Training for an independent puppy


Separation training – preparing your puppy for being alone

We live busy lives, that’s a fact. And we are only getting more and more busy. So how do we help prepare our puppies for that alone time?

Our puppies come from being with their litter mates and Mum to being in a totally new environment. It’s often their first experience of being alone when we bring them into our homes and then we want to go out without them for 8 to 10 hours at a time. Teaching our new additions to settle on their own and that being alone is not scary, takes a bit of training and preparation.

As much as we want to give our puppy tonnes of attention and affection when we are home, it is just as important for them to learn it is OK to be apart from us and that it isn’t scary. This will help to prevent any separation distress/isolation distress issues in the future. This means being alone when we are home and they are able to see us, as well as being alone when we leave the home.

Puppy boxer Vince falling asleep with a treat toy in his crate.

But your puppy cries when they’re alone in a pen? This is completely normal, they want to be with their family.

So what can we do to train our puppy to be happily independent? Here are our top tips:

Make alone time a positive experience: Give your puppy fun things to do while they are in their pen, crate or outdoors alone. This might mean giving them great puzzle toys to use. Using their meals in enriching toys are fantastic, and even better it is natural for dogs to hunt and find their food. It’s even been scientifically proven that animals of all species prefer to work to find their food than to have it left out and easily accessible in a bowl.

Fortunately there are loads of great toys on the market now, but make sure you purchase top quality toys that will not be dangerous choking hazards for your puppies, and ones that are designed for puppies. Make sure you also provide them with a soft and comfy mat or bed to relax on in their pen.

Start small: When introducing a type of separation whether that be through using a baby gate, an exercise pen or a crate, we don’t want to simply put our puppies in there and let them cry it out. Start by sitting just on the other side of the barrier while they have some treat toys and if they seem relaxed and content, start to sit a bit further away. Build up to leaving the room just for a short while and then return. Don’t give them any excited greetings, simply sit back down again and tell them they’re a good puppy. Once they begin to learn that this isn’t too bad, I get to chew on a yummy Kong toy with some treats in it and my owners will come and go without much fuss, we can begin to start increasing the time that we’re gone.

A safe space: Try to find a spot that is quiet and safe that your dog can relax in. If it’s a spot with lots of people moving past and a lot of noise, your dog may find it hard to settle. Playing soft music on the radio can also help to settle your dog and drown out some of the more distracting noises happening around the home.

Keep most interactions low key and relaxed: When you are about to leave or need to do some jobs away from your puppy, try to keep interactions calm and low key. Instead of playing with them just prior to any separation, have some relaxed cuddle time on their mat or bed. When you arrive home after being away from your puppy from a while, also try to keep the interactions relatively calm to prevent them building up excited anticipation of arrivals and interactions with you.

Separation issues are common, however they can be prevented: Teaching your baby puppies right from the start to feel positive about alone time is crucial to helping prevent separation issues arising in the future. If you are getting a puppy or have just brought a new puppy into your home, begin controlled and positive separations straight away. We know it’s exciting to bring a new dogs home, but flooding your dog with a lot of attention 24/7 will only make the contrast a lot more challenging for them to adjust to when you have to go back to work or your other usual daily routines.

Pheromone therapies and medications: There are a range of products on the market to help dogs feel more relaxed without using pharmacy grade medications. These include Adaptil which is a synthetic version of attachment hormones to help your puppies or older dogs feel more relaxed. They come in collars which last for one month, plug-in diffusers for your home or also sprays that can be sprayed onto a bandana or onto bedding. Thunder Jackets are a product which are a tight jacket shown to help your dog feel more relaxed and there are also pet versions of rescue remedy. Chat to your trainer or vet regarding some of these products if you feel they may benefit your dog.

Seek help from a qualified and experienced professional: Do you have a dog that you’re concerned is highly distressed by separation? Seek help from a local rewards based trainer in your area to find out what you can do to help your dog. We highly recommend doing a postcode search on the Pet Professional Guild of Australia website to find your closest positive trainer.