Dogs are an integral part of family life. They spend most of their time with us in the home and also join us on holidays and family outings. For this reason, many dogs find it difficult to be left alone for long periods. They are so used to our company that they struggle to cope when we leave for work, school or shopping. Not knowing what to do, dogs often turn to vocalisation and destruction to relieve their stress.
There are things that you can do to help teach your dog that it’s OK to be alone. These things can begin as soon as you bring your new dog home. As with most problems, prevention is better than cure. Following a few simple steps will help your dog be a happy, well-settled member of the family.
Create a safe place for your dog
Dogs of all ages need to have their own ‘safe haven’ where they can escape to. This is usually in the form of a puppy pen (for very young dogs) or crate. Whenever you are unable to watch your dog for a short period of time, put it in the crate. Make sure your dog will view the crate as a great place to be. Fill it with treats, toys and other goodies. You can help your dog get used to the crate by letting it eat its dinner in there. Giving it something to chew on is also a good idea. If a crate is unsuitable for your dog, a mat or bed will make a great alternative. > View more information on crate training
The idea is to teach your dog that wonderful things happen when you are not there and that they do not need to follow you from room to room. This is also an effective tool for toilet training because dogs do not like to go to the toilet where they sleep.
Spending time outside is fun
As much as we love having our dogs with us, it is just as important to teach them that being away from us is great too. If you have taken some time off to care for your new dog or are on holidays, now is a great time to start doing this, as life will eventually return to normal and your dog will need to be able to cope on its own. Even if someone is home most of the time, teaching your dog to spend time on its own will greatly reduce the chances of vocalisation and destructive behaviour when you are not around.
You need to make sure that your dog will have fun when spending time outside. Take goodies, such as treats, toys and bones, and hide them in the yard. When you let the dog outside it will enjoy the stimulation and pleasure of looking for and finding the goodies. Toys will make the yard even more fun for the dog. It is better to have one or two toys in the yard and rotate them daily, rather than having ten toys that are always the same.
Remember to reward calm behaviour. If the dog is whingeing to come back inside, it is best to ignore the behaviour and not give the dog any attention, negative or positive.
Our leaving home is no fanfare
When you leave your dog, it is important that you do not make a celebration of your departure or return. You may find it hard, but it is in the best interest of the dog. If you get your dog too excited about your comings and goings, it will think they have something to be worried about.
Before you go, set up the treasure hunt in the yard and let the dog out just as you are about to leave. When you get back, it is a good idea not to rush out and meet your dog straight away. Have a cup of coffee first, pack away the shopping or tidy up a bit before you go out to see your dog. Make your greetings very low-key.
Other helpful tips
There are things you can do while you are at home to help your dog settle when you leave. Regular exercise offers physical and mental stimulation for your dog and can help it settle while you are away, particularly exercise first thing in the morning. This will get rid of your dog’s excess energy and increase the likelihood of it sleeping while you are away.
Regular training in basic obedience or tricks can also help settle your dog. Like exercise, regular mental stimulation will provide your dog with an outlet for its energy so it will be more tired and relaxed while you are away.
A word on food
You may be wondering how on earth you are going to keep your dog at a healthy weight with all the food treats we suggested. We strongly recommend that you take these treats out of your dog’s daily ration of food. A dog would prefer to receive its food in a variety of ways (hidden around the yard, inside toys, etc.), rather than in a bowl. A good rule of thumb is to portion your dog’s daily food ration in a container. Fill the container with treats, dry food, bones, etc. If there is still food left at the end of the day, give it to the dog for dinner.