Dogs love attention and love you being home with them. However, you may need to leave your dog home alone for all or part of the day. Well before you leave them at home alone, you should start preparing your dogs to be comfortable being left home alone.
You, as a responsible pet owner, need to help your dog adjust to you not being home at all times.
Step 1 – Leave your dog alone for gradually longer periods
Leave your dog for several short periods in the day, maximum 5-10 minutes. How long will depend on how your dog reacts. Ensure your dog has shelter and feels warm, safe and comfortable when you leave them.
When you return, don’t acknowledge the dog as soon as you walk in the door. Walk in, pretend to put your shopping on the bench or take your coat off before paying attention to your dog. Ignoring your dog when you leave or return conveys the message that you coming and going is nothing to get excited about. Do this several times until your dog is comfortable with you leaving home. Gradually increase the times to one hour, then two, then the afternoon and so on. Don’t push it or you could go backwards.
It takes time, which is why you need to start conditioning well before you leave them on their own, so it gets used to being left alone. If possible, ask a neighbour to listen for any barking, whining or howling and to time how long this goes on for. Monitor this over time to see if it lessens or increases.
Step 2 – Convince your dog that being alone is a good thing
Once your dog is comfortable with being left alone for short or extended periods, convince your dog that being left alone is a good thing. Associate you leaving the house with giving your dog a nice juicy bone to chew on or a Kong or puzzle ball filled with treats. This will keep your dog occupied for an hour or two, then it will fall asleep and next thing, you’ve returned home.
Step 3 – Set a routine
Try to stick to the same routine - for example the same exercise time, meal time, one-on-one time, play time. Try to start and finish work at the same time each day. This will make it easier when you do return to your workplace or study. When you do spend time with your dog, make it sensational and lots of quality fun for the both of you.
Other thing to think about
Doggy Play Dates
Try to arrange for a day to drop your dog at a friend’s house for a visit and then on another day you return the favour. Start small - only an hour or two at first, before gradually building up to the full day. Your dogs will enjoy each other’s company and you will be able to work in peace knowing your dog is happy and being taken care of.
Rotate their Toys
Rotate their toys every few days so they think they’ve got a whole new one to play with.
Develop an exercise level that you will be able to maintain when you return to your work place or study. Try to exercise before you leave for work or settle down for your day working from home with a walk, tug of war, hide and seek or fetch to help tire them out. Allow your dog 15 to 20 minutes to settle down, before resuming your seat at the work desk. Change up your dog’s exercise regime – go for longer walks, runs, play sessions with friends and ambling sniffs.
Give your Dog New Sniffing Experiences
When you do get your dog out – let them sniff! Dogs engage with their world through their noses. Where you can smell a cake cooking in the microwave, they can smell each individual ingredient, how long it’s been cooked for and who touched the ingredients before they went in the oven. Take them for car rides on short errands so they can sniff out the window. However do not leave your dog in the car for long periods unsupervised, especially in the sun or warm weather. Giving them ample access to smells and new areas is very important for their wellbeing.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Depending on their age and exercise, dogs sleep for an average of 10 to 14 hours per day. Puppies may sleep even longer. Let them sort out their own routine by only actively playing with them after they wake up.
Encourage “Time Alone”
Invest in Kongs or puzzle balls and try different toys, such as squeaky or soft toys. Watch which ones your dog likes best and amuses them for a longer period of time. If your dog is happy playing, leave them to it, don’t interfere. Encourage your dog to play with toys in another room away from you. Regularly rotate your dog’s toys. Put them away and bring them out again. This is a way of ‘making them new again’.
Keep up the Dog Training
It is very important for both you and your dog to continue training even if the training facility is closed. Reward based training is best. Beginners can start by asking their dog to sit, stand, drop, stay and come. Don’t forget to reward your dog now and then to encourage their behaviour. Later you can train them to do tricks to break up the training regime. Your dog is still learning!
Play Nose Games
Hide some food and encourage your dog to find it. Don’t forget to retrieve it if not found.
Start with very easy places and show your dog where the food at first. It will soon get used to the idea. Then make it more difficult.
Dog Walkers and Doggy Day Care
You might consider a dog walker, dog trainer or doggy day care facility once a week or fortnight to help alleviate any stress or boredom which may cause your dog to bark and disturb your neighbours.
Just make sure you interview the people and are able to see behind the scenes at the doggy day care facility while your dog is there. Make sure your dog is happy to attend doggy day care and is provided with several breaks throughout the day to give them time to calm down and relax. If your dog is shy or timid or aggressive, doggy day care centres won’t be the place for you. Play dates with their best mates may be better.
Seeking Additional Help
If you think your dog is really stressed, seek help from a professional dog trainer. Separation anxiety can cause huge distress to you and your dog. Your dog may display destructive behaviours if it suffers separation anxiety, sometimes beginning when you start to change clothes and continuing after you have left the house.
Destructive behaviour can include damaging furniture, urinating and defecating in new places, escaping, digging, chewing, howling, barking and pacing. If it continues, it is important you seek advice from your veterinarian. Your vet may refer you to a canine behaviourist.
Don’t ever punish your dog for missing you. Your dog won’t understand why it is being punished and it will only make the situation worse.