Dogs are social animals and it is in their nature to have company, so they do not do well if they are left on their own for lengthy periods of time. This is one of the main consideration when deciding to bring a puppy into your life.
Are you able to commit the time this new addition to your family needs to develop into a healthy happy adult? Or if not, have you got a plan in place for someone to care for your puppy in your absence?
The rewards of having a companion animal are endless but we need to remember that is what dogs are defined as, “Companion” animals and we are going against their nature if we leave them for prolonged periods of time on their own.
How long can a puppy be left on their own?
It depends on their age and whether they are toilet trained but a guideline is no longer than four hours at a time.
Younger puppies (from 8 weeks old) should only be left for 2 hours on their own initially and then gradually build up the duration. This is for both their physical and mental wellbeing.
As soon as your pup arrives in your home, practice leaving them alone for short periods of time. Pop around the corner to the shops, go next door for a cup of tea, this will help your puppy realise that you do actually come back and that they will not be left on their own forever, so they learn that its ok to relax or even sleep when you are gone.
How Much Sleep Does A Puppy Need?
Puppies do need a lot of sleep as they are growing rapidly, and they are also encountering new, exciting things every day in this strange new world they have been born into, so they are using up a lot of physical energy and brain power.
16 hours per day is the usual sleeping time your new pup requires to recharge their batteries.
Get them used to your routine from Day 1 and everything that follows will be easier.
So, if you sleep for 8 hours per night and go to bed at 11 pm and get up at 7 am, get your puppy into that routine also.
Then when you head off to do your jobs for the day at 8 am, your pup will still need another 8 hours of sleep before your bedtime again.
Any activity tires out most pups when they are very young (so let them outside for their toilet break, then have a little playtime, then a light breakfast, then toilet break again).
Then repeat when you return after a couple of hours or ask your pet sitter to follow the same routine, so your puppy feels happy and secure, as they know what to expect and are getting used to the cycle of your daily routine.
Or as your puppy gets older and is fully vaccinated, you can bring them for a quick walk to drain their energy before you leave and again ask your pet sitter to repeat the routine during the day, for a couple of quick breaks.
You will then return to a happy puppy and a home free from chewed furniture and other destructive behaviour.
How Can I Crate Train My Puppy?
Crate Training is a great tool to consider for easing any anxiety your puppy may feel when he is home alone. It is also a great aid at the toilet training stage with your puppy.
Please refer to our “How to Toilet Train your Puppy” article for more detail and some Crate Training Tips.
Crate Training can prevent separation anxiety or manage it if you are already seeing signs of anxiety in your puppy.
How Can I Create A Routine for My Puppy?
In the morning you are getting ready to leave the house for the first time that day, for a possible four hours. This is the key time to show your puppy that being on their own is a good thing.
You will do this by creating a positive association with the fact that you are leaving.
Learning anything new for your puppy is very similar to how we learn.
At its most basic level, if an action results in something positive we will repeat it. So, if every time your puppy sits, they get a reward (treat or praise), they will repeat that action.
This works for anything we want them to do. Creating a positive association with the action we want them to take, is a way of communicating the behaviour we want them to follow.
Will My Puppy Be Lonely?
The answer is No (if you do a few simple things, as part of your morning routine, to create a positive association, with the fact that you are leaving):
Check your puppies sleeping area is nice and cosy.
It is a good idea to give your puppy a dog-friendly cuddly toy to sleep with (don’t forget he would have been sleeping with his Mum and his siblings before he moved to his new family, so the feel of warm, cuddly things around him will help him feel secure).
Turn On the Radio
Leave the radio on so there is comforting noise in the background that he would be used to when you are there (this also helps block out any “scary” noises from outside when he is on his own).
Classical music has been proven to relax dogs.
Get Some Toys
Provide a mentally challenging toy that is also rewarding (your puppy should only get this when you are leaving so he associates this treat with being on his own).
Always ensure this toy is puppy-proof and safe is leave with him on his own. Your vet or local pet store can advise, regarding suitability for your pup.
This satisfies your puppies natural drive and allows him to act on his instincts. Providing these activities is referred to as “Enrichment” as they are very satisfying and tiring for them.
What Are The Best Puppy Toys?
When you are leaving your puppy on his own, the best examples are below but again we must stress talk to your vet first for advice on what is most suitable for your puppy.
Using a treat dispensing ball, which satisfies puppy’s scent and search drive, or hide a healthy treat like carrots around the area your puppy has access to when you leave.
Or you can give him his breakfast in a durable rubber dog toy, like a Puppy Kong. Simply soak puppy’s dry food in water and use it to fill the toy, then freeze it, or use mashed banana as a once a week treat. This works particularly well on warm days, as it works like a doggy ice-pop and keeps him cool. Puppy’s meal takes longer to eat and is more challenging and will also be soothing on gums when he’s teething.
Mimic nature (using a Pheromone collar)
I have used this with my own dog Brucie when he was an anxious Sheltie puppy and it definitely helped (it was recommended by my vet).
Adaptil is the name of this type of collar and it is a synthetic copy of the natural canine appeasing pheromone that a mother dog produces when her pups are young to create a calming effect.
For puppies, the collar has been shown to help them settle into a new home and has been used by behaviorists, vets and welfare charities.
Every puppy has a different personality just as children do and discovering who they are is great fun and full of surprises. Relax and enjoy this time and you will have a very rewarding life together. Just like children, calm reassurance and consistent support will help them grow into confident adults, who are fine having some “alone time” as they are happy in their own skin.