Teaching a dog to enjoy being alone

It is not possible to be attentive to your dog every minute of every day of his life.  Attempting to do so can lead to a variety of behavioral problems.

­­­­At an early age, every puppy should learn how to spend time alone, quietly.  This will make life easier for you as well as the puppy.  As well, it is never too late for an older dog to learn to be alone, quietly.  It is not possible to be attentive to your dog every minute of every day of his life.  Attempting to do so can lead to a variety of behavioral problems.  You can help your dog learn to be alone whether you are at home and can not supervise your dog at the moment or need to leave the house to go to work.

While your dog is alone, the dog needs some way to pass the time, stave off boredom, and have some form of “occupational therapy.”  If left to his own accord, the dog will find his own way of amusing himself, and chances are you will not like what he comes up with.  Digging, chewing on things, and other forms of destructive behavior are often the result of his creative efforts.  To prevent these habits from developing, we must teach the dog how to amuse himself when left alone.

Toys can be an excellent diversion

Toys can be an excellent diversion giving the dog both something to play with and something to chew on.  “Kongs” or other hollow-type toys are wonderful because we can stuff them with some delectable treats.  Use some kibble pieces, broken pieces of his favorite cookies (with peanut butter smeared on them), small bits of cheese, etc., and stuff it into his toy.  The treats should not be too easy to get out as we want the dog to have to work on this for a while.  If peanut butter is smeared on the inside of the Kong, try leaving the stuffed Kong in the freezer for an hour or so to help delay the dog. The first few times we give the Kong to the dog, we might even put his whole dinner inside and plug the end with some bread!  Very quickly, the Kong should become one of his favorite toys.  Now, just before you leave the dog alone, you should place the dog in his long-term confinement area and give him the stuffed Kong.  As an alternative to hollow toys, you can use hard “nylon bones.”  To help turn this into a favorite toy, drill several holes through each end and pack the holes with soft cheese or peanut butter.  Only let the dog have this special stuffed toy when he is in confinement, and you are about to go out the door or leave him alone for a long period of time.

It is important to realize dogs do things for a reason.  While we might not always figure out what the motivation is for engaging in a certain behavior, if we can narrow down the cause, we will have a better chance to eliminate the behavior.  In the case of chewing, for example, the dog’s motivation depends upon the cause.  If he is teething, exercising his teeth and jaws will feel good to him.  If it is to release tension, frustration, or energy excess, the release becomes his reward.

Things to remember

  1. Confine the dog when he is alone where he can do no wrong.
  2. When you are at home with him, provide him with one chewable toy of his own.  The purpose behind this is to train him to direct all his chewing toward this one object.  Give him no more than this one toy, and in this way, we can ensure there is no confusion due to too many choices.
  3. Have one or two “special” treat-stuffed toys that he can have only when you are going out, or he is being confined for a long period of time.
  4. Keep chewable objects you do not want him to have out of his reach.
  5. Use obedience training regularly. This gives him an outlet for his energy and gives him a function that makes him a contributing member of the household.
  6. Exercise him regularly.

ONCE THE DOG IS PAST THE CHEWING STAGE, YOU CAN GRANT MORE FREEDOM PROVIDED THE FOLLOWING RULES ARE ADHERED TO

  • Keep all chewable objects you don’t want him to have out of his reach.
  • Just before leaving, do not rush around the house trying to stash things away.  This kind of behavior causes anxiety or excitement in the dog.
  • Before leaving, sit quietly for five minutes.  Have coffee, read the paper, or engage in some other quiet, solitary activity but pay no attention to the dog.
  • When it is time to leave, get up and leave.  Be unemotional and go.
  • If the dog regresses, go back to the confinement stage for a short period of time while the possible causes for the relapse are examined.
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