When we brought our retired racing greyhound Paso home we were confident that he wouldn't be left on his own too often, as we are both able to work from home and my office was only ten minutes away. 👌
However, it was inevitable that there would be occasions he'd have to spend time by himself, so we were keen to get him used to being home alone.
Dogs are sociable animals and enjoy our company just as much as we do theirs, so leaving your precious pooch to their own devices for the first time can be a pretty daunting experience.
I remember the first time Paso was left at home I spent the whole time worrying about whether he was okay and what we were going to come home to. In our case it was a number of our belongings having been ‘collected' and placed on his bed, including fake coals from the gas fire 🔥, tubes of moisturiser, several pairs of socks 🧦 and a magnum of Prosecco. He's a dog with eclectic taste!
It was a steep learning curve for all of us but we soon learned what should be kept out of his reach, and he learned that there was no need to be stressed as we'd never be away for too long.
With lockdown coming to an end many of us will now be returning to offices and leaving our dogs longer than we've had to previously. This can be a stressful experience but by following a few simple tips you can help your dog feel confident when left alone for short periods.
Eventually you'll be able to return home to a relaxed dog and an undamaged property! 😮💨
How long is too long? 🕗
The length of time you can leave your dog alone will depend on a number of factors, including your dog's age, health and temperament.
The RSPCA recommends that you don't leave your adult dog alone regularly for more than four hours.
There may occasionally be times that you need to leave them longer than this, but more than six hours will probably be too much for most dogs.
All dogs are different - some will be happy to be left alone for longer, some will only be able to cope with much shorter times. Bear in mind how long your dog can hold their bladder for, as you may find that this gets shorter as your dog gets older and therefore an older dog will feel stressed if they can't get outside to relieve themselves.
Puppies are unlikely to have ever been left alone before they came to live with you. They will have been with their mother and littermates so will be used to company, and it's also important to bear in mind that a puppy can only hold their bladder for a short period of time.
Generally speaking a puppy under six months should never be left for more than two hours a day and not on a regular basis.
Remember - a young puppy is a baby and will already be stressed by the huge changes in their young lives. Puppies need socialisation and company, so leaving them for extended periods could lead to greater problems in the future, such as your dog becoming insecure and antisocial as they develop into adulthood.
A stressed puppy is also likely to cry, chew and may have accidents around the house.
Start slow and build it up
It's important to teach your puppy how to be alone from an early age. Getting your pooch used to their own company when young is a great start on the road as they develop into a secure, confident adult dog.
It's best to start slowly, gradually increasing the time they're alone to give them the opportunity to adjust and avoid behaviours related to separation anxiety.
And starting slowly need not just apply to puppies. As we start to come out of lockdown many of us will find that we are leaving our adult dogs for longer than we have done in months. Your pooch will have gotten used to having you around more often but as we start to return to offices, pubs, restaurants and cinemas you may find that it will take some time for your furry friend to adjust to the ‘new normal'.
Leave the room
Start by simply leaving the room that your puppy is in. Try leaving them with a distraction such as a tasty treat or favourite toy and walk out of the room for a minute, then repeat this several times, gradually increasing the time you're away.
Next, try again but without the distraction. As before, repeat this several times so your pooch gets used to the fact that no matter how often you leave, you always come back.
If your puppy is getting upset when you leave, ignore them, but don't increase the time away until you feel they're getting used to the idea.
Leave the house
Once your dog is happy with you leaving the room, it's time to try leaving the house. 🚪
Start by just walking out and closing the door behind you, waiting a couple of minutes and then returning. Keep doing this, building up the time as you go.
When you're feeling confident, go for a short walk or pop to the shops, but try not to increase the time away too quickly and remember that with young pups you should never exceed two hours. Also be mindful that loud noises can be scary for your dog, so don't try leaving them alone during thunderstorms or fireworks. If your dog gets frightened this could represent a huge step back in their progress as they learn to be left home alone.
When you get back
With both adult dogs and puppies it's important not to fuss too much when you leave and return. It's tempting to grab your dog for a big squeeze when you get in - after all you've probably missed them too! However, it's good for your dog to learn that your leaving and returning really isn't a big deal, it's just part of life.
That's not to say you have to ignore them completely, just don't overdo it!
It will take time and patience but you should find that in time your pooch will feel more confident and relaxed, and learn that being alone isn't something they need to worry about.
How to stop your dog feeling lonely
Dogs like company so it's possible that yours might feel a little lonely when left on its own.
Leaving the television or radio on can be comforting for a lonesome dog, as the sound of human voices may help them relax. Be careful what you leave on though - a programme featuring noisy cats or dogs for example may be a distraction too far! 😹
Let sleeping dogs lie
Many dogs, like our lazy greyhound, will simply sleep as long as they're alone. 💤
We always make sure Paso has a long walk before we head out as this tires him and also ensures that he's done all of his business! Greyhounds tend to sleep for 18 to 20 hours a day and although most dogs aren't quite that lazy, an average dog will sleep for 12 to 14 hours a day, so if you're out of the house for four hours there's a good chance your pooch will be asleep for most of it.
Your pet may appreciate having something of yours to cuddle up to when you're not there. A jumper or cardigan that smells of you can give your pooch some comfort if they're missing you.
Keep them entertained
You may want to leave your dog with something to entertain them, such as a stuffed kong.
The distraction of a treat or toy will give your dog something to think about other than where his family is.
Providing your dog with these distractions should hopefully dissuade him from making his own. Paso tried to chew the cork off a magnum of Prosecco the first time we left him - a mistake we soon learned from!
Be careful what you leave your dog with. Toys that might tear or treats such as rawhide that could cause choking will require you to supervise, and should be kept out of reach when you're not in the house.
Play Big Brother
If you're worried about what your dog is getting up to when you're out you could invest in a pet camera so that you can watch them from afar. Some even allow you to dispense treats and interact with your dog, which is ideal if you think your dog is missing the sound of its master's voice.
Being able to keep an eye on your dog may reassure you that your home and pet are both safe. This will also allow you to see if your pup is feeling anxious or stressed, which will help you figure out what to focus on when training them to be home alone.
Give them a playmate
For some dogs, having another dog around for company may ease their loneliness.
However, this isn't always the case. Many dogs will bond with their humans and only tolerate another canine companion. Others may not get on with another dog at all, and in a worse case scenario they may even wind each other up to misbehave when you're not around!
Introducing another dog requires some real consideration and careful handling, and if you feel you're already leaving your current dog for too long, is it fair to leave two?
There may be times where you simply have to leave your dog for longer than you'd really like to. In these cases it may be worth your while considering outsourcing some of your dog care responsibilities.
You may have a friendly neighbour who'd enjoy spending time with your dog whilst you're out at work, or a family member who would appreciate the opportunity to exercise with your pup.
However, it can be tricky to rely on the kindness of others. What if they're busy one day, want to plan a holiday or they fall ill?
Sometimes it's necessary to get the professionals in.
Dog walkers and doggy daycare
There are many dog walkers around and having someone collect your pup for an hour's walk will provide them with company and exercise, two of their favourite things!
If you plan to be out longer than a couple of hours then doggy daycare can be a great option, with many providers able to offer full or half day care, collecting and returning your dog from home.
We went with this option for Paso when I had to go into the office for meetings. He would be collected from home in the morning, taken out with his doggy friends, have a bit of chillout time and then another walk in the afternoon before returning home, where the dog walker would provide him with his lunch. On his daycare days he was so exhausted after a day of running around and playing with other dogs that he'd barely lift his head when we came home - and they do say that a tired dog is a happy dog. 🐶
Choosing the right walker for you (and your pooch)
Choosing a dog walker or daycare provider can be a tough decision. Your dog is precious to you and it's difficult to consider trusting a stranger with such a big part of your life.
Irrespective of where you live there are likely countless dog walkers to choose from, so it's important to think about what's important to you and talk it through with the walkers. Will the dogs be left in a van for long periods? Can my dog be walked on a lead at all times? How many dogs do you walk at a time?
These were all things that mattered to us so we made sure to discuss them before choosing a walker. If you can get recommendations from friends or family even better, and try to check online reviews.
However, the best review of our dog walker is Paso's reaction when he arrives to pick him up, as he gets a better reception than we do! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Keeping your dog (and your home) safe
Puppy-proofing the area your dog will be left in is important for the safety of your pooch.
Whether you decide to give your dog free rein of the house, restrict them to a couple rooms or crate them will depend on the dog and what you're comfortable with, but whatever you choose it's important that there's nothing within easy reach that could harm your pup.
We quickly learned from our first time leaving Paso alone that we needed to put some safeguards in place to protect both him and our possessions, so we now have a fireguard to protect the coals in our gas fire and, more importantly, Prosecco bottles are kept well out of his reach! 🍾
Ensure that your bins are dog proof, as I'm sure you'd rather not come home to yesterday's leftovers tipped all over your kitchen floor. Even more importantly, you don't want your dog feasting on anything that may be harmful to him, such as cooked chicken bones, chocolate or raisins. 🤮
If your dog is particularly food obsessed it may be best to keep him out of the kitchen altogether, as some dogs will go to great lengths to get at what they want!
Crating is popular with many dog owners but not something that should be done without proper crate training. There are dogs that take great comfort from their crate, while others feel too confined and like to be able to roam.
If you do crate your dog make sure that the area you leave the crate in is at a comfortable temperature, as your dog won't have the opportunity to self regulate. Never leave a crate in a conservatory for example, as your pup could overheat.
If you're not keen on crating but don't want to give your dog free rein, then a dog pen could be a good solution as this will give your pooch more space to walk and play whilst also controlling their environment.
Always make sure your dog has access to fresh water. Whilst you may worry about him drinking too much and needing to pee, a puddle on your carpet is preferable to you being responsible for your dog becoming dehydrated and unwell.
It may be tempting to leave your dog outside, giving them access to toilet and get some exercise.
There are however a lot of pitfalls with leaving your dog outdoors which need to be considered. Dog thefts - though still thankfully rare - appear to be on the rise, so you need to ensure that your pup is totally secure in the garden as an unsupervised dog in an outdoor space will seem like easy pickings to a thief.
Remember that if you do decide to leave your dog outdoors, they will also need access to both shade and shelter to protect them from the elements. 🌡️☔
No matter how much we love our furry friends, it's inevitable that they will need to be left alone from time to time so it's important that we make sure they are as comfortable with this as possible.
If you think you've tried everything and still find that your dog is really suffering when you can't be there, then it may be time to call in a dog behaviourist. Your vet may be able to recommend one or you can check with ABTC (Animal Behaviour and Training Council) for a registered behaviourist near you.
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