A guest blog by Karoline G.
Dogs are very social animals and have a pack mentality, which is why they love to have company and can struggle when left alone. However, it’s inevitable that at some point your dog will be home alone, even if only for short periods of time.
Part of being a responsible pet owner is teaching your dog that it’s okay to be alone and that you will always come back. If you get your dog as a puppy you should incorporate teaching them this as part of their training, but older dogs can be taught too.
The Importance of Teaching Your Pup That It’s Okay to be Alone
Whether you’ve just brought a puppy into your home or you’ve adopted an older dog, all dogs need to learn that being left alone while you go out is okay. This should be part of basic training, just like potty training and teaching commands.
Dogs that don’t feel content by themselves may become anxious and very emotional, which can result in them causing mayhem in your home. Not only is this bad for your home, but it can also put your dog at risk if he/she eats something harmful, as well as cause the pet to feel a lot of distress.
Association works well with dogs and they’re quick learners, so training them that being alone can be a perfect time for a snooze or they can play with toys to put them at ease.
Prepare Your Dog for Your Departure
It’s important that you don’t make a big deal about leaving as this can increase the anxiety your dog feels. It’s tempting to tell your dog that you love him/her, and you’ll be back soon and shower them with hugs, but you’ll be building your dog up emotionally and then you’ll be gone, leaving him feeling very uncertain and upset.
It’s good to have a routine before you go but keep it calm. Make sure your dog has been out to relieve himself and, if you’re going out for a few hours, take your dog for a walk first to burn off some energy.
Settle puppy down in a crate or in a room if you enclose your dog and leave toys somewhere easily accessible. Don’t overstimulate your dog by giving the toys to him before you’ve left.
Before long, your puppy or dog will associate the routine with your leaving, so he/she will know what to expect. Dogs find comfort in routines and will become more content as they get used to it.
Leave Your Dog Alone When You’re Home
Leaving your dog in another room while you’re still at home is a really good way to help prepare your dog for being alone. Ideally, you don’t want your dog to know if you’re home or not, so putting the TV on or playing some music can help to cover-up noises.
Give your dog something stimulating, like toys or a chew treat, he can associate with being alone. This teaches your dog that being alone is enjoyable.
If your dog goes and lays down somewhere, try leaving the room so he is less likely to follow you. You can get your dog(s) settled before you leave the house so that they’re used to this and know that you always come back.
Offer Toys and Treats
Making sure your dog has plenty of interesting toys to play with can keep her occupied while you’re out so she’s not sitting looking out the window waiting for you to come back home.
Toys can entertain dogs for hours and are mentally stimulating for them, which means they won’t get bored and start chewing your stuff and furniture.
Some toys can be filled with treats, like biscuits or peanut butter that will encourage your dog to play with them and stay distracted. Treats can also act as positive reinforcement.
If your dog associates a treat-filled toy with you leaving, she’s likely to be less anxious about being alone. If you hide the treat, your dog can occupy himself by sniffing it out when you’ve left, which will be fun for them and pass some time.
Consider a Crate
Sometimes a crate can be the best option for a dog, especially a new puppy. Being confined can create a sense of security that your dog feels like he/she loses when you leave the house and can make your pet feel safer than when left home to freely roam.
Make sure the crate is big enough for your dog or puppy to stand-up and turn around in, so he can stretch his legs.
Let your dog go into the crate by himself, rather than putting him in there yourself. Give him a treat for getting-in and leave a couple of toys in the crate.
You’re essentially creating a safe space for your dog to be in while you’re out, which many dogs find comforting. Crates can protect your home from your dog getting anxious and destructive, which is also keeping them safe from eating something that could harm them.
You can find many affordable crates on Amazon or at your local pet store.
Crates Don’t Always Work
Crate training your dog is a good idea because even if you don’t use one at home — the groomer or your veterinarian may need to put your pooch in a crate at some point.
However, some dogs can be too big for crates, others will feel more anxious in them than being left out, and sometimes you’ll be out too long to leave your dog (especially a puppy) in such a small space for so long.
If you know your dog is unlikely to become destructive, close him in a room with ample space to move about.
This takes practice to make sure your pet doesn’t freak out if you place him/her in a bathroom or something alone while you are gone. Practice this pattern before you put your puppy or dog in a room along and leave the house.
A pen can be a good option to enclose your dog in a safe space while providing more room for her to move about, more so than in a crate. Pens aren’t a good option for big dogs that could jump over the side, so a dog-safe room is a better option for large breeds. (Check out these great pens on Amazon).
Always remember when you buy a crate or pen, you need to buy one based on the size your dog will grow into, not the size of the puppy, or you can buy multiple crates for the different stages of life.
Should You Leave the TV on?
You may notice your dog will sit and watch TV for short periods of time with you and some dogs even react if they hear dogs and other animals on the TV.
Many studies have researched this and generally agree that TV can help reduce separation anxiety in dogs. There’s even a channel for dogs, called DOGTV, which shows 3-6-minute segments, each designed to relax, stimulate or expose dogs to everyday sights and sounds.
The color is adjusted to make it more appealing for dogs. DOGTV is based on more than 60 studies and is supported by many leading experts.
The ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States and the American Humane Association, along with other major pet organizations, have recommended leaving the TV on for dogs when they’re home alone to reduce stress, provide stimulation and mask outside noises.
How Long Can A Dog Be Left Alone?
This is a common question and there’s not a definitive answer. In general, experts agree that four hours is the longest adult dogs should be left alone, but it depends on the individual dog.
A puppy will need to be taught to be alone for shorter time periods before you leave for a longer block and should never be left longer than the puppy can hold its bladder, as it can make toilet training harder.
Senior dogs and/or a particularly placid pooch may be happy left alone for longer periods of time, as they’re more likely to sleep the day away and not realize how long you’ve been gone.
If you work long hours and plan to leave your dog for 8-10 hours, five days a week, you may want to consider hiring someone to come and spend time with your dog, let him outside to relieve himself and even take him for a quick walk in the middle of the day.
Training your dogs that it’s okay to be alone can make them happier and more content while you’re out and about. There are plenty of ways to make being alone stimulating for them and to get them to associate good things with time on their own.
This way you know that you can go out without worrying about them and you’ll come home to a happy dog and a home that’s as it was when you left.
Dog Breeds That Can Be Left Alone
There are certain dog breeds that do very well when left alone. If you are considering adopting or purchasing a dog and know you’ll have to leave them alone, you should consider one of the following breeds
Each of these breeds is known for being independent and low-maintenance: