Authors: Paula Kephart
How to Keep Your Stay-at-Home
Dog Happy & Healthy
Dogs and people probably first came together through work. Humans discovered that dogs could help with guarding, hunting, herding, pulling, and carrying. Dogs found that humans were willing to share the rewards of the hunt, the warmth of the fire, and the company of their own packs. In the process both discovered the pleasures of companionship and affection.
In today's busy world, work schedules often strain the bonds between owners and dogs. When the owner goes off to work, the dog stays behind, often for the majority of the day. Staying alone in an empty house or apartment for hours on end is a lot to ask of such sociable animals. Dogs' love for and loyalty to their owners sustain them during the long wait, but they may need more tangible support to minimize the stress of loneliness, inactivity, and boredom.
This bulletin will guide you through all the issues affecting your stay-at-home dog: Should the dog be confined or free to roam the house? Should you leave out food? How can you protect your furniture and household items from your rambunctious friend? How can you keep your dog from feeling lonely?
More important, perhaps, this bulletin provides advice on spending quality time with your dog when you are at home so that your absence is bearable for your canine companion. If your at-home routine includes plenty of playtime, exercise, and affection, then your pet will be better adapted to spending time alone.
The question that most plagues dog owners is what to do with the dog when they must go to work or be away from home for several hours. There rarely seems to be a satisfying answer. Should the dog be contained in a crate or small area, or should he have the run of the house? Or should he be left outside? The answer is, it depends.
The best solution is to leave your dog alone for only a short stretch of time, no more than 3 to 5 hours. But this is rarely possible for most of us. A full-time job requires 8 hours a day, if not more. Add to that travel to and from work, stopping for groceries, or running other errands on the way home, and it may be that your dog is alone 12 or more hours a day. What can loving owners do to keep their dogs cheerful, calm, and secure while they're away?
Please note that most of the suggestions in this bulletin apply to dogs who are 1 year or older. Puppies need special treatment. They are much more vulnerable physically and emotionally than are older dogs. They aren't used to being alone, they don't have great bladder control, and they crave attention.
Initially, an adopted puppy has many losses to endure. He misses his mother and his littermates. There are no warm bodies to snuggle up to while sleeping and no one to roughhouse and tumble with as he learns the “dos and don'ts” of proper pack behavior. Now his packmates are very tall and walk around on two legs. They speak an incomprehensible language. And there's a whole new set of rules to get used to. Plus, he's all alone for hours on end.
The stress of loneliness can lead a puppy into many problem behaviors that may continue well past puppyhood. He may chew incessantly on anything and everything and retain this habit long past the chewing stage. He may bark or yap or whine all day long, begging for comfort and attention, and then continue to do so all through the evening and into the night. In an effort to comfort himself a lonely puppy may even develop self-abusive behaviors, such as excessive licking or biting until his skin is raw and sore.
Housebreaking a puppy who is left alone all day is very difficult. Successful housebreaking requires taking the puppy out often during the day and praising him when he relieves himself outside. Housebreaking works best when someone can catch the puppy before he starts to relieve himself in the house and hurry him outside to do the job. Without this kind of prompt response on the owner's part, housebreaking can drag on for months. And if you can't be on hand to teach and reinforce proper elimination habits during the first few weeks that the puppy lives with you, he may never completely understand what you expect of him. This is often the case with dogs who continue to have accidents in the house long after puppyhood.
You must be willing to devote time and attention to a puppy. If you can't give a puppy the time he needs to learn the rules of the house and adjust to being on his own, give serious consideration to adopting an older dog instead. And if you must leave a dog less than 1 year old at home alone during the day, make every effort to provide him with human contact during the day.
If you live close enough and can arrange your schedule to do so, go home for lunch. This midday contact can go a long way toward easing the pressure for both you and your dog. Perhaps you can work out an alternating schedule with other household members so that different members stop in on different days.
If you are able to get home during the day, even if only for 15 or 20 minutes, use the time to focus on your dog. Take her out for some fresh air and give her a chance to relieve herself. Play with her for a few minutes, either inside or out. Let her run and stretch her muscles. Even a brief visit will give your dog a significant break from boredom and loneliness.
When it's time to leave, be calm and cheerful. Don't overwhelm your dog with affection; she'll sense your anxiety about leaving. Give her a “transition treat” â a biscuit or toy to chew on as you leave. A transition treat gives the dog something pleasant to associate with your departure.
Save the Chow for Later
Don't worry about feeding your dog during your midday visit. There's not enough time for him to eat. Besides, if you leave him with a full stomach, he'll soon have to relieve himself â and you won't be there to take him outside. Dogs need to be fed only twice a day. Make mealtimes part of your morning and evening routines.
Dog walking has become a professional business. In most urban and suburban areas, you can find someone who, for a small fee, will visit your dog during the day, take her out for a quick walk, and spend a few moments giving her some loving affection. Twenty to 30 minutes of human companionship will go a long way toward making your dog's time alone much more tolerable. Even if you can arrange some kind care for your dog only a couple of times a week, she is better off than before.
If you can't locate a professional pet sitter, perhaps you can find a responsible teenager who would be willing to take on the task. Or perhaps you can trade services instead of paying. For example, you watch
a friend's dog or her kids on your days off, and she does the same for you in her free time. Or you can clean a neighbor's house a couple of times a month, mow her lawn, run errands, or do whatever small chores she'd like to have done in exchange for stopping in regularly to visit your dog and let her out of the house for a few minutes.
If you can't give your dog some company during the day, perhaps you can bring him to the company. Doggie day cares are gaining popularity across the country and are available in many communities. If you haven't heard of any in your area, ask your vet or your local humane society for recommendations.
Doggie day care functions much like child or elder day care. You drop off your pet on the way to work and pick him up on your way home. During the day the dogs are exercised and fed, have some playtime with each other, and sometimes even get some training. When looking into this option, treat it just as you would day care for a human family member. Ask for and check references. Take your dog to visit the center. Spend an hour or two observing the routines and how the dogs are handled.
Inspect where the dogs eat, sleep, exercise, and relieve themselves. Does everything appear clean? Do the dogs have enough space in their personal kennels and in larger play areas?
Talk to the owner of the center and to staff members. What is their philosophy of dog care, discipline, and training? If it is very different from yours, the center will not be a good solution for you and your dog.
Ask the staff if you are allowed to bring personal items from home for your dog. Can you bring a comfortable mat for him to sleep on? What about a couple of his favorite toys or chew items?