We’ve all heard stories about dogs who misbehave while their guardians are away, but it’s not their fault—leaving them alone for a long time isn’t fair to them and could even be dangerous. Sometimes, it’s best to leave dogs at home (e.g., when you’re going somewhere that doesn’t allow dogs or where they might be uncomfortable), but for the sake of your dog’s happiness, it’s best to try to minimize your away time and maximize your togetherness.
Here are our top five reasons why too much time alone isn’t good for your beloved pooch:
1. Loneliness and separation anxiety
When left alone, your dog may be more upset than you realize. Remember, Fido doesn’t know when or even if you’re ever coming back. When you do have to leave him at home to go to work or elsewhere, be sure that he has some fun activities, such as interactive toys, to keep him busy, and give him a good long walk before you leave, too, so that he’ll be ready for a nap. Leave some classical music playing in the background for added relaxation.
2. Lack of stimulation
Dogs who aren’t interacting with people or other dogs aren’t learning or even living, really—they’re just vegetating. It’s like they’re in suspended animation. Think about it: When you leave the house, you get to experience many interesting things—seeing new surroundings, talking with people, etc. But your dog is home alone in a static environment. So when you get home, think about Fluffy and how little stimulation she has had all day, and even if you’re tired, try to bring some excitement and fun into her life—a trip to the dog park, a game of fetch or hide and seek, a nice long walk in the woods or on the beach, a doggie play date or even a dog party—there are oodles of possibilities.
There are also some things that you can do to make up for not being at home—installing a doggie door that leads out into a safe, enclosed yard would be ideal. You could also go home at lunchtime to walk Fluffy or hire someone else to. And leaving an ever-changing selection of entertaining toys out will go a long way toward occupying her mind in your absence.
3. Boredom can cause bad behavior
Solitary dogs get bored, and bored dogs are often “naughty” dogs. If you don’t keep them busy, they’ll find something to do on their own—and you may not like their choices. They might start to chew things up, bark at and disturb the neighbors, or urinate and/or defecate in the house.
So try to minimize the solitary confinement. But when you do have to be away, a simple but effective toy to help pass the time is the classic Kong toy, which is a heavy-duty hollow rubber toy with a hole on each end that can be filled with a tasty treat, such as peanut butter or canned dog food. Dogs can spend the better part of an afternoon cleaning it out. Just be sure it’s large enough. (And you’ll want to scrub it out or run it through the dishwasher periodically, because it’ll get moldy if you don’t.)
4. Dangers and health issues
Poisoning, accidents, fires, thunderstorms, sudden illness, and urinary-tract infections from trying to “hold it” for too long are all potential hazards that your pooch might encounter if you’re gone for extended periods of time.
To help prevent poisoning, be sure to keep prescription drugs and potentially dangerous foods or other substances out of their reach. To prevent accidental strangulation, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of using a breakaway collar at home and a standard collar outdoors. Also, many house fires start in dryers, so don’t leave the dryer running when you leave home. And remember, it’s not nice to leave Fluffy crossing her legs and trying to “hold it” while you take your sweet time getting home.
5. Life is short
Someday, when Fluffy is old and grey and the time has come to say goodbye, you don’t want to look back on her life with regret and say, “If only I had spent more time with her!” Those years have a way of slipping by quickly. Don’t take your dog for granted.
For more tips on keeping your dog healthy and happy, check out “Caring for Dogs.”