This is a general guide on teaching your dog to be comfortable staying in a secure area other than a crate when you leave. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach or a guide to fixing separation anxiety.
Every dog is an individual and will need you to make adjustments based on their needs. You may need to take smaller steps or may be able to jump ahead more quickly. The goal is and should always be to keep your dog feeling safe and comfortable.
Newly-adopted dogs should start this practice on Day 1. While it's tempting to spend all your time with your new dog, it will be much harder for them when it's time for you to go to work. Dogs that have just been adopted from the shelter will sleep a lot on the first day, anyway. Take advantage of this time to teach them to rest in their confinement area.
This is where your dog will stay when you leave. There is no one “right” area for every dog, but there may be a right area for YOUR dog. Some dogs are more comfortable with less freedom, such as a crate, while other dogs do better with more, like a bedroom or kitchen. Generally the confinement area will meet these criteria:
Familiar to your dog.
An area where your dog is comfortable when you are home.
No view of exit points (front door, garage, driveway).
Low risk of escape outside the home.
The use of baby gates or exercise pens (also called “ex-pens”) can help you create a confinement area or keep your dog out of a certain part of the house.
Once you’ve established where your dog will stay, you will need to spend some time acclimating them to staying in that area. Starting at 1, practice each step 2-3 times daily.
The goal is for your dog to remain calm and comfortable (no barking, whining, pawing at gate, panting, or other signs of stress) before moving to the next step.
When your dog isn’t looking, toss a few treats inside the confinement area and leave the door/gate open. Allow them to discover the treats on their own.
Give your dog a Kong or long-lasting chew in the confinement area with the door/gate shut while you sit on the other side. You can read or watch a movie. The goal is to be physically present, but not interacting with your dog.
Repeat above step, gradually moving further away after a few minutes.
Repeat, moving out of sight. Return while your dog is relaxed.
If your dog starts barking during any of these steps, try to wait until the barking pauses long enough for you to return while the dog is quiet. Note how long they were able to stay quiet before the barking started and time future sessions, accordingly.
On weekends/holidays/work-from-home days, practice several times a day. Practice sessions can be a few minutes to several hours, depending on your dog’s comfort level.
TIP: Don’t force your dog into the confinement area. One negative experience could jeopardize your future training success. Work slowly and give them the choice to enter on their own. It might seem slower, at first, but will lead to faster progress, overall.