Leaving your puppy alone at home can be a stressful experience, especially if you’re a first-time dog owner. But as much as we would like to be with our pets all the time, for most people, this is simply unrealistic.
This reality creates a lot of stress in many pet parents. Particularly if your pup isn’t trained or fully housebroken, it can lead to lots of anxious thoughts while you’re at work, 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 more than able to stay by themselves for at least some amount of time without displaying anxious or unwanted behavior, such as chewing or peeing where they shouldn’t.
In this post, you’ll learn how to train your juvenile dog to be alone without experiencing the extremes of separation anxiety.
How Long Can You Leave a Puppy at Home?
This answer depends on the age of your puppy.
In general, puppies need 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 pup 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.
If you know you’ll be away from home a lot, don’t set your puppy up for failure, and make sure to potty him to use pee pads as soon as possible.
But bear in mind that no matter what amount of pee 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, and your pup may become insecure and possibly even destructive.
Leaving a Puppy Home Alone: A Novice’s Guide
1. Spend Time with Him
Bonding with a new pet takes time, especially at a very young age. When you first bring your puppy home, keep in mind that he’s probably anxious at best, and outright terrified at worst.
So don’t just pick him up, drop him 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 best friend.
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 also trust his new environment.
Next, do a test run — after a few days home, check how your pup 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. Take Care of His Needs
You can’t expect your 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 pet home, be sure that you have the time, patience, and resources to raise him right.
Estimate your pup’s feeding requirements by looking at his food label, calculating, or consulting with a vet or pet nutritionist. Then, spread out his meals evenly throughout the day (preferably up to four times).
You can also free-feed him, but doing so has some disadvantages. For one, your dog may develop picky eating habits later on in life. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to obesity and other health problems.
Water, on the other hand, should always be available.
3. Get Him His Own Bed
Getting a dog bed is one of the first things you should do before leaving your puppy alone at home, as this is one of the spots where he will spend most of his time.
Find one that’s appropriate to his size, so it can make him feel as safe, secure, and comfortable as possible.
You also want to look for a product that’s waterproof, or at least 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.
RELATED: Best Waterproof Dog Beds
4. Consider a Dog Crate
Crating is an excellent option for a puppy who experiences separation anxiety.
But 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 (as long as they’re padded and cozy).
Oftentimes, puppies will see the crate as their den, and a place to escape to when they’re anxious or need some time alone.
If that describes your fella, then there’s no question that a kennel is right for him.
5. Offer Him a Chew Toy
No matter how cute your new friend is, his tendency to chew is probably one of the most annoying problems. Dogs will happily chew everything from your books to your shoes, and even furniture if there’s nothing else available.
Amongst the plethora of toys on the market, it’s important to be aware that a young dog has different needs than an adult canine. Similar to how human infants become cranky during teething, a puppy is no different.
Therefore, you want to seek out a toy that’s specially rated for his age. Chew toys have different textures and materials that help to provide stimulation to the gums, while minimizing discomfort.
Once needed, take out the toy, give it to your pup, and walk away. Not only will it last longer, but it will also tire out your good boy, both physically and mentally.
6. Install a Playpen/Pet Gate
You shouldn’t let your puppy roam freely before he’s fully house trained and knows his limits. This isn’t only about convenience, but about safety.
Just as you want to be sure he 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 (more on this later).
Also, remember that as well behaved as your pup may be with you and your family, a protective nature is instinctual.
For this reason, don’t let strangers suddenly approach him, 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 for both of these issues.
For best results, be sure to leave the playpen open. Not only will your pooch begin to recognize it as a regular part of his day to day surrounding, but he will also begin to imprint upon it as a safe space.
Another way to isolate your puppy from the rest of the house is by using a pet gate.
I talked about the importance of confinement in the previous tip, but if your pup becomes claustrophobic inside his pen, or you simply don’t have enough room for one, you can try the next best thing.
Just make sure you get the height right, especially if your little one is a jumper.
7. Puppy-Proof Your House
Your puppy can’t tell what’s dangerous and what’s not. Although confining him is a good place to start, you need to be sure your home is as safe as possible.
This will help him stay out of trouble, and minimizes the potential for disaster if he does happen to escape his crate while you’re away.
Need a few ideas about where to start?
- Cover power outlets and use cord protectors
- Hide harmful household supplies and medications
- Watch out for poisonous houseplants
- Pick up small items and little parts from the floors
- Remove books and other objects from high shelves
- Get a dog-proof trash can
8. Set a Nice Temperature
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 they’re generally safe and cheaper than turning on the air conditioner.
Other cooling products, such as a mat or vest can also be used to help cool down.
When it’s too cold outside, make sure to leave extra blankets. While some people prefer heater fans, you must be present to supervise due to potential fire damage.
9. Keep Some Light On
Fear of the dark isn’t only limited to children, many pets dislike total darkness, too. Be sure to take this fact into consideration, and avoid leaving your puppy uneasy and alone without any light source.
If you leave your house in the morning, it’s easy to forget to turn on the lights. But if you’re planning on returning home late, you may find your pup shaking and scared.
That said, a small desk lamp near the playpen or the pet gate should be more than enough.
10. Mask Any Outdoor 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. For example, the hum of a fan, some type of white noise, and even certain types of music would surely be better than a completely quiet apartment.
You can also try the National Geographic channel — the wildlife and nature images along with the narrator’s calming voice might help your pup relax and fall asleep.
11. Use Your Old Clothes
Puppies find calm in the smell of their owners, this is 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 there.
So whenever you can, take a smelly t-shirt or sock and leave it where your puppy can see it. You’ll only make it easier for him.
12. Avoid Over Spoiling Him
We all love to pamper our dogs, but it’s not always the right thing to do. Trust 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.
No matter the age, over spoiling can lead to an anxious dog that will most likely chew furniture, pee around the house, and bark all day.
13. Give Him Some Space
Even though it can be difficult, try to ignore your smooshy little pup 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.
You need to understand that some independence is healthy and that most accidents happen out of boredom or loneliness on your puppy’s part.
So, avoid creating 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.
Whether you’re watching a movie, reading a book, or eating your dinner, simply give your pal the cold shoulder. In the meantime, he can relax 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.
Just remember that when it comes to puppies, small steps is the best way to go.
14. Make Sure He’s Tired
Everyone knows that a tired dog is a good dog, so make the effort to wear your pup out before you leave him alone for a few hours. You can take him out brisk walk or play fetch, anything goes, as long as you do something that will exhaust him. Otherwise, he will manage to find other ways to release his pent-up energy.
In addition, include some mental exercises, brain games, and other puzzle toys in your puppy’s routine, as these require him to use not only his body, but also his brain, which can be very tiring.
15. Don’t Make It a Big Deal
You need to make sure that entering and leaving the house is done calmly. That 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 back in. At first, he will be excited and try to gain your attention by jumping and barking at you. Don’t fall into this trap!
Giving in to his demands will only make things worse, and may even nurture separation anxiety.
16. Invest in a Pet Camera
Okay, I admit. I used to watch my dog all day when he was a puppy. I hanged a webcam on his playpen and could see and hear everything while I was at work. This peace of mind is just what I needed.
If I were you today, I’d look for an easy-to-setup camera that can be accessed from any mobile device, and make sure it has a wide-angle view, as well as night vision, just in case.
Some cameras even have additional features, such as motion tracking, noise detection, two-way audio, activity, and barking alerts, and even treat tossing if that’s something that you’re interested in.
17. Ask Other People 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. Also, check if you have someone in your family or a friend that can help you out.
This will give your pup a chance to stretch out his legs, and get some fresh air, which can only have a positive effect on his behavior. It sure beats coming home and finding a big mess and a stressed-out pet.
As a first-time dog owner, are you comfortable leaving your puppy alone at home? Tell us in the comments.