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Puppy Prep Course

A complimentary guide to help you navigate the first few weeks with your puppy.

This guide is intended to compliment our Harmony School day training program. Be sure to reach out to chat with one of our Professional Trainers about in-person training options. 

Separation & Independence Training

In previous sections, we discussed the importance of management and crate or confinement training with young puppies. By now you should be making progress in crate training, and as your puppy settles into their new home it’s time to start thinking about increasing the duration separation. The ability to be left alone with calmness and confidence will be incredibly important for your dog throughout their life. Even during pandemics and lockdowns, we still need to leave the house every now and then, and we want to be sure that our dogs can be left alone without experiencing stress or anxiety. As good neighbors, we also want to be sure that our dogs do not disturb those around us with vocalization or damage property due to stress and frustration.

Learning to Settle

In order for a dog to feel secure and content during separation, we first need to teach them to settle and sooth themselves. When your puppy comes home, they will be transitioning from a life where they’re constantly surrounded by their littermates. Dogs tend to sleep near each other, and puppies are constantly cuddling up with their mother or littermates for comfort and security. The adjustment from pack environment to human home can be jarring, and a lot of the early struggles that new puppy parents have with a fussy puppy stem from how your puppy is reacting to this sudden change.

As your puppy is settling into their new environment, they need to be provided with opportunities to experience separation and gain independence. Separation training always begins once your puppy’s basic needs are met. They should be tired, have recently pottied, and should ideally be ready to take a nap or engage with toys or chews with calm energy. We will start with very short increments, about 30 seconds, and add duration as the puppy becomes more comfortable and is better able to settle.

A puppy needs to first be able to settle with you around before they can be expected to settle on their own. As Shanni illustrates in the video below, we begin by helping the puppy settle and sooth themselves in their confined area by sitting nearby and helping them to feel secure and content. We aren’t engaging with them during this time, but instead are just sitting nearby and providing comfort.  The goal of this exercise is to show your puppy that they can entertain themselves or settle and be content without your direct intervention.


Building Duration

You’ve helped your puppy learn to settle with you nearby, and now you’re ready to start leaving them confined for longer periods of time. We’re going to use the same approach as earlier to build duration without taking steps backward with comfort or security. We’ll again be sure that the puppy’s needs have been met—they should be a bit tired and have pottied recently—and will put them in a pen with toys and chews that they can sooth themselves with. Once your puppy has shifted focus to a toy or chew, you can start wandering around the house and leave them on their own. A bit of whining is to be expected, and we will ignore any vocalizations in hopes that the puppy will shift focus back to a chew or toy or will settle down for a nap. If the puppy is unable to settle alone, return to a nearby spot and let your presence comfort them until they’re able to settle. Don’t interact with them or acknowledge the barking or whining, just be present and let that provide comfort. Our goal is to work through these moments in short bursts.

Keep Them Guessing

We don’t want to have our puppies recognize a pattern in our separation training. If they sense a pattern, they might focus on the next part of the pattern (your return) rather than focusing on settling and soothing themselves. We try to mix up both the duration of the separation exercises as well as the time of day and location of the training. The more opportunities we provide our puppies to experience separation in new settings or locations, the more success they will have at being confidently independent in the future. Playing music or audiobooks can help distract them from outside noises and prevent them from listening for your return. If we don’t give them a set schedule or pattern to follow, they’ll  be less likely to stress about the time you’ve been gone.

Coming or Going? No big deal.

As seen in the video, Shanni waits until Squish is quiet and settled before returning. When she returns, she is neutral and does not engage with Squish until he is settled. Similarly, when leaving our puppy alone we should be as neutral as possible about the exit. We don’t want our dogs to think that coming or going is a big deal. Many of us fall into the habit of giving our pups a bit of extra love and attention before we leave, and this pattern can set the stage for separation anxiety later in life. Save the excited greetings for once you’re home, everyone is settled, and you’re preparing for play or training time.


Separation and independence training provide puppies with skills that they will use throughout their life. As with all lifelong skills, there will need to be continued training and adjustment to make sure that they remain confident and secure being alone. A camera in their confinement area can help you better understand your dog’s behavior when you aren’t with them, and will help you recognize issues and get ahead of them before they become stressful problems.

In the next section of our Puppy Prep Course, we’ll discuss socialization and enrichment—two concepts important to the development of your puppy and their mental and emotional wellbeing.

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