Teach Your Dog How to be Alone (In a Weekend)

by Steve DeBono of DeBono Dog Training

The transition from shelter to home can be very difficult for a dog. Many shelter dogs have never had the opportunity to bond with a human. So when they find their way into a loving home the bond to the new owner can be particularly strong. They panic when the owners leave because they don’t want to be alone again. They have no idea if you are coming back. They will try anything to get out of the house or crate, often destroying anything in their path in their quest to get out and find their mom or dad.

The following protocol will help ease the transition for your dog and teach him that when you leave, it is just temporary. This protocol is written to take place over the course of 2 days, to help fit into the realities of most people’s lives. However, the more gradual and patient you can be going through the steps, the more likely you are to be successful.

Day 1:

Put comfy blanket or towels in crate. Use something you are not afraid will be destroyed.

Keep crate door open.

Stand outside the open crate, drop really good treats (like bits of hot dog, cold cuts, or cheese) in the crate, and praise your dog for entering. Drop treats while he is in the crate.

Throughout the day drop really good little bits of food in crate. Do this especially when he’s not looking. We want him to start periodically checking his crate on his own to see what deliciousness might be hidden.

Tie a stuffed Kong toy to the inside of the crate a few times a day. To stuff the Kong, line the inside with a little peanut butter, and stuff the Kong with delicious food and treats.

Feed all meals in crate. Try feeding meals in the Kong.

At no point will you physically put him in crate or lock him in crate. At no point will the crate door close.

Day 2:

Repeat Day 1 exercises.

When he is relaxed and eating his Kong or food, you will shut the crate door for 3 seconds then open. If he gets out of kennel, throw some treats in and repeat exercise. If he remains relaxed, you will try 6 seconds. Then try 12. Work up to about 1 min.

If he can be relaxed (focused on a Kong/food) in the crate for 1 min with you in the room, you will step out of the room for 30 seconds. Make sure the Kong still has lots of tasty stuffing left in it before you step out of the room.

If he is relaxed for the 30 seconds, enter and let out. Then repeat, doubling the time.

If at any point in this process, he begins to demonstrate panic (whine, scratch at door, bark, etc), wait until a brief break (even a split second) in the demonstration, then let out of crate. Go back to your last successful step, and repeat that step.

You will build the duration of leaving the room in increments, until you can leave the house. First leave for 1 minute. Then 5 minutes. Work up to 30mins.

At that point you may try leaving your dog in his crate for more extended periods, with plenty of stuffed Kongs to occupy his time.