The Puppy Training Podcast

Episode #61 Learning To Be Alone

September 24, 2020 Baxter & Bella Puppy Training Season 2 Episode 61
The Puppy Training Podcast
Episode #61 Learning To Be Alone
Show Notes Transcript

Today I am answering questions like...

  • My new puppy cries in the crate…
  • My new puppy cries when they can’t see me…
  • What can I do about it?
  • Should I do something about it?
  • Why is it important? 
  • How long does it take?

Getting a new puppy is super exciting! It can also be somewhat stressful - especially when they bark or whine and we want to help them! Today I want to discuss the importance of helping your puppy learn to be alone - and things you can start doing right away to help them succeed! 

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Learning To Be Alone

Today I am answering questions like...

  • My new puppy cries in the crate…
  • My new puppy cries when they can’t see me…
  • What can I do about it?
  • Should I do something about it?
  • Why is it important? 
  • How long does it take?

Getting a new puppy is super exciting! It can also be somewhat stressful - especially when they bark or whine and we want to help them! Today I want to discuss the importance of helping your puppy learn to be alone - and things you can start doing right away to help them succeed! 

Your new puppy has likely never been alone before. They spent the first 8-10 weeks of life with their mother, breeder and litter mates in a very close confined area compared to the size of our homes.

We love having dogs be part of the family and live in our homes with us. It is realistic to recognize at some point though, our dog will need to be alone and having the skills to handle that is very important. 

When I first bring a puppy home, I know they are likely anxious, somewhat stressed and wondering if this new location and people are safe. As such, I keep them pretty close to me for the first week. I introduce the crate by feeding them all meals inside, giving them stuffed Kongs inside or other favorite chews, luring them in and letting them come right back out again randomly throughout the day, sitting right next to (and I mean touching) the crate while I read a book or watch a show. You can leave the crate open inside a pen so the puppy can choose to go in and out on their own.

When I go into the kitchen to cook, I move the crate in there with me. If I’m in the office, I move the crate at my feet next to the desk. At night the crate is next to my bed. This helps my puppy see the crate as a safe space. Then once they are comfortable in the crate, I start distancing myself so they can build confidence in being alone. 

So step one, help them feel safe in the crate by keeping distance minimal (I’m close by.) 

Step two, help them feel safe when they can’t see me. This looks like me walking a few steps away, then returning to the crate. You can reward your puppy if they remain calm while you move away and back again. Then start increasing steps. Remember to try for 5 out of 5 successes before pushing for more distance. 

Work so you can go out of the room to get a sandwich, drink or use the restroom; then I walk back in the room - not paying any attention to what my puppy is doing but going about my business as usual. When I return to the room, Instead of sitting right next to the crate, it is 3-5 feet away from me. If my puppy handles that well, I start sitting 5-10 feet away and so on. 

I also lengthen out the times I disappear from the room. I do this normally around week two of my puppy being home so they start acquiring alone skills from the get go. Your puppy may need more or less time than this. Go at their pace. If your puppy is barking or whining, you’re moving too quickly. Take a step back in the training.

How do you know if your puppy is okay being in a crate? 

If your puppy barks non-stop, a crate may not be the best for them. You can try using an exercise pen or small bathroom instead with a litter box for a potty area. If you can use a crate, though, I highly recommend it as it helps housetraining get off to the best start possible.

Do watch for signs of extreme stress: diarrhea in the crate, drooling pools of saliva, digging and chewing to escape the crate, biting the crate door to get out. If these signs are present, do not crate your dog. Use a pen instead. If they are not present, but your puppy is whining or barking - they most likely are trying to see if barking works to get them out. 

Growth comes from working through hard things. Think of teaching a baby to walk. They struggle through it. They try, then fall down, get up and try again. If we rescue them every time they fall down and don’t let them try again, how would they learn to walk? We do aid them by holding their hands for a while as they start to get balance - week one of crate training - stay close by. Then we start to let them take steps on their own - do we let them or do they just do it? At some point we let go and they give it a go on their own! They struggle through it and learn to walk. 

It is okay to let your puppy struggle through the frustration of not being able to be with you at all times during the day. This is how they learn - if we pay no attention to the whining or barking once all basic needs have been met (they’ve pottied, had a drink, training and exercise/attention) they will learn barking does not aid in getting them out of the crate. Note that eye contact, asking them to be quiet or other talking, approaching them are all forms of attention and may tell your dog the barking is working. Wait for 5-10 minutes of quiet before letting your puppy out so they connect being quiet with getting out, not barking.

For persistent barkers, or apartment dwellers - letting them work through it can be frustrating for you and for neighbors. If letting them bark is not an option you love, try these ideas instead.

Take your puppy out for a potty break the second they start barking in the crate. Go out with your puppy on leash so they can’t play around, give them 1-2 minutes to go, then immediately take them back inside for more crate time. Ignore them while outside - do not give them extra attention. If they bark again, repeat so they connect the dots that barking means I go to the potty spot then come right back in for more crate time. Barking does not equal play time. Having a stuffed Kong or puzzle toy already in the crate from the get go can provide a needed distraction to help your puppy remain quiet once they return to the crate. 

We can teach your puppy a down stay and practice the basics of walking out, returning more consistently - adding distance, then time to the behavior. I like to have them do the down stay in the crate with the door open and build that behavior for several minutes, then in the crate with the door closed; reward them intermittently for good calm behavior. 

We often see dogs test behavior when they reach adolescence. Some puppies are fine in the crate then around weeks 16-20 they start to bark. This is most likely a test to see if their behavior will get them what they want. It is important to stay consistent through these months. As handlers we tend to relax at this age because housetraining is going pretty well, we are getting tired of the structure and routine, we settle into complacency some...but our dogs need us to remain consistent! Keep giving daily crate time so your dog remains strong with these skills of being alone. 

Make a goal if you haven’t already to help your dog learn to be alone and like it! Keep a progress chart if it helps you remain consistent so you can see improvement. Watch out for an extinction burst! As your puppy gets better and better at being alone in the crate, they may give one last final push to bark for a longer period of time to see if it will work, then they stop when they see it didn’t. 

Always give your dog something to do in the crate like a safe chew or toy. Help by playing brown noise such as a fan, puppy music or calming sounds on your Alexa. If your crate is in a busy area of your home and that makes it hard for your puppy to settle, try putting their crate in a quiet room where you can close the door and be sure no one is inadvertently rewarding any barking. 

If your puppy would prefer to see you, start with the crate in a room where they feel included. Remember the first weeks our puppy’s stress level is higher than normal. Help them through it! No need to let them cry it out when stress and anxiety are high. 

After your puppy settles in and is comfortable in their new space and you’ve helped them learn the crate is a good place, then you can start to let them work through their frustrations and fits of, “Hey, I want to be with you right now.” Our puppies need to know how to be alone - it is a gift we can give them. 

You can do this! Enjoy your dogs this week! Every day make it a goal to do something fun together! I’ll talk to you next week. Happy training.