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Puppies take a lot of work. Sometimes, all we want to do is go to the bathroom in peace. But how can you do that when your puppy panics, barks, and screams as soon as you close the door? How are you supposed to shower or use the facilities when your puppy is having a meltdown?
The first thing to understand is that your puppy isn’t doing this to be spiteful or difficult on purpose. Your puppy is a baby mammal, and it’s important for their survival to stay near the family unit. Evolutionarily, it makes sense for a puppy to bark and cry when they’re abandoned. Yes, you know your puppy is safe – but their instincts don’t know that!
Try your best to take a deep breath and have some empathy for your puppy. I know that’s hard when you’re exhausted and your life has been turned upside down, but try.
Now there are a few different things we can try to stop your puppy from panicking while you’re in the bathroom.
- Can your puppy eat? In most cases, the easiest solution is to teach your puppy that being left alone in their puppy palace means that it’s snack time! Leave your puppy with a Licki Mat and peanut butter, a Kong and wet dog food, a bully stick, or a Snuffle mat with kibble sprinkled inside. They’ll quickly learn that being left alone isn’t so bad.
- But what if your puppy can’t eat because you’re gone? That’s a sign that we need to take a few steps backwards. If your puppy is too stressed to eat, we can’t keep pushing forward on the training plan! Take a listen to these Pandemic Puppy episodes on happy crating and mitigating separation anxiety, and read on.
- Ensure your puppy is set up for success. Your puppy needs to be happy, relaxed, and ready for a nap when you’re in the early stages of alone-time work. If your puppy needs to pee or is full of energy, you’re not likely to get any peace while in the bathroom! We recommend planning your bathroom time when your puppy has just been exercised and pottied a bit. Settle them into a big, comfy puppy palace (not just a crate) with a nice snack, wait for them to settle in, and ONLY THEN start to think about your own plans.
- Of course, if you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go! Just bring your puppy into the bathroom with you if you must. It’s better to do that than to continue teaching your puppy that being alone in the crate is something worth panicking about. We don’t want them learning that lesson!
- Build up more independence slowly. The very start of independence training with puppies goes slowly. You may start with just putting your puppy in the puppy palace while you’re working or cooking. You’ll naturally move around the house and ignore your puppy, and they’ll learn that you coming and going is No Big Deal. We call this constant movement without much excitement boredom therapy, and it really helps puppies learn that being in their Puppy Palace isn’t a death sentence.
- Manage expectations – for everyone. At first with Niffler, my puppy, he would bark if he could see me but I wasn’t right next to his crate. As long as I knew his needs had been met (see #2), I just continued ignoring him while staying close. As soon as he quieted down, I tossed a bit of food to him. He really wanted me to come let him out, but I rewarded him with food for quiet instead. If he seemed really upset, I’d move closer and help him calm down. I never want my puppy to be totally freaked out! But within a week or two of consistent, patient work, he learned that I wasn’t going to abandon him and that he was safe.
It’s quite common for young puppies to panic when left alone, even if being “alone” is just waiting while you’re in the bathroom. In many cases, we can use a combination of food and boredom therapy to help your puppy settle while you’re in the bathroom. If you’re feeling really stuck, check out our 15 minute behavior help calls and our team will get you and your puppy on track!
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.