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Teaching Your Puppy How to Be Alone

Home Alone

All owners find it occasionally necessary to leave their puppy at home alone. So before leaving your puppy for long periods, you should teach him how to amuse himself appropriately when left alone, such as by chewing stuffed chewtoys, and learning how to enjoy his own company without becoming anxious or stressed. A dog is a highly social animal and therefore requires adequate preparation for spending some of his time in social isolation and solitary confinement.

To teach your puppy how to settle down calmly and quietly when you are absent, start by teaching him to settle down with a chewtoy at times when you are present. Right from the outset, make frequent quiet moments part of the puppy’s daily routine. Following the confinement schedule will help your puppy train himself to settle down. Additionally, encourage your puppy to settle down beside you for longer and longer periods. For example, when you’re watching television have your pup lie down on leash or in his crate, but release him for short play-training breaks during the commercials. For a young puppy, you can’t have too many rules.

When playing with your pup, have him settle down for frequent short interludes every one or two minutes. Initially have the pup lie still for a few seconds before letting him play again. After a minute, interrupt the play session once more with a three-second settle-down. Then try for four seconds, then five, eight, ten, and so on. Although being yo-yoed between the commands “Settle down” and “Let’s play” is difficult at first, the puppy soon learns to settle down quickly and happily. Your puppy will learn that being asked to settle down is not the end of the world, nor is it necessarily the end of the play session, but instead that “Settle down” signals a short timeout and reward break before he is allowed to resume playing. If you teach your puppy to be calm and controlled when told, you will have years of fun and excitement ahead. Once your puppy has learned to settle down and shush on cue, there is so much more your dog can enjoy with you. Until you have trained your puppy to enjoy spending much of his day at home alone, you might recruit a puppy sitter who has time to spend with him.

Separation Anxiety

Maintaining your puppy’s confinement schedule when you are at home prepares your puppy to be calm when you are gone. Allowing a young puppy unrestricted access to you when you are at home quickly encourages him to become overly dependent, and overdependence is the most common reason why dogs become anxious when left at home alone. Try your best to teach your puppy to enjoy his own company, to develop self-confidence, and to stand on his own four paws.

Once your puppy is confident and relaxed on his own, he may enjoy all of his time with you when you are at home. When leaving your puppy for hourly sessions in his short term confinement area (dog crate), make a point to check how he fares when left in another room. For example, periodically confine your puppy to his crate in the dining room while you prepare food in the kitchen, then keep the pup in his crate in the kitchen while the family eats dinner in the dining room.

Most importantly, when you are at home, make certain to familiarize your puppy with his long-term confinement area (puppy playroom). Confining your pup when you’re home enables you to monitor his behavior during confinement and check in on him at irregular intervals, quietly rewarding him for being quiet. Thus your pup will not necessarily associate his confinement area with your absence, but rather he will learn to look forward to time spent in his playroom with his special toys.

Give your puppy plenty of toys whenever leaving him on his own. Ideal chewtoys are indestructible and hollow (such as Kong products), as they may be conveniently stuffed with kibble and occasional treats which periodically fall out and reward the pup for chewing his toy. If your puppy is gainfully occupied with his chewtoy, he will fret less over your absence. Additionally, leave a radio playing. The sound will provide white noise to mask outside disturbances. The sound of a radio is also reassuring, since it is normally associated with your presence.

When Leaving Home

Make sure to stuff a number of chewtoys with kibble and treats. Make sure to stuff a piece of freeze-dried liver into the tiny hole of each Kong, or deep into the marrow cavity of each bone. Place the tastily stuffed chewtoys in your puppy’s long-term confinement area and shut the door . . . with your puppy on the outside! When your puppy begs you to open the door, let him in and shut the door, turn on the radio or television, and leave quietly. Your puppy’s chewing will be regularly reinforced by each piece of kibble which falls out of the chewtoy. Your puppy will continue to chew in an attempt to extract the freeze-dried liver. Eventually your puppy will fall asleep..

Home Alone

Dogs are quite happy to sleep all day and all night. They have two activity peaks, at dawn and dusk. Thus, most chewing and barking activity is likely to occur right after you leave your pup in the morning and just before you return in the evening. Leaving your puppy with freshly stuffed chewtoys and offering the unextracted treats when you return prompts your puppy to seek out his chewtoys at times of peak activity.

Jekyll-and-Hyde Behavior

Smothering your puppy with attention and affection when you are home primes the pup to really miss you when you are gone. A Jekyll-and-Hyde environment (lots of attention when you are there, and none when you are gone) quickly creates a Jekyll-and- Hyde puppy which is completely confident when you are there, but falls apart and panics when you are gone. If you allow your puppy to become dependent upon your presence, he will be anxious in your absence. When stressed, dogs are more likely to indulge in bad habits, such as housesoiling, chewing, digging, and barking. During your puppy’s first few weeks at home, frequent confinement with stuffed chewtoys is essential for your pup to develop confidence and independence. Once your puppy is quite happy busying himself with his chewtoys whenever left alone, you may safely allow your now wellbehaved and confident pup to enjoy as much time with you as he likes, without the fear that he will become anxious in your absence.

Wonderful Weekends and Worrisome Weekdays

Whereas weekend attention and affection is wonderful, it primes your new puppy to miss the family on Monday morning when the parents go to work and the children leave for school. By all means, play with and train your puppy lots during the weekend, but also have lots of quiet moments to prepare your puppy for lonely weekdays.

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Teaching Your Dog to Say Please

In any home, whether it has dogs in it or not, good manners are appreciated. Things like pushing past your parents to rush outside or bugging them for candy while they were working were probably not allowed when you were young and they show that your relationship with your dog is not as strong as it could be. There’s no need to yell at your dog when he does things like bark or whine at you for attention or defend his dog food dish. What you need to do is teach your dog how to SAY PLEASE.

Doing this will basically provide a training opportunity in all interactions with your dog as well as teaching your dog that she has to listen to you do get what he wants.

As with all of the training methods that we recommend, we want you to set your dog up for success. Tell the dog what you want her to do (in words that she knows or by reinforcing behaviors you like), and ignore the tricks you don’t want in your dog’s attention-grabbing toolbox. You get what you pay for with dogs. If it works for them, they’ll keep doing something, even if you don’t like it.

The Say Please Protocol is also called “Nothing In Life Is Free,” because you allow the dog to earn his keep. It’s a way of living with your dog that will help him behave better because he trusts and accepts your leadership and is confident knowing his place in the family.

How to teach your dog to Say Please

First, teach your dog some behaviors that he can do on cue. Use positive reinforcement methods to teach him some cues. At first, SIT is quite sufficient. This will be your dog’s default way of asking you for something. DOWN and STAY are also useful behaviors. “Bow,” “Speak,” “Sit Pretty”, and “Roll over” are fun tricks to teach your dog.

Once your dog has mastered one or more cues, you can begin to ask him to Say Please. Before you give your dog the things that it likes most in life, (food, a treat, a walk, a pat on the head) he must first respond to one of the cues he has learned. One way is to simply have your dog sit for everything, so that he his default method for getting what he wants is to sit. Soon, you won’t have to ask for it; you can just stand there waiting and he’ll offer a polite sit, to see if it works. You can ask him to do other cues as well, although the sit is your dog’s primary way to Say Please.

Once you’ve given the cue, don’t give Fido what he wants until he does what you want. If he barks at you or knowingly refuses to perform the behavior (unlikely – he probably just doesn’t understand), walk away, come back a few minutes later, and start again. Keep in mind that he may not actually know the cue in the context you are asking, and may need extra help at first. Or he may be so excited about the toy/treat/leash that he temporarily forgets everything he knows. “Extra help” includes a visual signal or even a lure. If you think the dog knows the cue and you end up using a lure, don’t feed the dog the treat that you used for the lure at that time (we don’t want to reward non-compliance!).

The Benefits of Teaching Your Dog to Say Please

The best benefit is that your dog practices the cues that you have taught in many situations, with many different kinds of rewards. Instead of having to do a long training session, you can practice behavior that the dog already knows throughout the day. Your dog no longer has to ask, “Why should I listen to my human?” because the rewards are things that he wants in his everyday life, not just food.

Some dogs display affectionate behavior that borders on being “pushy,” such as nudging your hand to be petted or worming their way onto the furniture to be close to you. Dogs don’t do these behaviors because they are mean or bad dogs. They do them because they work. Period. Requiring your dog to Say Please first shows your dog the polite way to get what it wants. If you simultaneously ignore the unwanted behaviors, they will disappear and be replaced with a nice sit.

Fearful dogs may become more confident by ‘obeying’ cues, because it allows the dog to understand some of the rules of the game. Making your dog or puppy Say Please before dashing off to do what she wants can help keep her out of harm’s way (in the car, at the door, et cetera). In a multiple-dog household, making each dog Say Please and releasing them by name can bring some peace and order to your life!

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