Leaving your dog on his own
Naturally dogs are social creatures so being left ‘home alone’ can be a challenge for some dogs and definitely something that they need to be taught to cope with.
Many people forget that dogs are sentient beings; they have emotions very similar to ours. Some dogs struggle to be the centre of our world one minute and then left alone for hours on end the next. Dogs can demonstrate their inability to cope in a number of ways. Some may mess or wet when left, some may display destructive behaviours and others may bark or howl.
All behaviour is a symptom of an emotional state, in other words our dogs’ act how they feel.
Mother nature designed going to the toilet as a relieving act, therefore if your dog messes when left it may well be toileting in order to feel a form of stress relief; this is of course providing that your dog is fully housetrained in the first place, was toileted before you left, is perfectly healthy and not on any medication.
When it comes to destructive behaviours there are a number of reasons but they still all stem from how the dog is feeling at the time. A dog may chew because it is bored, because it is full of energy and wants to have some fun or because it is stressed. The act of chewing is something very natural to a dog and whatever his emotional state chewing makes him feel satisfied and relaxed.
Barking is generally down to a couple of things, he may be doing it to get your attention and come home or he may be hearing things outside and as he’s alone is in defence mode and therefore happy to tell the world that’s he’s home.
As a general rule, howling is a definite sign that your dog is not coping ‘home alone’.
All too often people concentrate on ‘fixing’ the symptoms of a behavioural problem and not on the underlying physical or emotional reason for the behaviour. The key to helping your dog cope ‘home alone’ is to ensure that he is happy about the idea in the first place.
Firstly ensure that your dog has been exercised before you leave him. Don’t run him too exhaustion as this will just mean that he’ll drink a lot of water when he gets home and will need the toilet sooner rather than later. He just needs to stretch his legs and go to the toilet.
During the early stages of home alone training it is also worth doing a few minutes of general training with him before you go out, this will help tire his brain and give him something to process later.
Prepare a home alone box, this should include the following, a couple of stuffed Kongs, a rawhide chew or pigs ear, a few dog biscuits wrapped individually in sheets of newspaper, empty toilet rolls with chew sticks inside or poked through the sides, an empty plastic bottle (minus the ring and cap) containing a few bits of kibble, his favourite toys and anything else he really loves to play with. Let him watch you prepare the box (something low sided would be ideal) so that his emotional state is one of happiness and expectation.
Next draw your curtains so that he can’t be distracted by the outside world and put on the tv or radio to help mask the sounds of people or cars passing by.
Just as you are about to leave, place the box on the floor and encourage him to have a rummage. Then calmly and confidently leave the house. The first time you do this only leave him for a short amount of time, less than twenty minutes. When you enter the house again immediately pick up the box and bits that he has taken out of it and put them on the side. It won’t take long for him to realise that his box of delights only comes out when he is going to be left on his own.
As his confidence grows you can reduce the amount of stuff you put in the box and slowly increase the time he is left.
Dogs are creatures of habit so it’s much easier to teach them to cope home alone in the early stages if he can predict a routine. Once you’ve cracked it you can be a little more spontaneous.
Whilst many dogs can learn to cope home alone for a working day, they are very sociable animals and it can be upsetting if you then regularly leave them alone in the evenings. If you do work full time and then have a busy evening ahead, think of ways that you can minimise the length of overall time they will be left. For example, do you have a friend or family member who is willing to ‘dog-sit’ for you during the day or evening? Will your plans allow for you to take your dog with you? If you have a very hectic social life that keeps you out of the house on a regular basis then you may need to consider if this is the right time in your life to own a dog.