Teaching your dog to be alone

Learning to be okay alone when you leave the house, or even just the room, is one of the fundamental things to teach your puppy as early as possible. In some cases, you might need to do this with an adult dog you just adopted or after a big event like moving. In this post, we’ll give you all the tools to get your dog sleepy and happy while you’re away.

Who this guide is for, and not for

Puppies, newly adopted dogs and dogs who are only slightly uncomfortable with being alone will get better through the steps outlined below. However, dogs with separation anxiety require a much, much more careful and precise approach. If you think your dog may have separation anxiety, you would be best served by contacting someone specialized in this issue.

Before you get started

There are a few things you’ll want to think about before you start working on leaving your dog alone.

What kind of space do I want my dog to have when I leave?

If you have a dog that still has destructive habits, you might want to leave it in a dog-proofed room or a crate. If you’re going to use a crate, it should be trained first.

Tire your dog out

Try and have your dog be relatively spent before you start training. A lot of pent-up energy can make things harder when you’re just starting. As your dog gets better, you’ll be able to leave them alone even if they haven’t gotten that long of a walk, but make a habit of tiring your dog out before leaving it alone.

Setup to be able to watch your dog while you’re out

When you start leaving your dog alone, you’ll want to be able to see and hear them. There are many different ways to do this, the simplest being a camera made for this exact purpose We use Wyze and are very pleased with it (not sponsored :P).

How we want our dogs to feel when we leave

Boring, mundane and uneventful.

Unlike with most things we try and get dogs used to, we aren’t going to be using food or any type of reward when it comes to teaching your dog to be alone. We want the dog to think our moving around, in and out of rooms and the house to be just another thing that happens. We don’t use food, praise or reward because we want to avoid the dog excitedly waiting for our return.

How to teach loneliness to your dog

You are going to do something so small that your dog, through repetition, stops caring about it. Once you’ve gotten that result, you’ll do a bit more. Rinse and repeat until you can leave for hours without an issue.

For some dogs, the “something” will be just standing up. For others, you’ll be able to start right away by going all the way to the door and touching the handle.

Training two dogs at the same time? Your training should be simple enough for both dogs, which means adapting to the most anxious or uncomfortable one.

You have to adapt to your dog for this to work.

Once you’ve done the action, you’ll simply go back to what you were doing before. You’re not talking to, looking at, praising or scolding your dog no matter what they did in response to you moving.

You’ll have a full list of steps you can work off of below, but here’s what the process should look like:

  • I’m sitting, reading
  • I stand up, open the front door and close it behind me, I then open the second door and close it (without actually leaving)
    • A few seconds later, I hear Ori whine, indicating that opening the second door was too much for him. I come back immediately and wait for him to settle back down.
  • On my next attempts, I will go through the first door but leave the second untouched. I do not hear Ori whine, nor do I see him budge on the recording device I’ve set up. I’ll keep doing that for a while and then try the second door again.

How to tell if what you’re doing is good

  • Your puppy should never panic.
    • Panic is not only a sign that you’re not making progress, it’s a sign you’re likely making things worse. If your dog barks, scratches, whines or shows any other sign of serious discomfort when you do whatever step you’re on, you should return immediately and do something easier next time.
  • If you’ve done the same thing more than a dozen times and your dog has always followed you, it’s probably too hard for them. Do something easier.
  • If your dog sometimes just looks at you leave and doesn’t move, even if it’s not every single time yet, you’re on the right path!

Add some randomness to the process

It’s a good idea to often do things that are easier than the “best” your dog can do, just so they don’t feel like things always get harder and harder. If your dog is ready for you to leave 60 minutes and you’re working up to a couple of hours, it can be very beneficial to sprinkle some 10-15 minute outings in there.

Use cameras to watch your dog while you’re out

When you initially leave your dog “alone” in the house, you won’t be going to do groceries or visit friends and family. You’ll want to find the closest comfortable space to settle, where your dog cannot hear or see you and watch. Remember that our goal is for the dog to never feel anxious or react, which means you need to pay attention to what’s going on at all times until you’re certain your dog is okay when you leave.

What a full list of steps looks like:

Remember that this is only a guideline to start from. Make things easier or go faster based on what your dog shows you it is comfortable with or not.

Each of these steps should be repeated until your dog does not care about you doing them at all. Remember: we simply do the thing and go right back to where we were.

  1. Simply getting up
  2. Walk a few steps away
  3. Walk to the door of a room
  4. Enter the room, don’t close the door behind you
  5. Close the door, wait 5 seconds before coming out
  6. Wait 30 seconds in the room
  7. Wait 2 minutes inside the room
  8. Go grab your keys
  9. Put shoes on
  10. Grab your bag
  11. Get dressed as if you were headed out
  12. Combine steps 8-11
  13. Repeat steps 3-7 (leaving the room) with the door to your home without preparing your things first
  14. Repeat steps 3-7 (leaving the room) this time getting all your things ready before you do
  15. Start leaving “for real”
    • Remember that the goal here is to make it seem as though you were gone (take the car if you need to), but to be close enough to return quickly
    • At this point, you’ll want to gradually increase how long you’re gone until you reach 4-5 hours. Remember to make things easier now and then!

How long does all of this take?

Loneliness training depends on a few factors:

  • How often you can and do commit to training your dog
  • How difficult it is for your dog to be alone and the past experiences it may have
  • How long it takes for your dog to “settle back down” after you’ve returned

For some puppies, this work can be done over just a few days. For some more anxious dogs or ones that have had many bad experiences with being left alone, we can be looking at weeks, perhaps months. If you’re struggling to make any progress and haven’t consulted with a separation anxiety trainer, you should do so.

The gist of teaching your dog to be alone:

  • The goal is to make our moving around the house, or leaving, boring: no food, to praise, no commands
  • If the dog follows you, nothing happens. If it doesn’t, nothing happens
  • The only time following us is worthwhile is when we say so
  • Start small, moving just a few steps away, and increase difficulty once your dog doesn’t care anymore
  • Separation anxiety requires specialized help and likely won’t respond to this simple method.

Still have questions? Get in touch with us!

written by Stephen Fiset, dog trainer

Mis à jour le January 1, 2024