Problem-Solving the Puzzle of Alone Time Management

Over the last year and a half, I’ve spoken with countless guardians of dogs with separation anxiety looking for support. In our initial conversation, we talk about what separation anxiety is, what it’s like to work a training protocol, and, yes, why managing the dog’s alone time is a requirement for successful training. Like with any other behavior issue, training and management are both necessary for overcoming separation anxiety, and guardians deserve to know that upfront.

Asking a guardian to promise not to leave their dog alone longer than they can handle while executing a protocol is truly not arbitrary, nor an ask I make lightly. The goal of training is to change the dog’s emotional response to being home alone, which means not exposing them to scary absences is essential for learning and progress. I can empathize with how intimidating and challenging this sounds and feels, and I know it’s doable. How? It’s a promise I made as a guardian to a dog with separation anxiety and have since talked with hundreds of other guardians who have willingly done the same.

Believe me, I understand doable is not the same as easy. Managing absences requires time, mental energy, emotional labor, and, for many, an additional expense. There’ll be days you’ll want to break that promise because you’re exhausted, frustrated, and angry; you’re not alone in those feelings. I’ve been there, and many others have too. When you question why you’ve made this promise to your dog, please remember it’s temporary and why you are doing it – for you and your dog!

When I started managing Cyrus’s alone time, I didn’t fully understand why I was doing it. If I had, I’d have been able to help him sooner. Instead, like so many others, I felt like I’d tried everything, made no progress, and just didn’t know what else to try. When I say “tried everything,” I mean food toys, repeatedly practicing very short absences, randomly messing with my keys and bag throughout the day, crate training, calming protocols, seeing if he’d bark it out, and leaving the radio on, to name a few. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have done things so very differently. But, like the rest of us, I was doing the best I could with what I knew and the resources I had. 

When I finally got connected with the right information and resources to help us make progress, I’d not only “tried everything” but also been managing his alone time for several months. Most guardians I speak to are already doing the same by the time we have our first conversation and are more than willing to continue doing so a little longer while training. Yes, they, and you, are that amazing! 

Creative Solutions for Alone Time

How’d I do it? Like the choices you’ll make for you and your dog, mine were specific to our needs, context, and my financial and emotional capacity. I was single, lived in the city, didn’t have a roommate or family nearby, had in-person work demands, and had no pre-existing network as a first-time dog guardian. Managing Cyrus’s alone time was a lesson in creative problem-solving and asking for help, and I engaged in that lesson without question because doing so was necessary for his well-being and getting my life back. 

The good news is you don’t need to be the one with your dog 24/7. The even better news is the possibilities for managing your dog’s alone time are only limited by creativity. If you need some ideas to get your creative juices flowing, consider one (or more) of these:

  • Order online for pick-up or delivery. Groceries and other goods are more widely available online than ever before. Scheduling for pick-up can save a delivery fee if your dog can ride with you.

  • If your dog is dog social, have a friend or family member’s pup stay with you in exchange for them watching yours. If your dog isn’t dog social, I learned friends with children appreciate this same sort of offer, which is an option if your dog is OK around children

  • If your dog is dog social, doggie daycare is a great option! Whether an in-home or commercial daycare, you’ll want to make sure they understand that for any scheduled nap, feeding, or rest time your pup will need a human companion. 

  • Find recommended and reviewed pet sitters using the zip code search through Fear Free Pets, the National Association of Pet Sitters, and Pet Sitters International. Interviewing and educating potential sitters will be key to finding a good match.

  • Research positive reinforcement trainers using the zip code search through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the Pet Professional Guild. Many trainers also pet sit, and being transparent about your dog’s needs will be important.

  • Post an advertisement in local neighborhood spots with either digital or physical message boards – libraries, community centers, pet stores, universities, community colleges, senior centers (if able to bring the dog there).

  • Check in with your vet’s office to see if any staff would be interested in pet sitting or have referrals for trusted pet sitters willing to help.

  • If you adopted your dog from a rescue organization or local shelter, reach out to see if staff, volunteers, previous fosters, or anyone in their foster network might be willing to help. If from a breeder, they might have ideas or a network to offer too!

  • Please don’t forget that asking a good friend, family, or neighbor is an option, and bringing your dog with you on errands might be too!

You Are Not Alone

So, that lesson in asking for help? I quickly learned that successfully managing Cyrus’s alone time would require asking for help, sometimes more than I wanted to. Caring for a dog with separation anxiety does indeed take a village

Asking for help doesn’t come easily to me, especially from people I know, love, and trust; I don’t like feeling vulnerable in that way, and I don’t want them to worry. At the same time, I knew I needed their help just as much as he did. When I had to cover an absence or continued management felt impossible, I tried to hold on to this bit of wisdom from a dear friend and integral member of our village – most people consider it an honor and privilege to be asked and able to help. She was right, and I hope that’s your experience when you ask for help, too.

You’ve got this, and I’m certain of that! Making and keeping a promise to your dog to never leave them alone longer than they can handle while training is not easy, but it’s doable. When you question if you can keep going, try to remember it’s temporary. It does take a village, and you will need help; both are OK and expected. There are days, even now more than a year later, that I wonder how I did it. But, I did, and I know you, too, can and will.

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About Malena DeMartini

Malena DeMartini is renowned in the dog training industry for her work with separation anxiety over the past two decades. She is the author of two groundbreaking books on the topic, and the founder of the Separation Anxiety Certification program. More information about Malena and resources about separation anxiety can be found on her website at:

About Malena

Malena DeMartini is renowned in the dog training industry for her work with separation anxiety over the past two 

decades, for more information about Malena Read More…

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