I am trying to train puppy to stay calm while being left alone. However, the room I am keeping him in has everything he needs. I have played with him in this room, he has a bed, plenty of chew toys and food and water he also has radio on. I also put an old shirt with my sent on it so he feels close to me. My concern is him getting hurt. I have been leaving him a few minutes at a time so he gets used to it. However, when he realizes he is alone he frantically keeps running in to the door. It is a hardwood door. He also will howl and whimper. What do I do?? Please help I am afraid he is going to hurt himself or have severe behavior issues. Thanks, Stephanie
Hello and thank you for reaching out.
It sounds like you are doing everything correctly and are on the right path. It’s a good idea to keep the radio on, your old shirt and safe chew toys around to keep him busy. He has his bed, food and water so everything should be fine, yet, you mention your puppy is still having trouble being left alone. Leaving him a few minutes at a time to give help him adjust to your brief absences is also the right procedure for dealing with an issue as such. So what’s left to do? There are several options that you may want to try, but as you mention, safety should be top priority. Here are a few ideas you may want to give a try:
With a puppy, you may want to not give him the full reign of the house, at least not yet. If your puppy is slamming against the door, you may want to set up a safe play pen or install a sturdy baby gate so you can confine him in a small area of the house where he can be safely confined. I am not sure of the size of your puppy, but the sturdier these enclosures, the better. You may also want to provide some sort of cushioning if he would also tend to slam against these enclosures.
When you leave for a brief period of time, make sure you do not come back when your puppy is actively howling and whimpering. Wait it out, when he stops to catch his breath, even if for a split second, make your return. If you come back every time your puppy whimpers or howls, you risk reinforcing that behavior.
I would not leave food out for the puppy to eat whenever he feels like it. I would feed him at specific times of the day. When it’s meal time, I would give the food and then leave out of sight (not out of the door yet through) for brief periods of time. Just go in another room. Alternatively, you could give him wonderful treats stuffed in a Kong and then leave the room for a handful of minutes. Ideally, your puppy should work on getting the goodies out. When he’s done, come back in the room. The goal of this is to make him associate your absence with good things.
I would also work on desensitizing him to the noise of you opening the door. Just open the door as if you’re leaving, toss a treat his way and then shut it closed. Stay inside for now. Repeat several times. As your puppy gets good at this, you can then increase criteria and start moving out of the door as you toss a treat, then toss a handful of treats and leave for split second (the time he gobbles them up) and then return. Gradually, make these absences longer, but in the midst of them, also add some brief ones so he’s not stressed knowing that you are leaving for longer and longer times.
Desensitize him to any pre- departure cues. Pre-departure cues are things you do that tell your puppy you are about to leave. Put your shoes on as if you’re about to leave, but then just sit on the couch and watch TV. Grab your keys and then go read a book. Repeat several times.
Puppies hate being alone, but boredom and anxiety is generally worse in pups who have loads of energy. Try to drain some of that energy by playing a game of fetch or going on a walk before you leave.
Start teaching your puppy to stay away from you at times. Teach him to go to his mat and enjoy a toy or long-lasting treat on it. Don’t let him follow you from to room all the time.
Finally, record your puppy’s behavior when you are out. Often the howling and whining is most tragic the first few minutes when you leave the house, then you might be surprised to see that your puppy may play or even take a nap. By recording your pup’s behavior while you are out, you can also track progress on your plan. If you continue having problems, enlist the help of a trainer so you can nip this problem in the bud before it gets too out of hand. I hope this helps, good luck!