By Cheryl Lock
In a perfect world, we’d be able to stay with our dogs all day long. Of course, the reality is that it’s often necessary for us to leave our pups for extended periods of time, especially for those who work outside of the house, and it’s common for pet parents to wonder how their animals spend their days.
“The most common things that pet parents worry about when leaving their dogs home alone include safety, boredom and the results of boredom, such as destruction,” says Mary R. Burch, director of the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program and a certified applied animal behaviorist. “Dogs can get into trouble when left for long periods of time unsupervised.”
To keep your dog as safe and happy as possible while he’s home alone, consider the following tips:
Your home should be dog proofed so that your pet is safe at all times, not just when he’s home alone. “This means ensuring the dog can’t get to cords, dangerous items that can be chewed, or chemicals under the sink,” Burch says.
Make sure that your pup also has access to clean drinking water when you are away, otherwise he may get dehydrated. Provide fresh water every day, and make sure your dog has water available in his crate if you choose to utilize one.
“Crating or confining your dog is best unless and until you have a high level of assurance that they won’t eat a ‘foreign body’ causing themselves harm, or that they won’t create a safety issue in your home or they won’t escape and get hurt,” says Dr. Carolyn Lincoln, corresponding secretary with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
If you don’t have a proper crate for your dog (one that’s large enough for the dog to be able to lie flat on his side with his legs extended), then sturdy gates that can’t be jumped over or knocked down can be installed or you can place your dog in a closed, safe room, like spare bedroom, mud room or the kitchen, says Dr. Leslie Sinn of Behavior Solutions for Pets.
To prevent destructive behavior, provide your dog with entertainment that keeps his mind focused on acceptable activities, like interactive food puzzles or appropriate chew toys.
“While we may talk about this approach in terms of providing the dog with ‘entertainment,’ this is actually a behavior solution called differential reinforcement of other behaviors,” says Burch.
Simply put, you’re supplying the dog with something else to do other than the “bad” behavior. “If he is chewing an acceptable chew toy, he is not chewing the stuffing out of the couch,” she says.
Fortunately, there are a variety of items, including treat-stuffable toys like Kongs or remote-controlled treat machines, that can entertain your dog while encouraging him to use his brain, Lincoln says.
While it’s also common for pet parents to leave the television or radio on for entertainment when their pet is home alone, Burch says that action should come with a warning.
“While this might make the pet parent feel better, if dogs have behavior problems related to being separated from their person, this simple solution doesn’t usually result in effectively fixing the problem,” she says.
If you’d like to give it a try, Sinn suggests starting with a white noise or nature sound machine, classical music or dog-specific television.
While web cams are great for dog owners to keep track of what’s happening with their pet while they aren’t home, Lincoln also recommends leaving an iPad or tablet running on video for a cheaper option.
“It may run out of battery, but it will get some footage to review later,” she says. “Even if the dog isn’t always in the footage, you can hear if they are crying, scratching, chewing, or pacing, so it can be helpful.”
For something more technical, Sinn suggests a Furbo camera which provides a video feed to the owner and can also be programmed to alert the pet parent when a dog is barking.
“In addition, the owner can talk with the pet and dispense treats remotely,” Sinn says. “Be aware, though, that for some pets, hearing the owner’s voice and not being able to see or access them could increase their anxiety.”
Depending on factors like your dog’s age, temperament, size and exercise needs, you might consider hiring a dog walker. “Generally, if you are gone for more than eight hours a day, five days a week, I would highly recommend a dog walker at least three days a week,” says Lincoln. “But if you can, I would have one come five days a week if you’re gone six hours a day.”
She also suggests doing your research before you hire a dog walker. “You want to make sure they are not only nice to your dog, but interacting with your dog in a positive, structured way.”
As part of meeting your dog’s needs so that he isn’t under stress while you’re gone, remember the important role of regular exercise.
“Active play and a chance to get some vigorous exercise in the morning before you go to work will make all the difference in the world for your dog,” Burch says.
Sinn also reminds pet parents to keep their schedules in mind before deciding which type of dog to bring home in the first place.
“Choose your companion wisely based on how much time you truly have available,” she says. “Don’t engage in wishful thinking and get a Border Collie to live in your apartment. It’s not a reasonable expectation to expect a working dog to stay sane and happy in that kind of situation.”