The Importance of Training Your Dog To Be Independent
Was I the only one who got freaked out by the movie ‘The Secret Life of Pets’? Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was a great movie and I laughed so hard a little pee came out (maybe I need to be housetrained). What bothered me was this looming question: what does my dog do when I’m not at home? How do you know your pup isn’t waiting by the door for you to come all day long? For those of us without CCTV cameras in our homes, we may never really know.
My dog is grown now and he is twice as crazy as I am and knows how to entertain himself with the weirdest things, like pretending to be a lion trying to pounce on a blade of grass. Sure, he probably needs a dog psychiatrist, but point being, he is entirely independent. I don’t know everything he does, but I know he can take care of himself.
When you leave your home every morning, you want the peace of mind that your puppy isn’t depressed in a corner, just waiting for you to get back. Even though the thought of your puppy desperately waiting for your return is sweet (who doesn’t want that level of love and attention?), it isn’t emotionally healthy. Another part of the independence, of course, is your dog being able to eliminate in the right place or hold it in until you return, if you won’t be out too long. Going to work all day and hanging out with friends until midnight, yet somehow expecting your dog to hold it in the whole time is just not realistic.
So then, what does it mean training your dog to be independent, why is it a must and how do I accomplish it? Keep scrolling.
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The Need For Independence
One thing every owner should aspire to is the confidence that no matter what happens, your dog can take care of itself. Having a dog that is able to feed itself, eliminate and flush the toilet, take its own bath and visit the vet when it’s feeling poorly may not be entirely possible, but we should get as close to it as possible.
The first part of independence to consider is being able to leave your dog at home alone, as this may have to happen quite often, even if you live with other people.
When your dog is home, it should be in a good enough mood to eat if you left any food for it, toilet if it has access to the yard (if you have one), or keep it in if it has to, and play with toys, puzzles and anything else available. You should not be worried that when your pup is home alone it will chew on your expensive shoes, furniture, or break important things by jumping on tabletops or try to pry the window open.
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Why Does My Dog Have To be Independent
The simple answer to this is that your dog needs to learn to behave appropriately when you are not home. When your dog needs you present before it can do anything, you have a problem on your hands. If your dog must have you around or be next to you while it sleeps, eats, eliminates, plays, or socializes with other dogs, it could be a sign of separation anxiety.
When there is no one at home, your dog could hurt itself if it does not learn to be on its own. Most importantly I think, is the mental impact of a dog being too clingy. Why should a dog only be happy when you are around? If you work all day long, it would mean your dog is sad for extended periods of time. I can’t handle that amount of sadness or depression, and I certainly don’t want that for my puppy, and I’m betting neither do you.
It is important to note that dependency can be inflicted on dogs by their owners. Some dogs are very independent, either because of their breed or personality. However, some owners don’t like that. They want their pups to crave their presence all the time, by constantly seeking attention, forcing the dog to play games with them, or offering treats as bribes for sitting on their lap while they watch Doctor Who reruns. If you are in this category, please allow your dog to be independent. It doesn’t mean poochy doesn’t love you, it just means poochy is mature.
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How To Train Your Puppy To Be Independent
It sounds great to have an independent puppy, but how do you train a dog to let go?
Create An Environment It Loves Being In
I love my bedroom. It is where I prefer to spend all my time when I’m at home. I work, eat and play in here, but it wasn’t always so. When I was naughty as a kid, my mum would say ‘Go to your room!’ and I hated it until my dad bought me a TV and some video games. Score! A dog’s ‘bedroom’ should be just as alluring.
I am a big fan of the safety zone, which is an enclosure that can be like a bedroom for your pup. It could be an actual room, or a play-pen area set up for your dog. Within this enclosure can be your crate or doggy bed, toilet pads if you are using them, and space for your dog to stretch its legs and play.
This space should be the happiest place for your dog and it should not need your presence to enjoy it. With a few toys to keep it company, its feeding and watering bowls, and a toilet for the untrained, what more would a little dog need? As your dog grows older, it may have free-run of your home, though you can designate areas for it to play, like the living room or space beneath the stairs if present. Once in here, your dog should feel safe, comfortable, and entertained.
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Spend Time Apart, Even When Together
When your puppy first comes to your home, do spend as much time as possible getting acquainted and making it feel loved and welcome. However, this does not mean you have to carry it every single second. Yes, I know they are so cute you could just eat them up, but allow it to discover the world on its own, similar to what its mother would do.
One way to do this is to give your puppy something to play with, and when it is sufficiently engaged, walk away for a few seconds. Increase the time separation until you can manage 10 minutes away easily, at regular intervals. When you notice your puppy has started looking for you, then you can return immediately for the very young ones, or prolong it a bit for older ones.
Don’t force yourself to return, if you notice your puppy spending ages with its toys. Allow it to embrace independence, it’s one of the surefire methods of training your dog to be independent. When you do return, reward it for playing on its own with praises and treats. If your puppy is not distracted by the toys, you probably should change them.
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Choosing The Right Toys
Knowing which toys to use is important. Toys that require participation such as a tennis ball, frisbee, or a rope would be counterproductive. What you need is something that will keep your dog’s attention, like chew toys, puzzles, and Kong toys.
Chew toys are a safe bet, as puppies love chewing, and as long as they don’t destroy the toy, they can keep up with the activity until their jaw gets tired. Next, they can move on to a rewarding toy like a frozen Kong. Though also technically a chew toy, the rich reward in the middle makes it seem more like eating than playing. By prolonging the time spent trying to get the chow from the chew toy, you have given the dog at least an extra half hour of human-free play.
Next, we have puzzles. These are very good for developing your dog’s intelligence as well as keeping it entertained. There are different types and you can alternate them as you deem fit. Busy Buddy is a good one, as well as a dog casino. These require dogs to figure out how to get the treats hidden within.
If all else fails, there is always the best toy of all: television. This must be handled with care, because you don’t want your dog getting addicted, or getting the wrong ideas from the wrong shows, like wearing white underpants even when underwater. Some people don’t want their dogs watching TV, which is also perfectly fine. You can also try the radio.
How Long Can I Leave My Dog To Be On Its Own?
As much as you are training your dog to be independent, you should only leave it alone for so long. The length of time would depend on your dog’s temperament and age. Puppies can be left alone for 2-3 hours, while older dogs for 4-6 hours. My dog is free to roam inside the house and out, so I can be left alone for much longer as he is privy to endless entertainment, still, he is an animal and he needs to be supervised.
If you are going to be out for longer than four hours, try to get someone to walk your dog or hang with it, especially when it is a puppy. Remember to come back home with plenty of love to shower on your pup as a reward for its good job of being independent.
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