How can I help my dog cope home alone?
How will your dog cope now the children have gone back to school? Our survival guide will help you ease your dog back into being home alone.
The long summer holidays are drawing to an end and soon all those lively, noisy children will be returning to school or university. While you might be breathing a sigh of relief that things have gone back to normal, your dog might have a few problems adjusting — particularly if he has to be left home alone for periods of time. Here are some ideas on how to help him cope.
Do some preparation to help prevent your dog developing separation anxiety. Before the end of the summer holidays, make sure he gets used to being left alone for short periods. Don’t make a fuss, just go out of the room for a few minutes, close the door, and then walk back in as if nothing has happened. If you give your dog lots of cuddles and attention before you leave and after you get back, you might subconsciously tell him that he needs to be worried. Gradually extend the length of time that you leave him, but don’t leave him for too long.
Safe and sound
Make sure that the room where you intend to leave your dog is a safe environment for him. Look at it from a dog’s perspective and tidy away any loose cables or things that he might chew, and secure cupboards that he might be able to open — particularly if they contain food!
Make sure your dog is comfortable when you are out by providing him with a soft bed and fresh water. He might also enjoy having access to an open crate. Popping a blanket over the top can help it to become a nice cosy den.
One of the best ways to help your dog settle is to give him lots of exercise. Vary your walks as much as you can and include off-lead fun if possible. If your dog enjoys interacting with other dogs, try to arrange to meet some friends so the dogs can play together on the walk.
When you get home, build a few minutes of interactive play into your schedule, such as throwing a ball for your dog to retrieve or load a sock with tasty treats and drag it around for him to chase.
Time to train
You will be amazed at how much mental energy your dog uses when you encourage him to use his brain. By doing five or 10 minutes of trick training each morning or laying a scent trail for him to follow in the garden you will tire him much more quickly than by running on a walk. Many training clubs provide classes to help get you started.
Work for it
After your dog’s morning exercise, try keeping him busy by encouraging him to bring his lead to be hung up, picking up his food bowl, fetching the newspaper, or tidying away toys in a toy box. Even if you aren’t a morning person, try to include your dog in your morning routine, as this will help him to settle when you leave.
Food for thought
When your dog is home alone you can provide some entertainment for him with food toys. Try hiding food treats around the room for him, but avoid rawhide chews or things that might splinter and stick in his throat. A Kong stuffed with tasty treats is another excellent source of fun for dogs.
Provide your dog with a variety of safe toys. Prevent boredom by rotating the toys every few days so he always has something new to amuse him. Keep your eyes open for toys coming on to the market and check them regularly after play to ensure that they haven’t split, cracked, or become unsafe.
If your garden area is completely secure and inaccessible to strangers then consider installing a dog door so your pet can come and go as he pleases. However, be mindful of dog thieves and if there is a chance that your dog could be stolen it really is better not to take risks.
Many dogs love to sit at a window and watch the world go by, but others find this stressful and bark every time a stranger walks past. Prolonged barking might not go down well with the neighbours. If your dog is generally calm then provide him with a room with a view, but if he is an anxious type it may be better to restrict him to a room without added visual distractions.
Research at Colorado State University showed that many dogs respond positively to background music. Try leaving a radio on when you are out of the house, as this may help to keep your dog calm — but be careful which station you choose. Researchers found that heavy rock music could increase nervousness in dogs, while classical music was most likely to help them relax. Apparently one of their favourite tunes was Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’.