Have you been thinking about giving your dog more independence while you are at work? It is critical to make this leap with slow and deliberate steps to prevent injury, housetraining issues and major destruction. Many people learn the hard way that crating a dog while at work one day then giving full reign of the house the next, is not a good idea. If guilt is driving your decision, think twice because you would be surprised how quickly a dog can annihilate an entire living room set.
In general, I recommend starting this process at about a year of age or older. Find a space in your home that you designate specifically for your dog. Kitchens, hallways and bathrooms work nicely, just make sure you can gate off the area:. Other things to consider are the amount of furniture (less is best) and proximity to busy doors and windows. Long-term barking issues can be created if your dog is distracted by outside noise and stimuli. If the kitchen is your dog’s new “home alone” place, prevent counter surfing by placing food and bags in high cabinets.
Once you have a designated space, you need to dog proof it. Clear the area of trash cans, toilet paper, cabinets, crown molding, wires, plants, shoes, etc. Not only do the above items create a huge mess if trashed, they pose serious health risks if ingested. To help your dog relax in the new space, a well used dog bed can aid in the process.
Before you leave your dog alone in this new space, take a close look at your schedule and identify times that you know that you will only be gone for five minutes. Give your dog a hearty walk and as you walk out the door, give your dog a Kong filled with peanut butter or cheese. By giving your dog a job (clearing the Kong), you prevent a lot of naughty behaviors. Make sure you are only gone for five minutes. Really, only five! If you get sidetracked and your dog potties in the new space or chew on your cabinet, you have undone previous training.
When you come back in, pick up the Kong so your dog begins to associate the new space and freedom with focusing on the Kong. When you do go to work or know you might be gone for even 15 minutes, your dog should go to the crate. You have your whole dog’s life to ease into this transition. Once your dog has done very well at five minutes for an entire week, you can then increase time to ten minutes, fifteen, etc. It’s important to do this in slow increments so your dog maintains the foundation behavior you started. We find some of the biggest doggie destruction parties to be when the dog was pushed too fast too soon. After you have spent several months acclimating to the current space and can leave your dog alone for hours on end without fret, you can follow the same process (five minute start) with two rooms then three. The process can take a couple of years but a little planning and good follow through will go a long way to a happy dog, even when alone.