Shelter in Place – everyone’s stuck at home. Kids are doing remote learning, parents are either furloughed or working at home. Everyone is home and ready to take on a project. What better time than now to bring in a new puppy?! Everyone will be with the puppy 24/7! How ideal is that?
So, do that for a couple months and then when things start opening up again you try to regain your old way of life. You begin going out to dinner, going to the mall, going over to friends and suddenly the puppy, who has had someone with him every second, finds himself alone. No one is home and he is all by himself. How do you spell P-A-N-I-C?
A dog with separation anxiety can be extremely destructive as they try to self soothe. Please don’t cause your dog to have separation anxiety – it’s much easier to prevent than to cure! It’s as simple as giving a puppy some time to himself and having him experience that people leave, and they come back and life is just fine either way. To protect your home and possessions you don’t just sneak out the door while your pup is sleeping and hope he doesn’t notice that you are gone. You have to have a plan.
Just like with human babies, you don’t just let them fall asleep wherever they are and assume they are safe there. You put them down for a nap in a crib. And they learn to self-entertain if they aren’t initially sleepy. All puppies need a Safe Puppy Area – or SPA – where they can be when you are gone or not able to fully give them your attention. This helps both with housebreaking, since dogs instinctively don’t like to mess in their living area and with chewing and other destructive behaviors. You can just carry the sleepy pup to their SPA but your ultimate goal is to not only have a puppy that will walk into their SPA at your command (lure with a treat), but will actually seek out their SPA when they need some downtime. Therefore, the SPA is never used as punishment (although it can be used, calmly, as a time-out spot) and should have some safe chew toys or a stuffed kong (not rawhides) to keep a non-sleepy pup busy. A SPA can be just a crate (big enough for the dog to both stand up and stretch out in), a bathroom or a section of the kitchen baby-gated off. The point is to have someplace with a non- carpeted floor for easy clean-up, a comfy bed, water and a few toys. Depending on the age of the pup you may want to have some puppy pads for accidents. Pups at two months old can hold their bladder consistently for about two hours. At 3 months for 3 hours, 4 months for 4 hours and so on. So be fair to your dog and don’t ask for, or expect, what they‘re too young to give!! But also don’t give them such a big space that pooping in it isn’t in their way. The instinct to be clean is only for their immediate living space. House-training is teaching them that the whole house is their living space.
The three keys to training a pup is to supervise behavior to prevent mistakes, manage the environment to make it easy for the pup to make the right choices and to reward his successes! Really explaining those three points is another article, today we are just focusing on helping your new dog to be comfortable and safe when you have to leave him home alone. Dogs are denning animals so using a crate is built into their DNA. Wherever their SPA is it should become their safe (kid-free and other-pet-free) place. Children have to be taught to respect the pup’s time in his SPA and to not bother him there. The other beautiful part of using a SPA is that every time you come home it is a joyful reunion (low key, don’t make a huge fuss when you leave or return) and you are not dreading what you might find when you return. It keeps your relationship positive! Try it and you will love it and will end up with a well-adjusted dog that you can trust in your home.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at email@example.com.