Eventually most dogs adjust to being left home alone, but puppies and even grown dogs can feel insecure, disconnected from their human family pack members, or even be very nervous and agitated when left behind with no company. You can’t explain to a dog that you will be returning. They have to learn this over time and trust you enough to know it is true and part of the routine. You can, however, make the experience of being home alone more comfortable and less traumatizing for your dog.
A silent empty house can make humans feel alone and frightened. That can happen to dogs too. Home should feel warm, familiar and comforting to a dog. A frightened dog can be nervous and even destructive in their fear. To help your dog feel more at ease while home alone, try some of these tricks that make the house feel less empty and provide security and entertainment for him.
Boredom can make a dog look for something to do, and their choices may cause damage to your home and to them if they have no alternatives. Puppies in particular are prone to chewing whatever is appealing to them. Chew toys provide an outlet for the boredom and for the instinct to chew. Pick chew toys that are sturdy enough to withstand the chewing strength of your particular dog.
Leave the radio on to provide verbal or musical company for your dog. Pick a radio station that is soothing for the dog. Their ears are more sensitive than ours. Set the volume at a reasonable level to make your home feel less empty but not so loud that the dog can’t relax. A talk radio station may do the trick. An added bonus is the noise inside an empty house will help keep intruders away.
Some dogs enjoy the company of a television. Although they don’t watch it or see it the way we do, they do sometimes respond to certain visual or auditory stimuli a television provides. Like the radio, pick a channel that will be soothing to your dog. A documentary, how to or history channel may be a better choice than an action packed channel. The point is to provide company and relax your dog, not get them wound up.
Provide your dog with a safe, comfortable place where they can rest calmly. An overly anxious dog may fare better in a small enclosed area where they feel less nervous. A large cushioned dog bed placed in a cozy spot, or a pet pen that is the right size for your dog to nap in, will give the dog a familiar safe place they know is theirs, particularly if you don’t want them up on the furniture.
A bored or nervous dog left alone might be tempted to do things they shouldn’t when you are out of sight. If the dog has not yet learned what isn’t allowable or likes to test the limits when you are gone, it is better to remove temptation. Put away anything they may find chewable or fun to play with that is not appropriate for them. Small objects sitting on easily reached surfaces such as the coffee table may be a siren’s call to a dog. Look around before you leave the house and pick up anything you think they might get into. Close the door to any rooms they should not be in while you are gone.
Light is comforting and will make your dog feel more at home, the same way it does for you. Leave at least one light on in an area the dog is likely to be. If you leave early or return late, but don’t want to leave a light on during the day, invest in timers that will turn on lights on and off at specific times.
Access to Outside and a Place to “Go”
If possible to have in your home, a doggie door can be a definite plus for a dog home alone for any length of time. They can do their business outside, stretch their legs and feel a little less restrained. If there is no way to have a dog door or yard they can go to, provide a place where they are not going to be in trouble for urinating or defecating. Adult dogs can hold it longer than a puppy can, but a nervous dog may not be able to control themselves. Disposable potty pads or newspapers put in a specific area may work. Putting the dog in an easily cleaned area such as the garage, kitchen or laundry room may work, but there should be room for the dog to move around and be comfortable and feel secure.
A favorite cuddly soft toy, or even an old blanket or piece of clothing with the scent of a familiar loved family member can help your dog to feel your presence when you are not there. It can also help your four-legged family member understand that you are not gone for good and haven’t deserted them permanently. Familiar smells, which they associate with home and family, are comforting for a dog.
If days spent away from home are long, consider hiring someone or asking a friend or family member to come spend a little time each day with your dog to give them a break from long empty time alone. Choose someone you know you can trust to care for your dog properly and who will leave your home secure when they depart. If possible, get someone who will take the dog for a walk or play outside with them if they have no access to the outside on their own. The exercise and company will break up a long, lonely day.
Top photo by Chad Miller
Middle photo by BazzaDaRambler
Bottom photo by wanderingone
More articles by Laurie Darroch