Dear Mary Puppins: Setting Boundaries During COVID


Hannah Richter (aka Mary Puppins) is a certified dog trainer and current instructor at Andrea Arden Dog Training in NYC. If you have something you want to ask Mary Puppins be sure to email us at [email protected]!

Dear Mary Puppins,

Considering the current climate with COVID-19 and working from home, how do you suggest establishing boundaries with our puppy so that he doesn’t learn to become overly dependent on us being around 24/7?


Dear Setting Boundaries Dog Mom,

Congrats on your new pup! How exciting! Many of my clients with new puppies have expressed concern about their dogs getting too comfortable with having someone at home all the time. Being home with your puppy is helpful with housetraining which makes puppy parenting during COVID attractive to so many people. If you are at home with your dog, you are able to monitor them and reward them when they go potty. The downside to being home is that your dog gets less practice being alone which can lead to separation issues developing. By establishing boundaries, routines, teaching basic manners, and practicing alone time you can set your puppy up for success in both your current and future lifestyles. 

Setting the Boundaries


Establishing boundaries with your puppy teaches them to practice behaviors you want instead of behaviors you don’t want. Puppies should only be in one or two puppy-proofed rooms, or the puppy could be on a leash with you indoors until they have learned more about their new environment and are housetrained. Pick a place that you are in the most when you are home such as your living room and keep the puppy in there with you.

Once your puppy is housetrained you can begin to allow them more freedom with supervision. Working in this way prevents the puppy from practicing bad habits such as going to the bathroom in random places and chewing on items like furniture. Teaching your puppy to respect your personal space is another important aspect of teaching boundaries. Working on impulse control exercises such as leave it, drop it, and stay will help your puppy to understand that patience pays off and that jumping and nipping will not work. 

Setting a Routine


Getting your pup into a routine is important because it teaches your puppy what to expect day-to-day. Uncertainty can cause your puppy to struggle with anxiety, so having a routine can give them peace of mind. Try to feed, walk, and play with your pup on a schedule each day. Schedule two or three 30 minute training/play/walk sessions with your dog to burn some mental and physical energy. Adding in scheduled alone time/nap time each day teaches your pup when to rest and when to let their energy out. Routines are helpful because they allow your dog to feel confident that their needs will be met each day.   

Practicing Alone Time


While it can be challenging work, it is necessary to practice alone time. You need to get your pup comfortable in the space that you will leave them in before you start to practice leaving them alone. Start by leaving them alone in their space for a few minutes, and gradually increase the time you leave your pup by itself. As the puppy gets older you will start to increase the amount of time you leave them alone considerably. If the puppy cannot reasonably hold its bladder for the time you will be gone they should have an indoor potty spot such as a potty pad. 

When practicing alone time, have your pup in their alone time-space (crate, pen, etc) and give them a food toy to work on. Walk a few steps away from them and then come back, let them out and take the food toy away. Repeat this and gradually increase the distance away from the pup and duration. Work within the pup’s ability. The goal is to have successful repetitions and not to push them over the edge. Try to feed meals in the crate and associate other good things like toys with the crate. Throw in short repetitions with the long ones to make sure the puppy can’t predict how long you will be gone for.

Being puppy parents during COVID has many perks, but you are right to worry about your puppy becoming dependent. With mindful daily routines, a bit of practice, and basic manners your puppy will be able to switch to a different schedule with more ease. 



Mary Puppins

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You need to get your pup comfortable in the space that you will leave them in before you start to practice leaving them alone

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