Your absence does not have to be traumatic. Routine is key.
Don’t tell your kids, but back to school season is creeping up on us. The summer is a nice break from the regular routine and our four legged friends love having their pack with them all day. Many dog owners report having difficulty leaving their dog alone when September returns and the family must leave for work and school as the dog becomes vocal, anxious and destructive.
With the exception of dogs facing medical issues, most dogs can adjust to, and even enjoy, time spent alone in their home.
While most of us enjoy the freeing feeling of summer, dogs actually thrive on a schedule so getting your dog ready and into a routine will be welcomed.
Please note that I am not a certified dog trainer. I’m simply an experienced owner and Canadian Kennel Club member. In this blog, I’m sharing tips and techniques that have worked for me as my dogs handle being left alone very easily.
I’m a firm believer that a tired dog is a well behaved dog. Waking up half an hour earlier to take your dog on a good walk, jog or outdoors for a play session before you have to head out to work can help enormously in easing them into spending time alone while you are out at work. Know your dog’s physical and health limitations and work within them.
Many times, the anxiety your dog is demonstrating when you leave is a result of a frantic morning where you are rushing to get out the door. The dog is quickly fed, then put out to go to the washroom prior to you rushing out the door. By making time to exercise and bond with your dog before you take off for the day, you are setting them up for a much easier day. Plus, the extra exercise in the morning will put you in a more focused state of mind for the day ahead.
Set the Tone
Having to leave the house is a fact of life. There is no use in feeling guilty. Your dog is reading you all day every day and if you feel remorseful about leaving, you can bet your dog will sense that.
How you behave when you leave and when you return can impact your dog enormously. Although they understand some words and commands, our dogs don’t speak english., but rather understand our body language and our para-language(intonation, pitch and speed of speaking, hesitation noises, gesture and facial expression). When you make a huge fuss before leaving with both words and physical praise, your dog thinks “Something bad is about to happen, she’s making a huge deal about something!”. Anxiety is sparked. Then, you shut the door and leave your dog to try to figure out what is going on. If you return and make the same huge deal, you have confirmed to your dog that leaving was terrible.
When it’s time to leave, simply and calmly say “Have a nice day. Be good. I love you and will see you when I come home” and walk out. Be just as chill when you return and are getting ready to go outside for a walk or play session.
Comfort in the crate
Crates are great. If your dog is young or is destructive when you leave, a crate can help greatly. Crate training takes advantage of your dog's natural instincts as a den animal. A wild dog's den is their home—a place to sleep, hide from danger and raise a family. If introduced properly, the crate will become your dog's den, where they can find comfort and solitude while you know they’re safe and secure. Crate training can save your furniture, your floors and even your dog’s life. My favourite set up for leaving a dog at home is in an exercise pen with a crate inside it.
Set the crate up in a common area like the kitchen so your dog is surrounded by familiar sights and sounds. You can learn more about crate training your dog on our blog “Creating Crate Success!”
Going from a full house with lots of noise to dead quiet can be unnerving. A radio playing at a low volume can help a lot with the transition of going from a packed home to alone. Turn the radio on a fair amount of time before you leave and keep it on for your dog when you go.
Good quality toys will keep your dog busy while you are out of the house. Hollow rubber toys stuffed with goodies work wonders, as do knotted rope toys and securely stitched, stuffed toys that can entertain your dog while you aren’t home. To avoid choking, I always buy toys and items meant for chewing larger than necessary.
Having a friend, neighbour or professional dog walker visit your best bud can make your dog’s day much more pleasant. Dog walkers are very common in large cities. I live in downtown Toronto and it seems every dog has a walker. My dogs adore their walker and all the dog friends she brings along with the routine it provides while I’m at work. Having someone else exercise your dogs also gives you a bit more time at the office when last minute duties pop up.
Adding Another Dog
Some owners report that adding a second dog to their pack helped when it came to leaving their dog alone. While this could work, this is a big decision not to be made lightly as adding a new puppy or dog requires a lot of planning, time and money.
Personally, I have seen dogs with separation anxiety improve greatly with the addition of a four legged roommate. I have also seen a situation where the owner then had to deal with two dogs with separation anxiety. So, in my opinion, addressing behaviour issues before introducing a second dog is best.
Maintain a Routine
It’s ideal to start your routine the moment you get your puppy. Puppies have few life experiences and become accustomed to being left alone for limited amounts of time as their bladders develop. The first few months will definitely require flexibility from your employer so that you can run home and let the pup out, a dog walker or an organized schedule with your family members to ensure the puppy is not left alone too long.
If you are starting or returning to a routine with an adult dog, put your dog in her spot with her toys and some water, then leave with no bother- at first for an hour, and then gradually build up.
Speak to a Veterinarian
If your dog cannot handle being left alone after you have followed these steps while maintaining a routine, you may want to speak to your dog’s veterinarian or a dog behaviourist as you may need to explore other options.
While we would love to be with our beloved dogs all day, every day, it is simply not possible. With some preparation, practice and a routine established, your dog will handle being home alone just fine (and mainly nap until you, their best friend, returns).