At some point in your dog’s life, he is likely to be left at home on his own. If you left Scamp tomorrow for a while, what would be the result? Chewed furniture? Neighbors complaining about barking or howling?
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Many dogs bark, whine or howl when left on their own. A lone wolf howls in an attempt to locate the other members of his pack, so your puppy or dog may howl to try to make contact again with the members of his family. The dog does not understand the words you have used as you went out the door. “Now I won’t be long” means nothing to a puppy. All Scamp knows is that he has been abandoned by the rest of his “pack” and he has no idea when, or even if, you will come back. The distress and uncertainty this produces are the cause of most “home alone” problems.
Dogs will rapidly learn what happens if they whine or howl, especially if this is overnight. Chances are Scamp cries for a while, and he finds that his owners come back to see him and pat him and reassure him. The more he cries, the better the chance that you will come back to him. Oh dear, this is just what we do not want him to think! Your dog will need help from you too if he is quiet. Gradually learn to accept periods of being alone. It is not good if Scamp has company all weekend, and then gets left for 8 hours on Monday. We have to gradually ask him to accept being alone, whether we are in the house or not.
Teach Scamp to accept short periods of being alone. Take him to the room he will be left in, and play with him there so that he sees this room as a friendly place and not a prison cell. Go out of the room and “accidentally” close the door over. Try to act as calmly and normally as possible, making it seem as if you did not really mean to shut the door on Scamp. After a few minutes, return to him, and carry on as if nothing has happened. Do not turn going in and out of rooms into a major drama. Keep doing this on several occasions, so that Scamp will realize that you do in fact come back to him. If Scamp starts to cry when he is shut in, do not immediately return. Wait until there is a break in the noise he is making, and then go back to him, again not making a drama out of your return. With some dogs, you will only get a split second of silence between howls and whines, but aim to open the door whilst he is quiet. Scamp will gradually realize that nothing happens if he makes a noise, but you might return build up the time that Scamp is left alone.
To help a puppy get used to being alone, try leaving a radio on in the room, or try a clock with a loud tick-tock sound. If you have a means of taping voices, leave a tape recording during a normal family day, and then play that tape when you leave Scamp on his own. This will make the house seem less hostile to him. Young puppies might appreciate a warm hot-water bottle wrapped in an old jersey, especially if they have just been taken from a large litter. If overnight crying is a problem, make sure you are not being nice to Scamp if you do have to go to him. In a house that has paper thin walls, you may be concerned about disturbing the neighbors with Scamp’s crying at 3 00 am! If you do feel you have to do something to quieten Scamp, then go into the room like a raging bull, and yell “Be quiet!” at him. Immediately about turn and walk out of the room. Scamp will probably be taken by surprise and will be quiet for a few moments. Whilst he is quiet, go back in and gently praise him. Just a quick pat and a couple of words are all that is needed, then leave him again. If Scamp persists in crying, try squirting a jet of water at him, or just open the door slightly and throw something noisy into the room.
Where whining and barking are accompanied by chewing, try to “bomb-proof” the room the dog is to be left alone in. As an exercise, if your dog has been doing a fair bit of chewing, assume it will keep doing this. Imagine you are returning home tomorrow and your dog has had a field day! Are there any items in the room that you would be upset if you found them chewed? If so, remove them from the room. Dangling curtains can be tied up. Precious ornaments can be removed. Vertical blinds can be taken down for a few weeks. These will hopefully be temporary measures until the dog settles, and them the curtains can be let down again, the items replaced etc. By leaving precious articles in a room with a chewing dog, you are only adding to the likely stress that probably already exists in both you and the dog. Treat the chewing dog to a marrow bone. Only give him this bone as you go out the door, and remove it when you come home again so that he will view it as a special “home alone” treat. Some toys can be stuffed with a variety of goodies and it takes a dog ages to lick this all out. The small hole at the end of the toy can be blocked with a small piece of meat or carrot, and you could fill the toy with gravy before sticking it in the freezer for a special iced treat! Pieces of cheese or portions of the dog’s food can also be stuffed into a treat toy. This is far more entertaining for most dogs to chew than the skirting boards!
Note: Once your dog has settled overnight, any unusual whining should be investigated at once. Your dog may be trying to tell you that something is wrong. Whining dogs have alerted owners to house fires, burglaries, and of course emergency dog illness, such as gastric torsion (stomach twist). So do not just lie in bed hoping the dog will settle again, but go and check!
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his dog Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy, a mischievous, mixed breed rescue. A leading authority on dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.