How to Train Your Dog to be Home Alone: Conquer his Greatest Fear, Starting NOW!

You’re preparing to return to the workplace after being home during the Covid-19 Pandemic, but have you considered preparing your dog, as well?

If one’s dog is not properly trained to be home alone, and his owner suddenly returns to work after being home for an extended period, the pet may develop severe behavioral problems.  The resulting separation-anxiety and boredom, once started, can be difficult to surmount.  The best solution is to adequately prepare the dog by gradual conditioning, in which the owner separates from his dog for increasing intervals of time.

Like people, dogs can suffer from anxiety, to the point where they can become physically sick.  This is a genuine concern for owners who are returning to work, after the pandemic.  

Many have adopted puppies during this time, and these pups are now adult dogs, who have never been alone in their whole (short) lives.  According to Certified Dog Trainer, Cathy Madson, “If your dog never learns how to stay calm when home alone for varying amounts of time, [he] can develop separation anxiety — which is a tough condition to treat.”

Dogs, such as retired racing greyhounds, who were adopted as adults, are equally prone to this problem.  Do not be complacent, even if you still have the same, old dog that you had before the Pandemic – He’s grown “accustomed to your face,” as the old song says, and is as likely as a new dog to develop separation anxiety.

Prevention is the best cure for separation anxiety in dogs.  This guide will walk you and your dog through the common-sense steps needed to condition him, psychologically, to be happy on his own, while you are at work.

Symptoms of Dog Separation Anxiety and Boredom

As you train, it’s vital to understand what, exactly, it is you are trying to prevent; so it helps to be able to identify when your dog is anxious!  This knowledge will be your guage, as you go along.  

If, at any point during the process, your dog shows these symptoms, that will be your cue to take a step back.  Do not be at all discouraged if this happens – Processes such as these are rarely a straight line to the finish… but with time and patience, your dog will get there.  

Here is what to watch out for:

  • Damaging things (shredding or chewing things)
  • Excessive barking
  • Trembling
  • Drooling or runny nose
  • Pacing
  • Crowding the door, trying to get out

Take the phrase “separation anxiety symptoms” with a grain of salt – Many of these symptoms fit other things, as well; or your dog may  be anxious, but for another reason.  For example, I didn’t even bother listing urinating in the house as a symptom.  That’s more likely to be caused by a UTI, or by simply not getting outside frequently enough.  Trembling, chattering, drooling, pacing – In my house, that means somebody’s making a sandwich.  What you are looking for is a general air of tension in the dog’s behavior, or signs that he is bored or discontent.

Are Two Dogs Home Alone Better Than One?

One thing which has proved to be very successful in keeping a dog happy is a buddy.  If you can manage it, consider adding a good-natured second dog to your family.  That way, he’ll never be alone.  I have witnessed this personally, again and again – In homes where there’s no one home for several hours a day, two dogs together always seem more content/less neurotic than a dog alone.

How Long Can my Dog be Home Alone?

Another thing that must be considered is whether or not you will need someone to come in and care for your dog in the middle of the day.  If your dog is going to be alone for more than six hours while you’re at work, you will need someone to come in.  The AKC confirms this, saying “A dog should spend no more than 6-8 hours alone during the day without a dog walker or dog daycare.”

You also need to consider your dog’s age. The little graph, below, gives you some idea of what you can expect from your dog, but the right time varies, according to the individual pup:

Dogs who are made to wait longer than this, on a regular basis, are at higher risk for UTIs.  Once this problem starts, it can become a regular event, and you may find that even 6 hours is too long for a dog who is prone to these infections.  

This is where it is helpful to know your neighbors.  Retirees are a great source of dog care.  Having a dog 24/7 can be too demanding; but a senior may enjoy caring for your dog, and may also welcome a bit of extra cash to round out his pension.

It’s also good to know that, like a small child, your dog may put on a bit of drama during your exit, only to resign himself to his fate, as soon as you are out the door.  This is where a doggie cam is your best friend (PLEASE RETURN SOON FOR THIS UPCOMING ARTICLE).  

Prepare Your Dog’s Space for being Home Alone

Whenever one’s dog is home alone, the best option is to crate.

A crate is easily cleanable, and offers complete flexibility as to where you can locate your dog. 

You might be dead-set against crates; but read this before you make up your mind (it’s a greyhound article, but it is all-breed friendly).

An often-overlooked cause of separation anxiety is not hatred of the crate, or even separation from you, but separation from his beloved possessions.  I learned this the hard way with my 2nd greyhound, Shannon.  

Shannon’s “separation anxiety” cleared up immediately, once we got a crate that was large enought to throw his couch into.  It also helped that we set it up in his usual spot.  As long as Shannon could be right where he liked it best, he was just fine.

So, that’s my first recommendation – With your dog out of them room, remove his bed, set up the crate in that spot, and place his bed inside it. 

If he needs any encouragement to go in there, toss in a cookie.  This works so well with my current dog, Lily, that she actually becomes excited when I pick up my keys!

It’s also good to know that, like a small child, your dog may put on a bit of drama during your exit, only to resign himself to his fate, as soon as you are out the door.  This is where a doggie cam is your best friend.  I know there’s a lot of talk about the wildly popular Furbo, the doggie cam that allows you to remotely toss treats to your dog; but I like this one a lot better. It does the job for a fraction of the price. Besides, giving treats to my dog is one of those bonding things – You can’t just phone it in.

Should you Crate your Dog when not at Home?

If you will not crate, please restrict your dog to a small area of your home, rather than letting him have the run of the place.  In your absence, the empty spaces loom large and lonely, feeding into your dog’s anxiety.  An anxious pup will wander from room to room, searching for you.  When he fails to find you, he may settle for comforting himself with some familar possesion of yours…and destroy it.

Whatever you do, please do not leave your dog outdoors, unsupervised.  Many things can happen, including jumping the fence, digging his way out, someone stealing him, or a coyote or rabid animal wandering in for a fight.

This infographic some desireable qualities in a “day room” for your dog:

As a “pre-training,” spend some time hanging out with your dog in his “day room” space.  He’ll be a lot happier in there, if he doesn’t come to think of it as a place where he is always alone.

Train Your Dog to be Home Alone

First, you’ll need to train your dog to go into his space on command.  When you’re trying to get out the door in the morning is no time to play games.  As suggested with crate training, toss a cookie into his “day room,” and encourage him to go after it.  Move the baby-gate into place.  Stay nearby, and remove the gate after a few minutes.  Tell him he’s a good dog, and follow up with a small training treat.  Do not encourage him to come out – If he stays in there after you’ve moved the gate, that’s a good sign that he is at ease in there.

Repeat this step, moving further away, and for more time.  For example, you can be out of his sight, but still nearby.  On the next try, go to a different part of the same floor, then a different floor; you get the idea.

In the third step, pick up your keys, put on your coat, and go outside.  Again, increase the intervals of time.  

For the final step, leave in the car.  The first time, just drive around the block before returning.  Expand this with a quick errand, and increase the time from there.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to work all the way up to eight hours. Greyhound Welfare tells us that “when the dog can be alone for 30-50 minutes with no stress, [he] should be fine being alone for longer times.”

IMPORTANT FOR SUCCESS – Be sure you follow up every session with a small treat.

How to Prevent your Dog from Getting Bored

An owners’ favorite for keeping a dog busy is a Kong toy with some peanut butter in it.  Be sure to choose a Kong that is too big to go down your dog’s throat!  Personally, I prefer to give my dog a Licki Mat.   It keeps her busy for longer, and I think the repetetive motion of licking peanut butter off of it soothes the dog, and leaves her mellow and ready for a good nap after she finishes it (I love this 2-pack, because you always have a clean one!). 

Resources for Further Info

A brief guide to Alone Training from Greyhound Welfare:

The AKC on how long alone is too long:

Pro tips for home-alone prep:

Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too!

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