Have you been thinking about giving your dog more freedom in the house while you’re at work?
Many people learn the hard way that confining a dog in the crate one day then providing access to the entire home the next day (while alone), is a terrible idea.
It’s imperative to make this leap slowly and deliberately to prevent injury, housetraining regression, or significant destruction. If guilt is driving your decision, please reconsider. You’d be surprised how quickly your dog can destroy an entire room of furniture. In general, I recommend starting this process at about a year of age, or older. Young pups have insatiable chewing needs and could get hurt if you start this process too soon.
First, pick an area that your dog likes and will be his consistent haven when he’s alone—kitchens, long hallways, and bathrooms work nicely, just make sure you’re able to gate off the area. Your dog will do best if you give him less space as you teach him to like his new alone area.
Too much space too soon is too confusing.
As you determine the best new area for your dog, consider the amount of furniture (less is best) and proximity to busy doors and windows. Some dogs develop long-term barking issues if they spend the entire day near loud hallways, construction sounds, or busy sidewalks. However, some dogs enjoy watching pedestrians pass their house all day. You know your dog best, set him up for success. If you designate your kitchen as your dog’s new home alone place, remove food from your table, stove, and countertops. By placing snacks and leftovers in high, closed cabinets, you’ll prevent potentially dangerous counter surfing.
Once you’ve chosen the space, continue dog proofing the area for tempting items. You’ll save yourself a giant headache by clearing out trash cans, toilet paper, small rugs, blankets with tassels, wires, plants, and shoes rather than picking up bathroom garbage after a long day at work, ick! Not only do the above items create a huge mess, but they also pose serious health risks if your dog bites cords or ingests chicken bones. Additionally, you can help your dog relax in his new space by providing his favorite dog bed. If he’s still learning to like his bed (and not eat it), feed meals on his bed or blanket and spray it regularly with Bitter Apple. Please check his bed weekly to assure he hasn’t chewed a hole in it. I’d hate for him to eat his bed stuffing while you’re away.
Make a plan. Before you leave your dog alone in this new space, take a close look at your schedule and identify times that you’ll leave the house for five minutes, only. Before you leave your dog alone in his new space, take a hearty walk together, so he’s more relaxed. Then, when you leave him alone, give him a Kong filled with something amazing—cream cheese, liverwurst (without onions), baby food, Bark Pouch, or peanut butter. By giving your dog a job (clearing the Kong), you prevent stress and boredom which often cause bad behavior. Make sure you’re gone for five minutes, no more. If you get sidetracked and your dog potties in the new space or chews on your cabinet, he gets practice peeing in your house and eating wood. I don’t want him to do that, do you?
When you come home, pick up the Kong. Your dog will associate home alone time, in his new space, with the yummy Kong filling.
While your dog is learning to relax in his new area, you should continue guiding him to his crate when you’re at work or leave him alone for ten minutes or longer. Your dog will be less stressed and less likely to hurt himself and destroy your home if you transition him slowly and deliberately to freely napping the day away, alone.
Once you’ve practiced leaving your dog alone for five minutes, an entire week, and he’s completely chill when you return home, increase your training session time to ten minutes one week (or month), fifteen minutes the following week (or month), and so on. If your dog frantically greets you at the door, he’s not ready for more free-time alone. Slow increments will help him succeed and prevent a lot of stress, for you and him. Pushing too fast too soon may cause a raging doggie destruction party.
After you’ve spent several months acclimating your pup to his current space and have slowly eased him into being alone in that area for hours without incident or panic, you can introduce a second room. When you add more space, start over with five-minute increments to assure your dog is ready, safe, and happy with more space.
Giving your dog access to the entire house, when he’s alone, can take time. However, with a little planning and good follow through, you’ll come home to a calm house and dog.