We know that you have to leave your dog home alone for quite a bit of time every week, no matter how much you’d prefer to stay there with them. You have to work to keep a roof over their heads and kibble in their bowls, after all.
If your dog has to be home alone for long stretches at a time, there are things that you can do to make sure they stay safe — and so you don’t feel guilty about walking out the door every morning.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to keep your little furry child safe and sound.
Don’t Do It More Than You Have To
Your dog is a social animal and they don’t like being left alone. They also don’t understand the concept of jobs, dates, or errands, so they won’t be able to comprehend why you’re gone so long.
Since you can’t quit your job, abandon your social life, or opt out of buying food (and treats!), you’ll have to find other ways to minimize the time that you spend away from your pup.
If your job is nearby, coming home at lunch to let them outside and play with them will go a long way toward calming their separation anxiety. This also gives you a great pick-me-up on rough days.
If you can’t get home at all during the day, see if you can arrange for someone else to. This might be a friend or a neighbor, or you can hire a dog walker or pet sitter to give your pup a little excitement to break up the doldrums of the day. You can also take them to doggy daycare instead of keeping them at home, if you can afford it.
This is more important with younger dogs, especially puppies (who really shouldn’t be left alone longer than a few hours at a time). Once your dog becomes a senior, they’ll be more likely to be content with just lounging around the house all day until you return.
Figure Out Where to Keep Them (and Puppy-Proof It)
Before you leave your dog home alone, you need to decide where they’ll be while you’re gone. Some people leave their dogs in a fenced yard, others give their pets free rein inside the house, and still others only allow their dogs in certain rooms.
The right location will depend on a variety of factors, including how long you’ll be gone, how well-trained your dog is, and their ability to handle being left alone. Regardless of where you keep them, though, you’ll need to work to make sure it’s safe for them to be there unattended.
If you’re leaving them outdoors, make sure your fence is sturdy without any weak points (and that your dog has a collar with identification and a microchip, of course). Also, make sure they have someplace to get out of the elements and to regulate their body temperature in bad weather.
If they’re staying inside, you’ll need to make sure there isn’t anything that they can get into that will kill them, like prescription medications or deadly foods. You should also hide any of your personal belongings that you don’t want to see shredded.
You can keep them in a crate if they’re properly trained, but don’t do this for longer than a few hours. Also, if they don’t have a large bladder or if you’re going to be gone all day, make sure they have a way to get outside or a safe place to use the bathroom indoors.
Train Them to Handle Being Left Alone
Whatever you do, don’t just leave your dog one day without warning. They won’t understand what’s happening, they won’t know if you’re ever coming back, and understandably, they won’t handle the situation well. It will put them under tremendous stress, which isn’t fair to them (especially if you then punish them when you come home to find your couch destroyed).
Instead, you need to plan ahead for leaving them at home and train them to handle it. You can do this in conjunction with crate training or as standalone training, but you should give them time to learn how to be alone.
This means starting slowly. You can leave them alone in their designated area, whether inside or out, while you stay in another part of the house where they can’t see you. Don’t rush to them when they whine or bark, as that will just reinforce the behavior. After 10 minutes or so, return to them.
You can slowly increase the time you spend away until you’re ready to leave them alone for a full day. It also helps if you give them treats, affection, or a favorite toy before you walk out the door, so they associate you leaving with something positive, rather than feelings of abandonment.
Your dog thrives on routine, and as unwanted as it may be, even your leaving can be tolerated if it’s predictable and consistent.
That means you need to leave at the same time every day, and try to make sure your actions are consistent up to the point you leave.
If they’re going to be left in their crate or kept in a certain room, put them in the same room in the same way at the same time. Give them the same toy or treat before you leave.
Once they understand what’s happening, they’ll be less likely to freak out. It also helps if you can return at a consistent time in a consistent way.
Give Them Plenty of Exercise
Dogs need regular exercise; exactly how much depends on the dog’s breed and age, but usually, you’ll need to provide 1-2 hours of exercise per day.
If you can give them a workout before you leave, you’ll burn off a bunch of their excess energy, leaving them calm and mellow throughout the day. You’ll also feel better if you start your day off with exercise, rather than hitting the snooze seven times.
You should also give them some exercise when you get home at night. They’ll likely be over-the-moon happy to see you, and they’ll be bouncing off the walls, anyway, so it should be easy to convince them to burn off steam with you.
Exercise also helps them deal with stress, so if they’re unhappy when you’re gone, they can run around until the worries of the day dissolve.
Provide Them With Entertainment
You wouldn’t enjoy being left in a room to stare at the walls all day, and neither does your dog. If you leave them with something to occupy their minds, they’ll be able to handle their stretch of solitary confinement better than if they were left to their own devices.
Puzzle toys are a great way to keep them occupied. You can stuff one with treats so they’ll have a tasty snack to eat once they solve it, and their little brains will enjoy figuring out how to get the food out.
One great way to do this is to fill a Kong toy with peanut butter and freeze it. Your dog will spend hours trying to get the peanut butter out, and they’ll be both satiated and mentally exhausted when they’re done. It’s also a delicious, cool treat on a hot day.
They’ll enjoy regular toys as well. Having a stuffed animal to cuddle with (or shred to pieces) will reassure them, and having a ball to chase can stimulate them both physically and mentally.
You may want to leave the TV or radio on for them as well. Be careful, though, because while some dogs calm down when these devices are left on, others are stressed out by them. If you do leave something on, there are dog-specific entertainment options that will help keep them calm and relaxed.
Keep an Eye on Them While You’re Gone
There are devices that you can buy that will allow you to watch your dog while you’re at work or out and about. These include spy cameras and security cameras and pet-specific models of both.
Some of them allow you to talk to your dog, so you can reassure them if you notice them starting to get restless or destructive. There are even some that allow you to remotely play with your pup or give them a treat.
These aren’t a substitute for in-person contact, of course, and your dog might be more confused than reassured by them. However, they can be great for keeping your mind at ease, as well as letting you know if there’s an emergency that requires you to come home early.
You Can Have a Dog and a Life at the Same Time
We can’t promise that you’ll never feel guilty about leaving your dog home alone, but if you take the listed precautions, you can make things as comfortable for your dog (and as guilt-free for you) as possible.
No matter what you do, they’ll still give you those puppy-dog eyes when you leave, and you’ll feel pangs of guilt when you shut the door. However, remind yourself that your dog is much happier being with you than they would be wasting away in a pound somewhere.
Then again, you could always quit your job and spend 24 hours a day with your pup. That will undoubtedly be fantastic for both of you — for a while, at least.
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay