With people working longer hours and having busier lives, dogs are spending more time home alone. This is fine for short spells but dogs are social animals and leaving them alone for extended periods of time can cause separation anxiety and behaviour problems. Often they’re bored and lonely and exhibit behaviour reflective of their emotional state.
Common displays include barking, howling, chewing, and messing. In order to find out what your dog is up to when you’re out, and if they exhibit any of these behaviours, I’d recommend filming them for a few days. When we got our rescue German Shepherd, Kip, we set up a web cam to see how she coped with being alone. On a working day, when she knew we would be out for a longer period of time, she simply slept, but on our days off, when we would go out for short trips to the shops etc, she would stare out of the window, pace around and occasionally bark. She knew these days didn’t have a set routine – dogs are creatures of habit so it’s much easier to teach them to cope with being home alone if they can predict a routine.
Once you know how your dog acts when they’re alone, there are plenty of ways to combat their behaviour and keep them entertained. Some breeds do have a higher tolerance than others to being alone, such as bull mastiffs and bull terriers, but these tips can apply to most breeds.
Make sure they’ve been walked
Exercise can help calm your dog down so make sure you take them for a walk before you leave the house. Physically, it will tire your dog out so they may have a nap while you’re away and emotionally, it can level out their brain chemistry (much like a good workout can leave people exhilarated).
Give them something to do
Dog toys make great diversions and there are a range of products available, from chew toys to puzzles. Food dispensing toys, such as Kongs, are a good way to entertain your dog and give them a treat. You can fill them with half a tin of food or treats or peanut butter and your dog can work on them while you’re away.
I’d suggest that you test-drive chew toys when you’re home and can supervise first – many food dispensing toys will survive most jaws, but others aren’t suited to hardcore chewers and may crack.
Hire a dog walker or find a doggy day care
If you are going to be out for long periods of time, there are plenty of dog walking and day care services that are fairly inexpensive. Having someone come in at lunchtime to take your dog for a walk will benefit them greatly, or even spending a few hours with some company. If you can’t afford a professional dog walker, there may be a friend or relative or neighbour who can pop in, even just to let your dog out into the garden. Daycare isn’t for every dog but there are some great services out there if you can afford the daily fees – some with indoor and outdoor play areas.
You can give your dog the impression of company by leaving the radio or TV on low so they have some background noise. Some people use Skype to check on their dog and there are now more high tech gadgets than ever: Dog TV is a channel dedicated to canine viewers; iFetch allows them to play fetch and get exercise; PetChatz is a video chat service that also dispenses treats. If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, there are some great gadgets out there.
Getting a second dog to keep your dog company can bring a lot of happiness into everyone’s life, but it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. There are many variables to consider – breed, gender, age, temperament – to make sure another dog is a suitable companion for your dog. Think about your current lifestyle carefully before making a commitment like this, as two dogs can be twice as much work.
No matter which tips you use, remember to be calm and patient with your dog. No dog likes being alone but there are plenty of ways to make the time go quicker for them and make them more comfortable with it. Good luck.