Dogs are pack animals. They don’t like to be left alone. The fear of being left behind is inherent and is more pronounced in some than in others. But dogs can also learn to stay alone well into old age. With puppies, this is comparatively uncomplicated, with older dogs it requires training and, if necessary, a little patience. Read here how your dog learns to be left alone for a few hours and what else you should know about the topic!
Why dogs don’t like to be left alone
The fear of being left alone and being abandoned runs deep in every dog. Dogs are pack animals, even though they are no longer kept in canine organizations these days. Nevertheless, their social behavior and sense of togetherness are very strong. In packs, such as wolves or wild dogs, weak or sick animals are left behind and, in the worst case, have to die.
It is therefore hardly surprising that our dogs are always careful to keep in touch with their “family”. Here, too, exceptions confirm the rule: working dogs that fulfill a clear task can be left alone longer. It would be species-appropriate if our dogs stayed either in the dog pack or with their people.
Leaving the dog alone: how long is it acceptable?
Unfortunately, there is no patent answer to this question, because dogs – like us humans – are unique individuals. Some start crying when their human closes the door behind them, others become restless after an hour and start running around the room, nibbling on furniture and objects, or doing their business in protest in the apartment. Very sensitive dogs can even develop depression if they are left alone too often or for too long.
Other dogs can go four or five hours without their human without any separation anxiety. However, it shouldn’t be more than that, because your dog needs to relieve itself by now at the latest!
If you leave your four-legged friend alone every day during working hours, you should look around for a permanent dog sitter. It would be even better if you could take your four-legged friend with you to work. Many companies allow dogs under certain conditions in the workplace – feel free to ask!
Two basic types: separation anxiety or loss of control?
Dogs that are afraid of being left alone fall into two basic types:
- Some have separation anxiety
- the others suffer from a loss of control.
With separation anxiety, it’s being alone that scares your dog. As a dog owner, you take on the position of the alpha animal, who has a sovereign view of the situation, decides what to do, and ensures the safety of the pack. The animal relies on you and is relaxed as long as everything is fine in this constellation. For less relaxed dogs, the disappearance of their human, even if only for a short time, is a serious catastrophe. Suddenly the alpha animal is gone and basic trust is shaken.
If the reasons for the dog’s fear of loss lie in bad experiences with previous owners or the puppy period, they are justified and understandable. But human behavior often plays a central role. We subconsciously give the animal the feeling that a breakup is something very important. If the farewell mood is intensified with a lot of stroking and consolation, the tension in the dog builds up. If the pack leader leaves the house, the dog will engage in the activities described above.
In the case of dogs with a loss of control, on the other hand, it is the concern or even the anger that you as his “pack” are out and about without him – without him being able to take care of you. Because he sees that as his task, which he cannot fulfill in this case.
If your four-legged friend belongs to this type of dog, it is important to make the hierarchy in the pack clear and to show him that you are number one in the pack. He has to accept that you are the leader and that you decide when you come and go. Absence times must be taken for granted as part of everyday life.
A dog with a loss of control has to learn not to feel responsible for its human – only then will it eventually accept being alone. Check out where your dog has its berths. Are they right behind the front door or high up on the couch? This means that he feels it is his job to be in control of the house. Changing these berths to less exposed places in the house can sometimes help here.
Practice early: Start training when you are a puppy
If your dog comes to you from a young age, it is easy to teach him to be alone. Because leaving the dog alone can be practiced: young dogs can easily adjust their inner clock to our rhythm of life. The sooner the little one learns that being alone is part of everyday life, the easier it will be for you to leave them alone without major separation dramas.
Leave the dog alone Training: Adult dogs are also capable of learning
It happens that adult dogs, either because they were adopted or because their mistress or master finds themselves in a new life situation, have to relearn how to be left alone. Good to know: Adult animals are also capable of learning – you can break the dog’s fear of separation.
Training an adult dog with separation anxiety starts with spending time with him before you leave the home. Do hidden object games with him or take him for longer walks. Search games or agility training are strenuous for the dog in a positive sense and are fun for most dogs. In this way, you can exercise your dog in a manner appropriate to its species before you leave it alone.
Useful exercises: let the dog train alone
- First, direct your dog to his favorite spot and keep him busy with a toy or chewing bones, for example.
- While he’s distracted and not paying attention to you, you leave the room.
- Then notice if your dog begins to howl or whimper.
- After a few minutes, you can return to the room and reward your dog with a treat. This should give your dog a positive connection between the wait and your return.
Train with him every day. Increase the separation time each time you feel your dog is staying calm and relaxed. Maybe after a few days of practice, you’ll be able to do the shopping in your neighborhood. Don’t forget to reward your four-legged friend with a tasty surprise during the acclimatization phase.
It doesn’t work that well for all dogs. However, be patient and consistent: do not return to the room while your dog is yelping or whining. Otherwise, your dog could combine his howling and your return and whine longer and louder in the future.
Even if your dog needs a little longer to be able to stay alone: Don’t despair and scold, but don’t coddle your dog either. With consistent, daily exercise, your dog will find it easier and easier to be left alone. Not least because he learns to trust you. Instead of whining, he will then happily await you and collect his small reward.
Don’t make a fuss when you leave the house. Say goodbye to the dog rather casually and greet him extensively after a few minutes when you return home!