Leaving Your Dog Home Alone... Tips and Tricks to Make Things Easier
I will never forget the heartbreaking sounds of my dog’s howl/cry when I left for work. It was the first time leaving him home alone, after our other dog passed away.
Dogs are sociable and want nothing more than to spend time with us, watch us and help us. In a perfect world, our dogs would love nothing more than to be with us every moment of the day. It is because of this that they often suffer from anxiety when left alone.
It is never recommended to leave your dog alone for a long period of time, but for the times when you do have to leave here are some great tips.
Teach your dog as soon as you can about being alone
If you get a new puppy, immediately start leaving it alone for very short periods of time. Being out of site can be stressful but having you return in a few minutes teaches your pup that the moment is temporary. Extend your time over a few weeks, always calmly praising your dog when you leave and return.
Crate Training-Cruel or Comforting?
There are a lot of schools of thought when it comes to crate training. My own experience, working with trainers was to use the crate as a place of comfort. When our dogs were younger, they viewed it as their “den” and would often go in to sleep, play with a toy. I think if you start when your dog is young, they adapt easy. The one thing that people do that really messes things up is they use the crate to punish their dog. This is wrong and changes the crate from a secure place to one of dread. Dogs shouldn’t spend more than a few hours in their crates as too much time can have the opposite affect by creating stress and withdrawal. Remember that crate training is about creating a safe zone for your dog. Eventually there is no need to close the door for many dogs, they automatically go in. For some pet parents they are more comfortable allowing their dog free reign over the home, and that is fine if it works for them.
We have adopted senior dogs and for them, if they were not used to a crate, we decided not to use them. This was a personal choice because we felt the dogs were already stressed and confused and we wanted them to only experience security and love. If the senior dog was used to crates, then it was an easy transition for them.
Company is welcome
Back when we all had 8-10 hours a day at an office, we needed to get very creative on how to make sure our dogs were not alone for too long. We hired a middle school neighbor to come over and check in, hang out, take for short walks, and give them some company. We also recruited friends and neighbors to come over at different times to visit with the dogs. These visits would break up their day as well as ensure the dogs got lots of bathroom breaks as well as a chance to smell the world outside. When we couldn’t get someone, we did hire walkers through outside services, but always made sure they met the dogs before starting.
Time for a little movement
Tiring your pup out before you leave is probably the best thing you can do to help reduce anxiety. It works for us too! Ideally if you can, take a long morning walk, at a fast pace. It is great for you and your dog. When you leave the first thing your dog will want to do is take a relaxing nap. In warmer climates this is an easy ask. Having lived in the northeast I also understand that going for a walk in the freezing weather has the appeal of standing in line at the DMV. In this situation you must get creative. I have walked my dogs in indoor parking garages, malls that allow dogs, etc.
Busy, busy, busy
Technology is great and there are these food dispensing toys that can literally feed your dog’s next meal all while he is playing. Because of their design, your dog will get mental stimulation while figuring out how to get more food from the toy. Depending on your dog, you can go from a simple puzzle toy to a more complex and engaging product. If you know your dog’s play type you can leave certain toys or sterile bones out for them to play or chew. Too many times new dog owners leave their dogs alone with toys only to discover that their dog ingested part of the toy leading to a trip to the emergency vet. Never leave your dog with toys/bones unsupervised unless you truly know they will not destroy them. Another thing that some people do is they hide treats in random places around the house. Eventually the dogs know that when people leave it is time to go hunt down some treats. I have done this, my dogs find it quite fun, but they are smart and I have to put them in another room so they don’t follow me and remember where I put things.
Bye means bye
I knew that if I came back inside when Skippy was howling and crying I would only add more to his stress because I did have to eventually leave. Trust me, it is so tempting to want to return to your dog and console them. What many trainers recommend is to wait until your dog stops howling or crying and then return inside offering love and praise. Easier said than done, I know.
Should you get a second dog? Or cat?
I understand there are a lot of schools of thought on this. Adding another pet has costs and more responsibilities. On the flip side, there is a lot of joy watching your dog have a best buddy and a friend to love and play with. For our family, after the loss of our senior dog, we knew that our dog Skippy was so very lonely for a buddy to curl up to. We adopted a dog who was 10 years old, she is not all that cuddly, but she licks Skippy’s face, and he worships her, which is good enough for us.
If you are considering a second pet take your dogs personality to heart. Will your dog enjoy a puppy or find it the most annoying thing? Does your dog get scared or nervous easily? Consider a low energy older dog.
Maintain a calm voice, turn on the TV/Radio and treats
Your voice when you depart AND when you return should be the same calm tone. Don’t make the mistake of acting super excited when you come home as this further adds to the anxiety when you leave.
Treats. It is fine to give a treat when you leave as it is a positive. But don’t give a treat on your return as this will make your dog anxious for you to return.
Radio/Television. Dogs find classical music very soothing, so leave the radio on when departing. If you want to leave the TV on, that is also very relaxing. Usually, we leave on the TV to stations we watch while home (Law and Order is what our dogs were raised on!). Talk shows are also good to leave on.
The goal is to get your dog to be calm and relaxed when you leave. Unfortunately, many dogs get anxiety and can be destructive which is why we encourage using K9 Comfort Spray Calm Tranquility on their favorite toy or blanket so they can get comfort from your scent. If your dog has free reign of the house, then K9 Comfort’s Happy Home diffuser oil is a good way to disperse smells that trigger positive emotions and a sense of security.
All of the K9 Comfort Spray products contain the one thing that makes your dog happy-your scent. It is like you being there with loads of love and comfort, even when you cannot be there.