Dogs are pack animals, and as such prefer to be with other dogs and/or people. The ideal situation for any dog would probably be to live in a home where someone is around at least most of the time. Of course, this is not practical for most families. The dogs are usually left behind while everyone goes to work and school.
Most Dogs OK Alone for a While
Most healthy, adult dogs are fine on their own for a reasonable amount of time. There are some situations,however, where leaving the dog home alone for more than four hours could cause problems.
Young puppies and older or incontinent dogs won’t be able to stay alone, indoors, for much more than four to six hours. Often these dogs will also need to be fed sometime during the workday.
Older dogs may also need regular medication, and puppies need their playtime and socialization.
Get Help if Necessary
If no family member is able to get home for at least a brief visit during the day, you may want to enlist the help of a neighbor or hire a pet sitter.
Puppies being housetrained will fare better if the training is not interrupted during the day.
If you take the pup out regularly after meals and playtime while you are at home, but leave him with papers or put him outside while you are at work, the training will take much longer.
It would be better to find a reliable person who can come in once or twice during the day as needed. Explain your training procedure and have the person follow that procedure.
Fencing Not Always Enough
Even if you have a fenced yard, neither the puppy nor the senior dog can handle extremes of weather. And puppies left unsupervised outdoors can get into a world of trouble.
Some dogs simply cannot be left alone without going completely bonkers.
Anxiety or Boredom?
Dogs that are destructive or unreasonably upset when left alone are usually suffering from separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is like a panic attack.
If signs of anxiety are displayed immediately upon your leaving the house (or before), it is considered separation anxiety. If such signs (destructive chewing, barking, whining etc) are seen only after being gone for an extended period then it is probably just boredom.
Separation anxiety must be dealt with using both desensitization and training, as well as by managing the dog’s environment.
While desensitization is proceeding, it is best to have someone stay with the dog all day, or find somewhere else for the dog to stay during that time.
Medication May be an Answer
Drugs are often prescribed for this problem, but I see them as a last resort.
If medication is necessary or desired, there a number of safe and effective herbal and homeopathic remedies that can be tried first. Speak to a holistic veterinarian or herbalist to decide on the best remedy for your dog.
Punishment Won’t Help!
Without getting into the training techniques here, I ask you, please do not punish the dog for his behavior! If the dog has destroyed your slippers, carpet, table, etc., it is because she was frightened and anxious. Punishing the dog for this behavior will only make things worse.
If no one can be with the dog, then it is best to confine him to a small area where he can’t do much damage. A crate may not be recommended here as the dog may injure himself trying to get out.
If you can, try playing with the dog for 15-20 minutes in the morning. A tired dog is a happy dog.
It may take up to several months to completely desensitize a dog if the anxiety is severe. Consult with a qualified trainer, one who uses gentle, positive training methods.
If you prefer to tackle the problem on your own, some books that may help are I’ll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell and Canine Separation Anxiety Workbook by James O‘Heare. The Whole Dog Journal also has back issues available, which contain excellent articles on solving this problem.
For further suggestions on preventing boredom see our related article: “Latchkey Dogs“
You may also like to read: 10 Ways to Celebrate This Spring with Your Dog
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