6. Learning to be left alone

Learning to be left alone.

An attachment bond is the core of the relationship between a dog and their owner and this plays a key role in the dog learning to be left alone. It will take time to develop this bond with your hound and some dogs find it easier than others, plus your own personality will affect this too.

Rather than teaching our hounds independence, instead we are looking to give them security, and independence will grow naturally from there. It’s a balance between gradually increasing time alone while remaining responsive to their comfort and needs; we want the greyhound to trust that safety is available if they need it.

It is beneficial to have as much time as possible when your hound arrives home to build a relationship and to help the dog to settle in.

Reasons dogs might struggle when left alone:

  • They still need time to bond with their new owner in order to feel safe
  • The dogs’ temperament; they may genuinely be scared being alone, especially if they’re already anxious
  • They might be bored and frustrated because they aren’t used to being left alone
  • Their needs aren’t being met

Three prevention exercises for newbies:

These three exercises can help to prevent anxiety when left alone and will teach dogs a little bit of tolerance for frustration, so they understand they can’t always get to who they want. When it’s time to start leaving your hound for real they’ll be set up for gradual success.

Micro absences:

Create a list of household chores that only take a short amount of time and gradually take longer e.g. going to loo, checking the mail, having a shower, hanging the washing out, cooking dinner etc. Start at the easier end and during the first day as you go to the loo scatter some treats for the dog when you leave. Provided the hound is settled, progress to longer tasks. These are nice and easy absences and allow your hound plenty of time to recover.

Toy Tie outs:

Get a tasty, smelly treat e.g. a filled Kong with a rope threaded through that you can tie out to a playpen, back of the crate with the door open, a chair leg, deck railing etc. Then you can go off and do your own thing, the hound then takes a risk to leave you and do something away from you. This develops curiosity, confidence, and rewards their risk taking.

Eat away game:

Set up a crate next to your dinner table and each time you have a meal, you feed the dog a portion of theirs. Over time, provided the hound is settled, gradually move the crate further away from you and out of sight.

Three steps to ensure greyhound’s needs are met before you leave them alone:

Step 1: Physical

While providing your dog with an outlet for exercise is important, it is equally important to give them time to settle down before leaving them alone. After exercising your body is flooded with endorphins and you need time to come down from the exercise high – you can probably relate to feeling all pumped up after a run and the last thing on your mind is settling down for a nap.

It’s worth noting that especially while your hound is settling in and going on walks for the first time, seeing traffic, neighbourhood dogs, and all these new things might elevate their anxiety levels and so they’ll need some time to recover before being left alone.

Step 2: Mental

Training is one of the best ways to build trust and help a bond to grow. 15 minutes spent training (even if split into 3 separate 5 minute sessions) will help to satisfy your dog’s mind e.g. nose target, spin, chin rest, down, pick something up on cue, leave, down stay, down with distractions or when you’re out of sight.

Step 3: Food Toy

Pick something for your dog to do independently while you’re getting ready to leave the house. This could be a filled Kong, food dispensing toy, some biscuits in a cardboard box etc.

Make sure your hound can already be left without stressing for 10 minutes before providing them with any ‘boredom buster’ type food enrichments. The risk of dishing these out earlier is they either provide a distraction and then the dog panics once they’ve finished, or they end up predicting being left alone and add to their stress.

Extra things that can help:

  • Make sure your greyhound has been to the loo before being left alone – we all know that needing the toilet can ramp up anxiety!
  • Think about where you leave the dog, some hounds will feel stressed being confined inside the house and settle better outdoors. Others might be frustrated outdoors if they can see people or dogs walking by that they can’t get to and more anxious dogs might be scared that there’s no support. These dogs might be better somewhere quiet and calm indoors where they can’t see what’s going on outside. It can be a process of trial and error to see where your dog is most comfortable.
  • Putting some background noise on like the radio, audiobook, classical music, can cushion the stark silence of being home alone and can help mask any sounds like the traffic, people walking past, or the dogs barking next door.
  • While we don’t want to make a big fuss of our hounds if they are struggling to be left, you don’t need to withhold your affection, and if you do ignore them and impose long periods of absence when they’re not ready, they are more likely to struggle. If they are stressing you can reassure them with a gentle touch of acknowledgement, calm stroking for short periods of time, saying something calmly like “good dog” or whatever you fancy then tossing treats. If you’re calm and confident rather than fussing (even if you have to fake it ‘til you make it) that will help too.
  • Spread your dog’s activities throughout the day, they’re more likely to be frustrated and struggle being alone if they know they must wait all day until you come home to do anything.
  • If you need to return to work and your hound still needs part time care, look at enlisting the help of friends, family, pet sitters, dog walkers – or even existing hound owners.