Alone time & noise exposure
When you first get a puppy, there is so much to do to introduce them to their new home. From potty training to puppy-proofing, you might feel like your hands are full. But there is one critical step you don’t want to forget — teaching your pup how to enjoy being alone. Although it’s tempting to spend every waking minute with your new puppy, you aren’t doing them any favors. Eventually, you’ll have to leave them on their own. And because dogs are incredibly social creatures, leaving a puppy alone can be stressful. However, with a little time and effort, you can ensure they’re calm and confident whenever they are by themselves.
“Puppy owners should plan for a little ‘alone time’ for their puppy every single day."
Using a Safe Confinement Area
It’s likely your new puppy has never been alone before. It’s unfair to expect them to go from constant companionship to spending an entire eight-hour workday on their own.
Start by teaching them to be alone while you are still in the house. A safe confinement area, like an exercise pen or crate, is perfect for this purpose. If you use a crate or exercise pen appropriately, they will see their confinement area as a place to relax rather than as punishment. Alternatively, you can limit your puppy to a small and safe area with baby gates. “The puppy can be in a separate room or in a crate for this." Give the puppy a delicious chew item and leave him alone for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Over time, the duration he stays alone for should be increased.”
To help your puppy associate this space with good things, feed them meals inside it. If the area is large enough, you can also spend some time playing in there together. To entice your puppy, set aside special toys they only get inside their crate or pen. When they’re happy to enter the confinement area on their own, you’re ready to start alone-time training.
Teaching Alone Time
Begin by closing your puppy in the confinement area with a chew toy or other constructive activity, then quietly walk out of the room. Return immediately and reward them with praise and a treat. Repeat the process, slowly increasing how long you’re away each time. In the beginning, even one or two minutes might feel too long for your puppy, but over three or four days, you should be able to build up to fairly long periods.
As the time span increases, return to check on your puppy periodically. If they are quiet and calm, reward them with low-key praise and a treat before leaving to continue the countdown. Don’t make too much fuss when you check on them. You don’t want your puppy to miss you when you leave the room.
If your puppy is crying in their confinement area, you’ve likely started the training before they’ve learned to associate the area with good things, or you’ve left them alone for too long. Don’t make a habit of letting them out when they fuss. Otherwise, you will teach them that whining opens the door and earns attention. Instead, shorten their time in the confinement area to what they can handle, and build the time more slowly.
Remember that confinement in the exercise pen or crate is only temporary while you work on your puppy’s alone time training. Once your puppy is confident on their own, and they understand potty training and the rules of good behavior, you can start giving them access to your home while you are away, one room at a time. The goal is an adult dog that is relaxed, self-assured, and can be trusted with more freedom.
Creating Happy Associations
Leaving a puppy alone with nothing to do in their safe area can be a recipe for trouble. Instead, give them something constructive to do whenever they’re in confinement. This will teach them to be happy on their own. A perfect activity is chewing on a chew toy stuffed with food. Toys such as Kongs are excellent for this purpose because the food coming out of the toy will reinforce the chewing behavior. In time, you will end up with a chew toy addict who would rather chomp on their toys than the baseboards.
Other ways to keep your puppy busy when they are alone include providing edible chews like bully sticks or yak milk chews, leaving food hidden around the confinement area, or providing food-releasing puzzle toys. However, only leave your puppy unattended with toys, or edible chews that you know are safe. For example, smaller objects that your puppy can fit completely inside their mouth are a choking hazard. Or objects that can splinter or be broken into small pieces can cause intestinal damage or obstruction if swallowed. Speak to your veterinarian about safe options, and always watch your puppy with any new toy until you are sure they can play with it safely.
Looking for Help Along the Way
If you’re unable to spend time at home with your puppy, consider finding a puppy sitter to help you work on their alone-time training. You can hire a professional pet sitter to watch your dog. Or perhaps look for a neighbor or friend who might be happy to relax in your house while your puppy rests in their confinement area. Even better, your puppy sitter can help with your puppy’s potty training and give them lots of attention in between confinement sessions.
When your puppy’s alone time training has progressed enough that you can leave them alone for part of the day, but eight hours is still too much, a dog walker can be a perfect solution. Schedule the walk in the middle of the day, when your puppy is ready for company and the time is ripe for a potty break. Even adult dogs can benefit greatly from the exercise and company a dog walker provides during a workday.
Also, consider providing your puppy with a physical or mental workout before you leave them alone. A walk, energetic playtime, or even a trainingsession can all leave your puppy tired. They will likely fall asleep as soon as you’re gone. Just be sure that you do the same activities at other times too. If your dog only gets that sort of attention right before you leave them alone, they’ll realize it means you’re about to go. So, rather than lying down for a nap, they might worry about your absence.
Finally, When leaving a puppy alone, you can also use a sound machine or heartbeat pillow to provide company. The noise can cover up other sounds that might be more distressing, like honking cars or the garbage truck. In fact, a study from Colorado State University found that music influenced the behavior of dogs in a shelter. However, the effect was dependent on the type of music. Heavy metal music seemed to increase the dogs’ anxiety, whereas soothing classical music like Moonlight Sonata increased the amount of time the dogs spent sleeping. So, select your background noise with care, and watch your puppy to see how they react to your choice.
That brings us to the next topic:
During their first few months, puppies should be exposed to a wide range of noises and experiences to ensure they’re not fearful of everyday occurrences.
Helping your puppy acclimate to different sounds goes a long way in helping them feel comfortable, less stressed when they hear a sudden noise, and prevent unwanted behaviors such as alert barking. Some sounds are more sustained, such as traffic noise, while others are shorter and more startling, like a car door slammed shut. Focus first on the sounds that are prevalent in your home environment.
How to Introduce Sounds to Your Puppy
Remember — low and slow, short and sweet. Start with the volume low, slowly increasing it over time as long as your puppy doesn't show signs of stress. Keep these sessions short and pair them with your dog's favorite things and activities.
Use interactive toys and puzzles, have a short positive reinforcement training session, play with their favorite tug toy, have a snuggle session, or use a stuffed Kong, Toppl toy, or snuffle mat to feed them their usual meal.
Puppy Sound Socialization Training Example:
Step One: Puppy is eating their meal from a stuffed toy.
Step Two: Turn on traffic sounds at the lowest volume.
Step Three: Evaluate your puppy's body language. Did they notice the sound but go right back to eating? Or did they stop eating and exhibit stressed body language?
Step Four: Adjust volume of the traffic sounds accordingly. If they startled to the sound, turn it off and try again later (with higher value treats or during playtime). If they noticed it but went right back to eating, continue playing the traffic noise at its current volume or consider slightly increasing the volume.
Step Five: As they finish up their meal, turn off the traffic noise. One sound socialization session complete!
Real-World Sound Desensitization Practice
Here are two real-world examples of sound desensitization. Those who live in the city, can spend time sitting on the front patio, having some snuggle time (sometimes treats are involved), and just listening to the world around you. You'll notice that your pup may alert to your neighbors talking, but give some scratches and pets and your pup settles back down on your lap without becoming more stressed. If he had started to become restless or looking like he was about to bark, I would suggest distracting him or going inside.
Some sounds you may notice include: neighbors voices, freeway sounds with trucks and cars, and or even a plane passing overhead.
If you live in a rual area, take advantage of annoy sounds play lists on Spotify, or get creative and look up different sounds on Youtube.
You can take advantage of some house cleaning happening in the background to desensitize your pup to the vacuum cleaner. Play tug with one of her favorite squeaky toys while the vacuum is on in the other room.
“You can make use of other electrical appliances in your home to get them used to new sounds — hairdryers, blenders, doorbells, phones ringing — anything that they will need to hear at some point."
Also, take your puppy on car rides with window part way down- through the city park, a drive-thru, car wash- anywhere actually.
Then progress to walks to different areas to get them used to cars, motorcycles, and other outdoor sights and sounds.
Have fun with this and push yourself to find 3 new sounds to add every week. Remember that you pup is constantly learning- and it should be a positive experience.