The Covid-19 outbreak has forced a majority of people to work from home. This has created a wonderful opportunity to bond with your new puppy, to enjoy watching them grow up – boy do they grow up fast – and to work on training them to become a Zen Dog.
It is important to realize that during this period of self-isolation, it is extra-difficult to prevent puppies from developing separation anxiety. To make up for the lack of socialization opportunities due to working from home, it is important to start preparing your puppy for when you go back to the normalcy of your office schedule and give your puppy the most important gift you can give them, independence.
A lack of independence is a big issue
Right now, you’re probably spending every moment with your puppy. Dogs are social animals by nature, meaning they love being right by your side at all times. The problem is, when things go back to normal, your dog might not be ready for you to leave them alone. If you do not prepare your dog properly, when you go back to the office, go out shopping, or outside to exercise, your sudden absences might be a shock to them.
The goal for having a Zen Dog is to prevent your puppy from feeling separation anxiety when you leave. Independent dogs are calm, settled and relaxed when left alone. Your mind should be at ease when you’re at work that your puppy is happily at home – not being destructive and entertaining themselves with toys, bones, and treats.
All it takes achieve this independence is a little bit of daily exercise, a schedule, a crate or gated-off area, a well-exercised pup, treats, and LOTS of patience.
Your Furry Little Shadow
The first step to achieve independence is to teach your dog not to shadow you from room to room and learn to be comfortable and calm while in the crate or when you are not in the room.
Training starts while you are home, by helping your puppy gradually understand to not become anxious or worried when they are not by your side. Once your dog does not feel the need to follow you from room to room and is comfortable in the crate or in another room, you can take training to the next level, completely leaving the house for brief absences.
When you begin, it is helpful to write down your schedule as detailed as possible. Take a piece of paper and break down your daily hour to hour activities you do for a full week. Keep in mind the little time increments like getting ready for work, walks, meals, etc.
Look for times of the day that are easy to practice independence exercises, for example, during lunch breaks, or regular office time when barking and whining can be ignored, and block off time to work with your puppy. Identifying the best times to train will help you ease your dog into training and set situations up for success.
Being organized and tracking your efforts and progress is helpful. Often improvements at first will be small, a good schedule and tracking system will help identify areas of success and places to spend more time and energy.
Crate Training Tips
Your goal for crate training is to have your puppy be comfortable with their crate enough where they are content for an extended period of time – no crying, barking, whining, etc. Ideally, your puppy should be so comfortable and relaxed with the crate, they choose to go in on their own.
Practice leaving your dog alone in their crate throughout the day and slowly build up time. We recommend putting your puppy in the crate, 10 times-a-day, for 2-20 minutes at a time. Make sure everyone in the family knows to ignore any vocalizations in there. The idea is to teach your puppy they are invisible in the crate, so make sure everyone knows not to interact with them in there.
Once you master having your dog in the crate while you are home, start to leave your house for brief absences. Your goal is to build up to the amount of time your dog will be alone while you go back to the office.
For more information about Crate Training, click here.
The Role of Potty Training
Right now, maybe at this very moment, your puppy is bugging you to go outside and you are able to bring them out all the time. But once you’re back at work in the office they will have to learn to hold it.
A good rule of thumb is your puppy can hold their bladder for about 1 hour for every month old, most puppies will have to go after 4 hours. It is important to build up their bladder muscles and increase the time you take them out. Also set them up for success and don’t increase this time too drastically.
**Even though adult dogs can hold it for longer – we do not recommend forcing your dog to hold it longer than 5-6 hours.**
If you want more advice on house training, this 7 Puppy Essential Lessons article includes a free link to our House Training eBook.
Treats, Toys, Bones, and More
Treats, toys, bones, and other enrichment activities are great ways to entertain your dog and teach them to self-soothe while learning to be independent. A frozen Kong full of peanut butter or yogurt/blueberries, puzzle toys, licky mats, wobble balls, are all great ways to entertain your puppy. It helps to rotate these toys to keep your dog interested.
You know your dog best! Don’t leave them unsupervised with a teat, toy, bone, etc. if you think they may injure themselves.
Like any training, success will not happen in one session, or even one week. Slowly acclimating your dog to longer and longer periods of isolation, repeating exercises multiple times-a-day, and consistency with new rules is incredibly important.
With the right plan, a commitment to practicing daily, and a tough-love attitude to teach your dog that sometimes they must be seen and not heard, you will soon be successful. Being left home alone does not come naturally to your dog, but with the Zen Dog approach, your dog will learn their new schedule become more independent in no time at all.