Our dogs have become accustomed to having us home full time now due to the quarantine. Have you considered how traumatic it will be for them when we must return to work? After two weeks of the stay-at-home order, I had a chorus of barking, whining, and high-pitched squealing (all three) when I took my garbage out to the curb! Really??
At some point, every dog owner must leave his best friend home alone to run errands, go to work, or travel. Preparing and making arrangements to ensure your dog is well cared for and not overly bored or anxious can be daunting and, for many, guilt-inducing. But knowing your options, together with a little dog training, can help reassure you about leaving your dog alone and keeping him happy while you’re gone. Read on to learn the best plan for your best pal so your partings are relaxing and your reunions rewarding.
Canine Psychology 101
Dogs are highly social creatures, and your dog’s desire to be near you is completely natural. He simply feels most safe, secure and happy when you are near. But for your sake and his, it is crucial he feels content and confident spending time on his own so you can both enjoy this beautiful friendship to its fullest. Ideally, you’ll train your dog to be alone when he is a puppy, before any anxiety and problem behaviors set in
But older dogs, such as rescues who never learned to be alone, can also be retrained to spend time alone. Expect them to be a little slower on the uptake than their puppy counterparts, but with consistency, patience and gradual changes, they too can accept being left alone.
Training your dog to be alone: The tools
A dog crate: Your dog naturally desires his own space, and a snug dog crate is comparative to the comfort and security of a den. Some dogs even like a blanket draped over the crate for added coziness (but make sure dog has enough ventilation). Your dog’s crate should be left open as an option. NEVER close your dog within the crate as punishment. If you plan to limit your dog to a section of the house using a door or a dog gate when you are gone, keep his crate there.
A dog bed: A comfy dog bed will often become your dog’s go-to spot for comfort when you are out of the house. As with the crate, if you plan to keep your dog contained, make sure his dog bed is located within the confined area.
Dog toys: A few choice dog toys reserved for when your dog spends time in his special spot and when you are out of the house will help your dog associate chewing and resting with time alone. Plush dog toys, chew toys, and food puzzle toys where your dog has to work hard to tease out the treats within are great options. The toys should be safe and indestructible so your dog won’t be able to chew off pieces and swallow them.
A leash: Train your dog to be content while you tend to household chores by tying him to a heavy, stable object with a six-foot leash. Give him a few of his favorite toys and then move a few feet away. Gradually increase your distance, while remaining within his sight. (Note: Never leave your dog tied on a leash unattended.) Before you know it, you can remove the leash and he’ll be content to entertain himself while you work around the house.
Fresh water: Make sure you set out a clean water bowl or two with enough water to get your dog comfortably through your time apart. In hot weather, set out even more water to ensure your dog stays well hydrated.
Separate early and often: Hard though it may be, it’s wise to leave your furry friend alone from the beginning so he doesn’t become dependent on your company. Make sure he has a soft bed or crate, plenty of fresh water, and a favorite toy. Head to another room quietly while he is content playing. Start with a few minutes and gradually increase the time you’re out of sight.
Be sure to hold off opening the door if you hear him whining, crying, or barking. When he is quiet, you can enter the room and give him brief and calm praise. Slowly incorporate trips outside the house into the routine, following the same steps.
Treats equal goodbye: Special treats, such as goodies inside food puzzle toys, should be given only when you are leaving and not when you return. Your puppy may even learn to enjoy when you are preparing to leave for work, knowing that a treat is on the way. I personally use a stuffed kong.
Keep calm: The 10 minutes before and after a separation should be serene and deliberate. It is tough to hold off the exuberant hugs and attention when greeting your loving dog after time apart, but hold off until he is fully settled down and then reward him with loving attention. Do not overexcite your dog.
Exercise is essential: Make sure you spend time playing catch and going for long walks with your dog. This is one of the most important steps you can take to make sure your dog doesn’t exhibit problem behaviors, such as chewing on the furniture, while you are out. A tired dog is a good dog!
Maintain a routine: Separation from your dog, short or long, will be much easier if you have a schedule you stick with most of the time, even on weekends. Consistent times for meals, play, and walks throughout the day have a calming effect on dogs.
Professional dog trainers know that canines take their cues from you. If you are anxious about how your dog will respond to being alone, he’ll likely pick up on this worry and respond with nervousness himself. If you remain calm and consistent throughout this training process, your dog will absorb the message that it is perfectly safe to be alone.
Doggie day care: If it’s within your budget, doggie day care is an excellent way to keep your dog from feeling isolated and lonely during the work week. Here, your dog will be supervised while having a chance to play with the pack. Many people find sending their dog even two or three days a week helps to prevent problem behaviors on their days at home.
When researching dog sitters, kennels, and doggie daycare, be sure to ask about:
- Professional association memberships
- Insurance policies
- Medical emergency protocols
Begin preparing your dog for the end of the quarantine now, in short intervals. You can simply go outside of your home or in another room, while maintaining social distance. Help your dog to cope with the inevitable, that you will be leaving home once again, hopefully in the not-so-distant future.
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: email@example.com