re running late. Plus, if you have a family member or a friend you can count on, ask them if they can watch your pup for you.
This will give him a chance to stretch out his legs and release some of his pent up energy, which can only have a positive effect on his behavior.
Leaving a puppy alone at home for the first time can be a very stressful experience. By following the tips above, you’re sure to train your juvenile dog in a positive manner without experience the extremes of separation anxiety.