Lockdown has presented us with lots of new challenges, but one positive to come out of staying home is that we’ve been able to spend more time with our pets.
With restrictions continuing to ease, lots of us are saying goodbye to the kitchen table and heading back into the office. After more than a year of near-constant companionship, our dogs will have to readjust to being left on their own again.
No matter how long you’re out of the house for, spending time alone can be challenging for dogs, especially if your dog has previously suffered with separation anxiety or you welcomed a new puppy into your home during the past year.
Thankfully, there are lots of different ways you can help your dog feel comfortable and calm when you’re out of the house. Animal Behaviourist, Rosie Bescoby, takes a look at the best ways to get your dog used to spending time on their own.
Get your dog used to being left alone
Ease into leaving your dog at home. If you’ve been home for months on end, suddenly heading out the door for a day at the office will come as a big change for your pooch. For your dog to feel comfortable with you not being there, they will have to remain relaxed at all times. It can be a slow process, but if done properly, you will see the benefits.
To help them get used to you not being there, give your dog dedicated time alone in a separate room or pen. Start off with short periods where you aren’t actively interacting with your pup and set up the environment to encourage them to settle by themselves. Make sure they’ve got a bowl of fresh water and somewhere to snuggle down for a sleep.
If they remain calm and start to get used to being by themselves, you can gradually increase the amount of time that your dog is spending on their own. By introducing periods of solitude into your dog’s daily routine, they’ll get used to spending time alone. It’s a good idea to start separation training in advance of when you plan to be away from home, as this will give your dog more time to adjust.
Keep them entertained
Lots of us have come home to find that our dog has been busy causing utter chaos whilst we’ve been out. Destructive behaviour, whether they’re chewing furniture or destroying toilet rolls, can be caused by boredom rather than anxiety. A good way to combat this is to make sure that your dog has plenty of stimulating toys and treats to keep them occupied when you’re out of the house.
Leaving them with a big natural treat to gnaw on is a great way to keep them busy, and there are a surprisingly wide variety of interesting and exotic treats on the market. You can choose from deer antlers to ostrich bones to keep your pooch distracted, depending on how adventurous or squeamish you are.
Try to ignore attention seeking
This one can be tricky, but it definitely pays off when it comes to reducing separation anxiety. Try not to pet your dog or even look in their direction when they are engaging in attention seeking behaviour, such as whining for food or jumping up at you. Instead, simply ignore them until they get the message.
It can be tempting to tell them ‘no!’ and although that might seem like the right thing to do, giving your dog any kind of attention can be interpreted by them as positive. If you ignore your pup when they’re demanding attention, they’ll start to understand that they can’t have your attention whenever they want.
How long can a dog be left alone?
This will depend on a lot of things, such as the type of breed, how long they are used to being on their own and how long they can hold their bladder.
Dogs will need to stay mentally and physically stimulated too. A working day is a long time, so it’s a good idea to get out and give them a walk before you leave. Not only will this provide your dog with exercise, but it will tire them out, meaning they’re more likely to sleep for long periods of the day.
Training your dog to be on their own is just like teaching them a new trick. Take the process step by step, be patient and avoid putting your dog in a situation where they feel uncomfortable. For further advice on leaving your dog at home, speak to your vet.
My Family Vets are a network of vets across the UK, you can find a practice near you by visiting their handy vet finder.