If you currently leave your dog in a crate when he's home alone, you may be wondering when you can trust him to be left loose in the house.
This will depend on the dog, of course. Some dogs may never be able to be left loose in the house. If that's the case with your dog, don't feel bad. Crates are great tools to keep dogs safe and out of trouble. Or, you might be leaving your dog in a bedroom or in the kitchen with a pet gate, and that's fine too.
The question is, when (if ever) should a dog be given more freedom?
The following are some tips to help you decide.
How to know when your dog can be left loose in the house
Is your dog well behaved while you're home?
If your dog has access to all or part of the house while you're home and doesn't get into trouble, then he might be ready for more freedom when left alone, according to professional dog trainer Jennifer Mauger of L'Chaim Canine.
So, if your dog is still having accidents or if he's chewing off-limit items, it may be too challenging for him to be left loose while home alone at this point. Just keep working on the basics and use a crate for now. There is no magic age that says dogs can suddenly be given more freedom. It all depends on your unique dog's behavior, so just be patient.
It's not "all or nothing."
One of the most common mistakes dog owners make is they give their dogs too much freedom too quickly.
Mauger said it's important to start out by leaving your dog home for just 15 or 20 minutes and then returning.
"If this goes well, increase your time away incrementally until they have built up to being out all the time," she said. "If at any point you encounter a problem, just go back a step or two."
For example, Mauger said if the dog does great for four hours but has trouble at five hours, go back to three or four hours. This may mean you need to go home during lunch or you may need to hire a dog walker to break up your dog's day temporarily.
Make sure your dog gets enough exercise.
This goes without saying, but sometimes we need a reminder. Dogs that don't get enough mental and physical exercise are naturally going to find ways to burn that energy. When you're trying to train your dog to be left loose in the house, it won't hurt if you find ways to increase his exercise during that time. A dog that gets a long walk in the morning will be more likely to remain calm when left alone.
Some dogs may always need to be crated.
Certain dogs will never do well when left alone, Mauger said.
"As long as they are happy being in their crate, then use it," she said. "Currently, one of my personal dogs cannot be left at home without getting into trouble. So to keep him safe and to keep my furniture safe, he is always crated."
She also wanted to remind dog owners never to force a dog or puppy into a crate. Always keep the experience positive by using treats and giving the dog extra goodies such as bones or stuffed puzzle toys while you're away.
"Never use a crate for punishment," she said. "The crate needs to be a safe place for your dog."
How about the rest of you? How did you transition your dog to be left out of the crate?