Many would-be owners who work full time put off having a dog. They are worried about separation anxiety and genuinely concerned about leaving a dog alone during the day. It is a legitimate worry for caring owners. Dogs are pack animals and feel happiest when they have company. And separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioural issues owners face.
Nevertheless, every family deserves the wonderful and myriad benefits that come from owning a great dog. Being left on their own during the day is the fate of many dogs and is something they can and do adapt to if handled correctly. So what can you, as a caring owner, do to help your dog acclimatize to life without you during the working day?
It all starts with your puppy’s childhood.
The way puppies are reared has significant impact on their chance of developing separation anxiety later in life. Puppies that are handled daily from an early age by their breeder become more resilient adults than those that aren’t. And those that stay with their littermates until they are at least 60 days of age (8 weeks and 4 days old) are also at much lower risk of experiencing separation anxiety as adults.
Acclimatize your puppy to alone time.
It’s a common mistake for owners of new puppies to spend every waking moment with them over the first several days, then expect the pup to face alone time cold turkey when they have to go back to work. So start small (say 10 minutes) and leave your puppy alone for gradually increasing increments of time. This way your puppy gets to learn that you are coming back, before anxiety sets in.
Don’t make a fuss about leaving.
It’s important that you don’t inadvertently encourage separation anxiety in your dog by making a fuss of leaving. Rattle your car keys every now and then during the day so he doesn’t use the keys as a trigger to initiate fretfulness. When you leave, just say see you later. Don’t make a big fuss about going or tell him how sorry you are.
And similarly when you get home, wait until he settles down before going to greet him. Open your mail, put away your shopping, check your phone messages and make yourself a cup of tea first. Once he has quietened down, only then go and make a fuss of him.
Give him fun time before you go.
Before you head off to work, spend at least 10 minutes playing with your dog or taking him on a fast walk around the neighbourhood. He’ll feel a lot more relaxed and happier to be a couch potato while you are away if he’s had a little excitement before you leave.
Make your leaving mean more fun.
Give your puppy something enjoyable to do while you’re away. Make sure he’s hungry when you go and give him a big raw meaty bone, food puzzle, or food stuffed chew toy to deal with while you’re away.
You can even hide his favourite treats around the yard and in his sand pit, so he can have fun on a treasure hunt.
Get him a friend.
You may even decide to get your new fur-kid a pal to keep him company during the day. Puppies and kittens that grow up together become great pals. Choose a bold, affectionate kitten, not a scaredy cat one.
Or you may choose to re-home an older dog to be your puppy’s pal. Be aware though that the experience of being in a shelter is traumatic and is a regular cause of separation anxiety in dogs. It’s usually better if you can adopt a dog directly from it’s relinquishing owner.
I would advise against getting two puppies at the same time. Because of the large amount of time they spend together they can tend to bond more with each other than with you and other humans. A gap of at least 3 months is advisable.
Reach out to your local community and see if any other dog owners near you are interested in your dogs spending time together during the day. Facebook makes it easy to find other caring dog owners like yourself very quickly. You could even have a regular walk together before work and take turns taking the other’s dog home with you.