Here are some ideas to get you started on teaching your puppy to stay alone with as little stress as possible, and to help create a non-stressful association with the confinement area and being left alone. Use these ideas as a jumping off point to create a schedule that works for you and your puppy.
Pet sitters or dog walkers, even willing neighbors, can be so helpful when you have a young puppy. A normal work day is too long for a puppy to be home alone. It needs a break or two at least throughout the day to potty, walk around outside and sniff, have a game, have some lunch, etc. If you’re unable to come home at lunch to do this, or to take your puppy to work with you, please consider hiring someone to help you for awhile.
Begin when you bring your new puppy home. Schedule some vacation time, or at the very least, bring your puppy home when you will have several days to spend with her with no trips out planned. Decide ahead of time to spend those several days creating as relaxed and happy association with the puppy being alone as you can. And then be sure to schedule yourself or someone else to come in at least once during the day when you return to work to let the puppy out and spend some time with her. This could be a neighbor, family member or a hired pet sitter or walker.
Have your puppy’s confinement area set up from the beginning and leave it accessible to the puppy all day long – if it is a crate, tie the door open so she can go in and out and explore as she wants. If it is an ex pen or a gated room, leave the area open for puppy to wander in and out of at will. Leave interesting things in the area that will encourage relaxation and calm, quiet behaviors – a bed, chew bones and even food-stuffed chew toys like Kongs. If you notice your puppy being wild and crazy in that area, entice her to come out of the area to play. That area is for relaxing and calm behaviors.
Puppies take lots of naps between play sessions. When your puppy is just about asleep or is already sleeping, move her to the special area and let her sleep there undisturbed for her nap. She will begin to learn by association to be relaxed in that area. Stay nearby and be ready for puppy to wake up. As soon as she wakes up, before she can realize she is confined and begins to cry, go to her calmly and take her outside to potty.
Most important is to keep the times when your puppy is confined to very short, successful periods of time at this point. During times when your puppy is calm and sleepy, you can sit in the confinement area with your puppy – keep things calm though, no wild games and play time. You can sit and read a book or watch TV and allow her to settle down and sleep on her own. Then it is a gradual process for you to sit next to the area – on the other side of a gate or pen – and then farther from the area.
Gradually you can put puppy into the area a little sooner than normal so she has time to play calmly for a bit or chew a bone and she will learn to settle down on her own. Stay nearby so you can intervene if you see her beginning to get upset. Maybe just go into the area with her and sit calmly. Then try stepping out again once she’s almost asleep.
If you are crate training your puppy for bedtime, bring the crate into your bedroom and put it right next to the bed. You can dangle an arm over the side of the bed to put your fingers in through the bars of the crate to provide contact to soothe your puppy, gradually withdrawing your hand as she learns to soothe herself to sleep. Remember that your puppy will need to potty in the middle of the night. If she makes a fuss and has been sleeping, get her outside quickly. But don’t make this a time for games or treats or snuggles on the bed. Keep the trip matter-of-fact, out and back in. Upon coming back inside, puppy goes back in the crate.
What always works best for me at this point is to pull my pillows down to the floor and lie right outside the crate door with it open just enough for me to slip my arm inside. My body blocks the door from opening all the way and puppy coming out, but my arm inside allows the puppy to snuggle up and go back to sleep. If puppy decides this is a great time to cut its teeth on your arm, just pull your arm out and press it up against the crate door so it is close but protected from puppy teeth. As your puppy learns the routine, you will need to spend less and less time on the floor or with your arm in the crate to help her settle back down.
Puppies cue off our breathing, yes even blind and deaf puppies! So, keep your breathing calm and relaxed while you lie there, and keep your body relaxed and quiet. This will help her know it is time to go back to sleep.
It is a gradual process to teach a puppy to be calm and relaxed when left alone and/or confined. Yes, this is a lot of work to do properly in the beginning. It is just one of the aspects of having a puppy that requires a lot of commitment on our part in the beginning to set the puppy up for success for the rest of her life. She is a baby and it is our job to pay close attention and set her up for success.