Leaving a puppy alone at home, especially for the first time, can be a stressful experience.
But as much as we want to be with our pets all the time, for most people, this is unrealistic. This reality creates a lot of anxiety in many pet owners.
Think about it, particularly if your pup isn’t fully housebroken, it can lead to lots of anxious thoughts while you’re working late or enjoying a night out with friends.
The good news is that leaving a puppy at home is not only possible, but it’s easier than you might think!
In this post, you will learn how to make your juvenile dog feel safe and ensure that he won’t get bored while you’re away.
How Long Can You Leave a Puppy at Home?
Realistically, the 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.
If you know you’ll be away from home a lot, don’t set your pup up for failure, and make sure to potty him to use pee pads as soon as possible. That way he knows there’s a safe, designated spot to relieve himself inside.
But bear in mind, no matter what amount of potty pads you use or how well your dog is trained, it is 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.
Our Best Tips on Leaving Your Puppy Home Alone (for the First Time)
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.
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 for the first time.
But don’t start by being away for 8-10 hours straight.
In his first days home, gradually separate from your puppy (this will help him adjust more easily). Go to another room, take out the trash, and as your pup stays calm, slowly increase your time outside of the house.
2. Take Care of His Basic Needs
You can’t expect your puppy to react well to training and bonding if his basic needs are not 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.
Much like human babies, puppies tend to eat several times a day and they need constant attention. Estimate your puppy’s feeding requirements by consulting the puppy food label (or ask your vet.)
Then, spread feeding time out evenly throughout the day (usually, up to four meals), or schedule them using an automatic pet feeder.
Of course, you can always free-feed your puppy, but doing so has some disadvantages.
For one, he may have a hard time getting on a proper feeding schedule later on in life, develop picky eating habits, or in the worst-case scenario, experience obesity, and other health problems.
Fresh water, on the other hand, should always be available.
3. Get Him His Own Bed
Selecting your puppy’s bed is one of the first things you should do before bringing him home, as this is one of the spots where he will be most likely to immediately imprint upon.
Look for something that’s appropriate to his size and that will make your puppy feel as safe, secure, and comfortable as possible.
You also want to select a material that’s waterproof, or at least machine washable. Even the best pet owners can expect to experience accidents from time to time, particularly in the first few months.
4. Consider a Dog Crate
Most puppies love the sense of security a durable crate provides, and they often consider it their den. Therefore, 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.
If you know your pup is anxious, then there’s no question that a kennel is right for him.
5. Give Him Something to Do
As much as you may love your puppy, his tendency to chew is probably one of the most annoying problems. Puppies will happily chew everything from your books to your shoes to your furniture if there’s nothing else available.
Amongst the plethora of toys on the market, it’s important to keep in mind that a puppy has different needs than an adult dog. Just as human infants become cranky during teething, so is a young dog.
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.
A frozen dog treat is another good idea!
As you may already know, cold helps numb sore gums. If you have a puppy, you should always have this one hand.
Before you leave, take out the Kong, give it to your pup, and walk away. Not only will it help to soothe his swollen gums, but it will also keep him physically and mentally active while you’re away.
6. Set Up a Confinement Area
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 as well.
Just as you want to watch him 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, as well-behaved as your puppy may be with you and your family, remember that a protective nature is instinctual. For this reason, you want to 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 you should consider leaving it set up for the majority of the time. Not only will your puppy begin to recognize it as a regular part of his day-to-day surroundings, but he will also begin to perceive it as a safe space.
However, if you don’t have enough room for a playpen, you can try the next best thing – a pet gate! Just make sure you get the height right, especially if your good boy is a jumper.
7. Puppy-Proof Your House
Your puppy can’t tell what’s dangerous and what’s not. Although confining him while you’re away is a good place to start, you need to be sure your home is as safe as possible.
This means he will stay out of trouble and minimizes the potential for disaster if he does happen to escape his crate.
Here are some quick ideas for you:
- Always 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
- Invest in a good dog-proof trash can
- Avoid toxic holiday decorations such as tinsel and mistletoe
8. Set the Right 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 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 or vest can also be used on humid days.
When it’s too cold, just leave your puppy extra blankets. Some people prefer heater fans, though you must be present to supervise due to potential fire damage.
9. Keep Some Light On
Fear of the dark is not 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.
When you leave your house in the morning, it’s easy to forget about these things. However, if for some reason you come back late, you may find your pup shaking and scared.
A small desk lamp or nightstand lamp near your dog’s bed should be more than enough.
10. Mask Any Outside Noises
Close the windows and leave background noise to drown out the sounds of honking cars, yelling neighbors, barking dogs, and loud thunders.
Whatever noise is frequent when you’re home with your puppy is most likely very soothing. For example, the hum of a fan, a white noise machine, music, and even the TV should feel more natural to your pup than a quiet apartment.
Try the DOGTV or National Geographic channel. The wildlife and nature images along with the narrator’s calming voice might help your pooch relax and fall asleep.
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11. Reuse Your Old Clothes
Puppies find calm in the smell of their owners. Our animals gravitate towards the things that smell like us because our scent is like a security blanket for them, which makes them feel as though we’re nearby even when we’re not.
So whenever you can, take a sweaty T-shirt or a smelly sock and leave it where your puppy can see it. If you’re feeling creative, here are some fun ways to repurpose old T-shirts you no longer need.
12. Don’t Spoil Him Too Much
We all love to pamper our dogs, but it’s not always the right thing to do. Trust me on this, the more attention you give to your puppy, the more he will depend on your presence, and the less confident he will be when left alone.
No matter his age, over spoiling can lead to an anxious dog which will most likely chew furniture, pee on the floor, and bark all day.
13. Teach Him It’s OK to Be Alone
Though it can be difficult, you should ignore your puppy sometimes. 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 most accidents happen out of boredom or loneliness on your puppy’s part.
As much as you love your pup, independence is healthy. As I mentioned, you don’t want to create a situation where he’s overly dependent upon you. Instead, try to get him used to spending time alone so he doesn’t panic and see it as a bad thing.
Whether you’re watching a movie, reading a book, or eating dinner, simply give your furry friend the cold shoulder.
The purpose of this is to build confidence and teach your puppy to stay calm and relax, even when he’s not getting any attention from you.
Just don’t make it a habit. Our dogs still need us, and ignoring them for long periods can lead to more behavior problems.
14. Make Sure He’s Tired
Everyone knows that a tired dog is a good dog, so make the effort to wear your puppy out before you leave him alone. Take him for a brisk walk and even play with him or he will find other ways to release his pent-up energy.
Also, incorporate 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 his brain as well, 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, which means no petting, cuddling, hugging, or kissing.
Leave without interacting with your puppy and wait until he settles down when you come back in. At first, he may try to get your attention by jumping and barking at you. Don’t fall for it! Simply ignore him.
Giving in to his demands will only reinforce bad behavior and may eventually lead to separation anxiety.
16. Invest in a Pet Camera
All right, I admit. I used to watch my dog all day when he was a pup. I installed a webcam on his playpen and could see and hear everything while I was at work. But getting it to work was tricky.
If it were today, I’d probably get a security camera with an easy setup, 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 you’re interested in.
17. Hire Professional Help
Perhaps most importantly, you need to consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter that you can trust and rely on in case you ever need help caring for your puppy.
Finding the right person can be difficult though.
Luckily, there are some websites that can connect you to local caregivers, so you can check out any references or reviews they might have. One of these services is Care.com, which you can join for free.
If it’s every once in a while, you can try asking someone in your family or a friend if they can visit your pup and take him out for a quick walk and a bathroom break.
Canines as a group are very social animals that tend to form pack tendencies. Even with this fact in mind, most puppies are able to stay by themselves for at least some amount of time without displaying anxious or destructive behavior.
By following the tips above, you are sure to train your puppy in a positive manner without experiencing the extremes of separation anxiety.